Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm supposed to be cleaning my room and writing meeting minutes right now, but clearly I'm not

[EDITED DEC. 31, 2011: OHMYGOD, could someone please tell me what is so remarkable about this particular post that makes it my most-viewed post by a landslide??? My "stats" page tells me that this post has been viewed 477 times! In comparison, my second-most-viewed post has only been viewed 256 times. Why THIS post? Someone? Anyone? Talk to me! I'm so confused!]

In probably a couple of weeks, my breast is going to be cut open. Oddly enough, I have not spent much time thinking about what surgery (and recovery from surgery) will be like. What I HAVE been thinking about is how bizarre it is that strangers are going to see the inside of my body. Some surgeon/surgery team is going to be seeing the INSIDE of my breast, and be the first (and hopefully only?!) people to ever see that. I've never seen the inside of my body! No one has! I went to look at those mastectomy pictures, so I now know what the inside of a breast looks like. Wow, so not pretty.

It has made me fascinated with the insides of humans in general. I found an Eyewitness book at a friend's house that was all about the human body, and I found myself totally staring at the photos of cells and skulls and muscles and innards. Brains and blood and guts. We all have all of that. Most of us have never seen it and never will.... so strange to think about the fact that I have all this stuff inside of me that has been with me for the entire 30 years and 10 months of my life, but I've never seen it or felt it and probably won't ever. I can put my hand on my chest and be mere centimeters (inches? How far under the skin are we talking?) from my lungs, my ribs, my heart, but never REALLY touch or see them.... what do MY lungs and heart look like? Like the generic heart and lung photos I saw, or a little bit different, and in what ways? What does this cancerous tumor look like? How fucking miraculous is it that my heart has been beating constantly, and so well, for 30 years and 10 months? How many times has my heart beat by now - trillions? I am so not going to do math, because math sucks. But wow, I am so grateful for my beating heart. And I was looking at the photos of eyeballs - they look so ugly and scary when they are detached from the eye sockets of your skull. But everyone's eyeballs are like that. Mine, too. And you know, I wasn't kidding when I said that I was grateful for my healthy, able body and do not take it for granted - I literally say thank you prayers about 80% of my nights (sometimes I am so tired I zonk out before I get a chance), and I always say thank you for my healthy body, and sometimes I lie there thinking things like, wow, eyeballs are SO TINY and fragile, in the grand scheme of things, and it wouldn't take much to disable an eye, and I am so blessed to have two wonderfully-working eyeballs. I can't imagine not having healthy, working eyes. It would be like the whole world disappearing. Thank you, whoever it is that I am praying to, for my lovely EYES!! I love them so!

The insides of my body are so close, and yet as mysterious and unreachable as outerspace. What's it like in there? Strange that I have cancer in my body and wasn't aware of it, can't feel it, don't feel any symptoms from it. Makes me wonder what else could be in my body that I don't know about, and no one knows about? What if there are other bits of cancer somewhere else, in places it would never occur to me to check? Or weird-but-benign growths? Who knows! In a few weeks, doctors will be REMOVING a CHUNK of my BODY. Hopefully a small chunk, but like I said, my preference is to have them remove a large enough chunk of my breast to be sure to get clear margins the first time, instead of being conservative in an attempt to keep my breast looking nice. Health before aesthetics, totally! But how MUCH of my breast is going away... and where does it go? I never really thought about it, but, EW, what do hospitals do with all of the blood and guts and tissue and tumors that they take out of people's bodies?? How does it get disposed of? Is there some big place full of human hazardous waste where a chunk of my boob will be in a pile with some other person's spleen, another person's amputated foot, blah blah? OMG, so gross and weird. I have never lost anything from my body except for the usual fluids we all lose, and teeth and hair and the usual. I have never actually had my body cut open so a part of it could be removed... I will still be just as much ME as ever with an inch or two (or three, or ??) of my breast gone. I'd still be me with an entire breast gone. I'd still be me with BOTH breasts gone, and I'd still be me with my reproductive organs gone or an arm or a leg gone or with new breasts or all of my hair gone or with scars all over me or with a new set of teeth or a missing lung or kidney!! Not that any of that is going to happen, I'm just saying! I'd be me no matter what. I have a healthy, able body now, but as disability activists remind, every able-bodied human is only temporarily able-bodied. (They use the acronym TAB!) We all have bodies that will be come dis-abled at some point, for some length of time, to some degree. Some people's bodies will lose only little bits of ability for a little bit of time due to minor injuries or illness. Other people's bodies will become permanently and severely disabled due to sudden huge accidents or injuries. Other people's bodies will be healthy, strong, and able right up until very old age when the body just wears out and stops. But all of our bodies WILL lose their abilities SOMETIME. All we can do is be grateful for what we have today. I'd still be me no matter what my body was like, because my body is not me. The outside of my body makes me look like a "me" different from "you," but on the inside, there's not much difference between me and you. That full-page photo of that skull I was staring at for such a long time... my skull is like that underneath my skin and tissue and hair and scalp... yours, too. Same color and material and basic shape and texture of mine. My insides are not really "me." If I were in a coma, I'd still be me, wouldn't I? But... if I were just breathing and had a beating heart, but couldn't see/hear/feel/taste/smell/think/communicate? WOULD I be me? What IS "me"? The chunk of tissue that is removed from my breast is "mine" now, while it is inside of my body... but the moment it comes out of my body and goes onto some metal tray (?? and into some hazardous waste disposal thing??) [Edited in 2011 to say: I have no idea why, but this entry is the second-most-viewed entry in my entire blog! And I'm now embarrassed by how ignorant and naive I was about all of this stuff!!!] , it's no longer mine/a part of me, it's just... tissue. From a body. And it goes away...and gets mixed up with the rest of the Earth somewhere... as the Tao says, "Merge with dust."

Me being not-me:


  1. OMG- so much there i can't focus on everything.

    But- as far as the animal hospital world goes, our body parts/tissues/gross stuff goes into the freezer with the deceased animals, and get shipped off to be cremated. Everything turns back into carbon, eventually :). Your removed breast tissue will probably go into a jar of formaldeheyde and get sent to a pathology lab for someone to examine and make sure they got all of it.

    And the insides of bodies are still fascinating to me. It really is like outer space- it's really not like the drawings in a book... I mean some organs are pretty much like you'd expect (intestines. They're long and slippery and are a big tube. Connected to the body by tissues and blood vessels of course.) but lungs are weird. Lungs don't look like i imagined them at all. I didn't recognize them the first time i saw them. Stomachs and bladders are pretty obvious- pink pouches. All the other organs (liver, kidneys, spleen) look pretty much like the organ meats at the supermarket. Red weird squishy things. Though, kidneys have a distinctive shape. Muscle looks a lot like... meat. Because that's what meat is. Dog and cat legs look a lot like chicken legs- muscles seperated by connective tissue and fat.

    Makes me want to be vegetarian sometimes...

    Oh and eyes! Eyes ARE extremely delicate! The cornea is only about 3 cells thick! Just think about that next time you rub your eye! And all those tiny organelles (lens, retina, etc) suspended in goo (vitreous humor, but whatever. GOO.) And they're all perfectly aligned and in place and damage that structure, and you're SCREWED. This is why eye injuries are emergencies!

    But bodies are amazing. It is amazing watching the parts actually working. Like seeing a heart beat! Being able to see the valves of the heart open and close on an ultrasound. Or, watching peristalsis! That is my favorite- holding intestines and watching them independantly MOVE something through. It's bizarre! It's amazing! It gives me a new respect and appreciation for this thing we call life.

  2. oooooh!! thank you for this, steph!!! :) that's all so fascinating!

    and DUH, i forgot the tissue from my breast would be going off for further analysis. and lymph nodes, too; i almost forgot about that!!

  3. I love those pictures of you, Britta!