In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a double mastectomy and reconstruction. This piece isn’t about that. It’s about after that. The aftermath. The P.S. (Post Surgery) to diagnosis and treatment. The A.D. to the B.C. (Before Cancer). We often assume that once you have had the surgery and treatment, you are fine. And hopefully you are. But I found that there were unexpected things that came along with having gone through something as frightening as having had cancer that I only heard about from my friends who’d had cancer too. I hope this will help women going through treatment or having to face going through it, or loving someone who is dealing with it, better understand what it’s like after the crisis is over.
I had initially been misdiagnosed and was told I didn’t have cancer. But a friend suggested that I get a second opinion on my pathology. I did, and was stunned to hear the words you never want to hear: “You have cancer.” I was playing Larry David’s wife in his hit Broadway play, Fish in the Dark, when I took off for my surgery. I asked my doctors how long it took before women usually returned to work. They said three weeks; I took four. One would think that doing a play, as opposed to a musical, would have been less demanding, as I had believed. Girl, it was so exhausting, all I could do was sleep all day. I felt like Snow White, waiting for Prince Charming to gently wake her up, or, as in my case, Prince Charming being the backstage speaker blaring, “This is your half-hour call.” I soon realized that women, no matter what they did for a living, must have more than three to four weeks off after a major surgery. It may seem to others that you are through the worst of it, but it takes real time for your body to heal.
I had tissue expanders, a sort of implant they put in during surgery that help you get ready for your permanent implants. They’re odd little rascals; hard to the touch, don’t really resemble breasts, and have a magnetic injection port, which allows them to be filled with saline to expand your skin (since all breast tissue has been removed and the skin that used to cover your breasts has been altered). Every week I would go to my doctor and he would inject the port with a large needle full of saline (surprisingly not painful), and the expanders would fill until my skin was about the size of the permanent implants that I would soon receive. The whole process takes a few months. Summer vacation was approaching and I wanted to look okay in a bathing suit. I am not complaining, but if you had painted eyes on my breasts they would have resembled some person with a lazy eye where you didn’t know where to look. But it wasn’t like I was going to be in St.-Tropez parading around topless, like I did in the ’80s. God, I hope there are pictures.
Then, vacation. Finally. Up until this moment, there was always something to do. Finish the play. Remove the drains. Get expanders filled. See doctors. Film Girls. Plan the summer. Complete my album. Finally, on holiday, in the quiet of a hammock by the sea, in the absence of something “to do,” what I had just gone through hit me. And I was scared.