Large and Not In Charge (Thanks, Breast Cancer)

I’ve been joking quite a bit lately about reaching the “parade float” portion of the breast cancer experience, and it turns out my humor has been spot on. I found out on Thursday that I’ve gained a little over ten pounds since July, and my lymph node-deficient left arm seems to be growing larger by the day. This has lead me to wonder how many Macy’s employees it would take to escort me down Broadway during the annual Thanksgiving Day parade (Snoopy has quite the entourage).

I wasn’t able to see my regular oncologist or nurse practitioner when I went for my scheduled Herceptin treatment, but I was told that after a few months of taking the estrogen-supressing drug Tamoxifen (I’ve been taking it for five months), you begin to feel the effects of menopause, which include weight gain. I’d been having hot flashes since chemo, but they intensified after starting Tamoxifen. The weight gain and swelling took longer to manifest. For a while, I thought the swelling in my arm had stabilized, but no such luck.

One of my other favorite jokes throughout this experience has been referring to myself as a side effects “overachiever”, and now I’m starting to overachieve in the menopause department. If all this continues to progress unchecked, it won’t be long until I’m looking like Snoopy up there, which will not be a good thing. Parade floats can be deflated and put away until the following year, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to pop myself with a pin to deflate my arm, along with the rest of me. It’s going to take some doing.

The inevitable weight gain and swelling has me even more convinced that the less blessed you are in the genetics department, the more you will suffer. It’s bad enough when you find out you carry the genes that increase your risk of getting cancer, but being predisposed to turning into your doughy mother and grandmother doesn’t make aging any easier.

When you look at a woman like Christie Brinkley, who at 62, is the poster-girl for biological over-achievement, you think, damn, how many 62-year-olds actually look like that? Does she buy fillers, treatments, and surgeries in bulk? Does she eat anything, or peck at birdseed once every few days?

My other favorite is Susan Sarandon, who, at 69, could likely still play Janet Margaret Weiss, Hattie, and Annie Savoy on the same day. The woman is nothing short of incredible.

Then, we have Jane Fonda, the matriarch of living well, who, at 77, still has the audacity to appear in public in sparkly jumpsuits, and talk about how much she still loves having sex. No appropriate adjectives for that come to mind.

I often think about how much I miss Joan Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky. She was my landsman, and a ridiculously successful woman not especially blessed in the genetics department, but she knew how to make the most of what she was given. She left us too soon, at 81, after blazing a trail for the un-blessed among us. She taught everyone that you have to bust your ass incredibly hard to make it in life, while enduring more than a few pitfalls and tragedies. I know I speak for many when I say I’d love to personally strangle the bumbling physicians who snuffed out her life. She so deserved to go out swinging – we all do – but Joan Alexandra truly was unstoppable.

I used to think I’d made peace with my genetic lot in life, but now, I feel it is just another glaring misfortune that breast cancer exacerbated. At least my mother and grandmother were allowed to descend naturally into the next phase of womanhood. I, on the other hand, had to have it medically induced. There are millions of other women who have to take this route as well, but I cannot emphasize enough how alien it feels to have your body behave like a yeast loaf in a proving drawer.

I’d like to spend one day in Christie Brinkley’s body, and have that image look back at me in the mirror. If my joints ache, and a feeling of dreaded bloat overcomes me, I promise to stop complaining. But, if I truly look and feel 30 years younger than I am, all bets are off.

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