I just returned from the vacation of a lifetime. My husband and I went to, wait for it… Bora Bora for 8 days!
The best way I can describe Bora Bora, Tahiti and French Polynesia, in general, is that I truly can’t believe that it exists on the same planet on which the rest of us live. It is filled with beauty to the point of magic. The people seem to be born gentile and kind. The air smells like rainbows, of which we saw many. I have written quite a bit about my mental and emotional evolution since cancer. After spending a lot of time in an environment that is quite unlike the one I live in, many things about my physical body surfaced. I was either unaware of, or didn’t understand, the capacity for change, post-cancer. I think the best way to share is a list:
- Silicone implants cannot be used as flotation devices- It occurred to me early on in the trip that perhaps I may have some extra buoyancy with my new implants, but after some technical testing, alas, I do not. In fact, I think they may have made me sink faster. Any scientists out there know if silicone is heavier than breast tissue? I suggest this topic as a dissertation for anyone in medical school.
- Scars need extra sunscreen. Luckily most of my scars are in places that are either covered by a bathing suit, or tucked away in an armpit, but I did find out the hard way via my arm port scar, that they get darker, faster than the rest of your dermis. Pack on the sunscreen in those areas ladies and gents.
- Lymphedema is a total biatch in an extremely hot and humid environment. Wearing the sleeve for air travel or exercise is so incredibly uncomfortable in this level of heat. And you look like a lunatic wearing it. And try describing why you are wearing it to someone who doesn’t really speak English. That is a doozy of a convo. Even though I thought I protected my arm, I still had a fair amount of swelling (that can only be reversed by more physical therapy) just from being in such a hot and humid place. I had to take air conditioning breaks when I would feel my forearm start to throb.
- Have you ever heard of the terms, ‘chemo curl’ or ‘chemo fro’? They both refer to the bizarre and usually unwanted way your hair grows back initially after chemo. It is kinky and curly in a way that is not cute. Very Ron McDon, if you know what I am saying. Add 1000% humidity and the look goes over the top.
- Fake breasts look amazing in a bikini top. There is no lifting and placing flesh into a triangle top (you know what I am talking about ladies). They just stay right there looking perky and happy to be on display. A very delightful by-product of breast cancer.
- Toes. Oh my god, my toes. I had an appointment for a pedicure before the trip. The first I would have gotten since treatment. You may not really believe me, but until this point, I have not looked at my toes in any meaningful way to know that they are JACKED UP. As luck would have it, my big toenail on my right foot just peeled off 3/4 of the way down a few weeks ago. Upon further inspection, I found that 3 more toes were poised to peel off in the same location any minute. No pedicure for me. Too risky. So the entire resort had to suffer through this for a week:
- The final item on my list is arguably the most important, depending on your modesty priorities. Allow me to remind you that I have zero feeling over my entire chest area. This numbness seems to culminate at my nipples. Yes they are physically there, but I. Cannot. Feel. Them. They are pointless except for perhaps the joy they might bring to an unsuspecting onlooker. And bring joy they did on this trip… Since I can’t feel any sensation across my chest, I would dive, swim, rollover on a chaise and have no clue that one or both nipples were out of my bathing suit. I had a 30 minute conversation with a beach attendant with my left nip on display. Not a clue until I walked away and my husband brought it to my attention.
This is a major liability, folks. Yes, it is funny, but it is also kind of maddening. Breasts that used to be mine and private are now a gag. Since I can’t feel them, I have no regard for their existence. They don’t carry any meaning for me anymore. They are just…there.
But on a beach across the globe where no one knows my story, I become a spectacle. Maybe even seen as a floozy. It felt equal parts hilarious and infuriating.
Outside of the errant nip slip, the vacation was perfection. I rested, I recharged, I felt genuine unadulterated happiness. I spent the better part of the morning we were leaving the resort crying. Yes, I was sad that the best trip I would ever take was coming to a close, but the tears were actually more of triumph.
I saw this trip as a way to commemorate my year of cancer. I will be the first to tell you that cancer is never ‘over’, but for me, this trip signaled the end of the acute era of diagnosis and treatment. I had made it through and have seen the other side. I was crying because I was happy and proud. I felt victorious.
I didn’t feel my nipple that was peeking out of the tank top. DAMMIT.