Breast Cancer · Cancer · Friendship · Grief

Setting myself up

Picture of my gorgeous flowers simply for attention

There’s a phrase that I learned early in my career that has proven helpful in many aspects of my life since. I remember someone talking about how the best thing you can do for a child is to “set them up for success,” and it has been my number one rule as a teacher. It’s all about not pushing kids to the level of frustration and setting achievable goals so that they can taste the awesomeness of meeting the goal rather than getting bogged down by failures. Trying to learn how to read? Here: let’s start with Hop on Pop and not Harry Potter. Oh? That’s too easy? Let’s try Elephant and Piggie then, and so on.

When Daughter was little, we would get so many compliments on her behavior. “Oh, she’s such a good baby! You’re so lucky!” Nope. Husband and I are a well oiled machine of setting her up for success. She is fed and rested, and we will be leaving before she one of those needs should be met again or we will see to it before she melts down because she’s on a schedule, thank you very much. Later, as she grew, setting her up for success became more verbal preparation and following through with consequences when others weren’t necessarily there to see. It’s easy to think she’s perfectly well behaved on a family trip to the beach when all I have to say is, “We will leave the beach if your behavior is not appropriate,” when she knows we mean business because we left the zoo before even entering it on Mother’s Day, 2010.

I think the whole habit of setting people up for success even spilled over into my personal self and inner life. I knew my limits and would work to establish myself within them. As I was completing my first year in my awesome school, I knew I could only do some much. I was actively recovering from surgery, preparing for more, negotiating a wound vacuum, etc., so I didn’t do things like establish new committees or over-volunteer. I looked like a rock star to those around me because I didn’t put myself in situations where I would fail. This, consequently, boosted my self esteem and aided in the healing process. When I began my second year, I took on more as it was appropriate and now, entering my third, I can do even more. Success.

It turns out, though, that I may have failed in setting myself up for success in what’s proving to be a pretty big area, and it’s got me pretty down.

When I was told I have to have a bilateral mastectomy, I was able to make some decisions pretty easily. I knew that reconstructive surgery was not for me. I have nothing against it for others, it’s just not something that I can do. There are many reasons ranging from aesthetics to pain to money to fear, but the reasons don’t really matter; it isn’t my jam. Then I started to join groups online and do research and I became part of this “flat is fabulous” movement which felt very empowering. I am woman! Hear me roar!!! I don’t need breasts to be female! Look, Daughter! I am a WARRIOR! I went at it full boar. I even thought it mattered to other people and felt like I was making this huge feminist and even political statement. Unfortunately, as the time began to pass, I became more and more depressed. I physically felt worse and worse as my self esteem plummeted. Mentally, I admit I’d become a wreck. It wasn’t that I wanted to “be girlie,” because I knew my breasts had nothing to do with that. I wanted clothes to fit. I wanted to not feel like I was a statement. I wanted to not be thinking about it all the time, especially when I look down and see my expansive stomach just sitting there. I wanted prostheses.The real problem came in my head, when I suddenly had the thought that I was a failure. I had established this flatness as a badge of honor, and all of a sudden I wasn’t willing to wear it all the time anymore. I felt like I had let down Daughter. I had let down my flat sisters. I had let down myself, because I set myself up for failure. I didn’t know what to do, and the very idea that I wanted prostheses was crushing me. Was I suddenly less worthy of being proud of my journey? Would I stop being a role model for Daughter? Was I no longer a warrior?

Thankfully, I have good friends. Despite having set myself up for a fail, they said things like, “having and going through cancer and carrying this burden was your brave thing. I think you’ve been “brave” long enough,” and, “Your feelings are valid… you lost so much, and you are more than entitled to whatever lets you get some of it back.”

I guess what I learned in all of this is that setting myself up has layers. While I may have accidentally set myself up for a failure with the whole “flat or nothing” mentality, I set myself up for success at every turn, no matter what, because of my amazing friends. It’s also important for me to remember that I can be whatever I need to be on whatever day. I can have breasts and still be a warrior. I can set an example for Daughter with a million things, and wearing prostheses can be one of those things. I can be me with and without enhancements, and it will always be good enough for the people who love me.

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