In the April of your 49th year, your breasts will slide down your chest. It won’t happen all at once, but there will be a day where you will wake up to find that your left breast isn’t where you left it last night. No, your left breast will have fled south for warmer climes (it will head for Mexico but stop short of your waist). Your right breast will follow its mate not long after. Two deflated sagging pancakes pasted to your chest. You will sigh with dismay, wonder whether you are approaching menopause, cinch up your lacy black-and-pink underwire bra, and vow to work harder at your martial arts practice. Side kicks and round kicks will keep you young, you think. You decide that in a year, when you turn 50, you will have the breasts of a teenager. Why wouldn’t you?
In the July of your 49th year, you will have an ultrasound, a CT scan, and a brain MRI. You will know what your pancake breasts were trying to tell you in April. Grab a lifejacket! We’re going under! It’s cancer!
Seven months will go by. You will become accustomed to your new body. Your cancer body.
The weight loss will be effortless, magical, and frightening. There is no control of the numbers: 20 pounds down in 20 days; 20% of your body weight gone in less than a month. Double digits now. Every morning you will step on the scale and hope. Go up, numbers, please go up. Not down.
You will have old lady arms. Skin will hang and ripple down your shriveled biceps. Every morning you will see your arms in the bathroom mirror, looking past the flecks of flossage and splashy toothpastage festooning the mirror that in your old life you would have wiped away almost before they appeared. You will remember the old ladies wearing colorful sleeveless shifts who gathered in wait for the postman at the apartment complex you once managed in sunny hot Phoenix. In your mind you will see the gaily-waving hanging armfat and the rippled and shriveled biceps that look so oddly like your own. You will not have Michelle Pfeiffer’s arms. You will not have Madonna’s arms. You will have cancer arms. You will mourn but not too much. Mourning takes energy. Some things you will have to let go.
You will cut your hair. You will tell yourself that pixie cuts are trendy and cutting edge. Only the cool kids can pull them off. Short hair is more YOU, you will say. But you will know that you cut your hair because it’s easier. Less to do. You will miss tossing your hair back when you put your coat on to go out. You will miss the way it feels when your soulmate twines his fingers in your hair, tugging gently. You will feel guilty that your Facebook profile photo still shows you with hair. Deceptive, you will think. But the new hair spells cancer. Who wants to look at a picture of cancer?
Every other day, you will pinch a tiny fold on your belly and slide a slim needle into the now fat-free space there and press the plunger that will send burning liquid made from mistletoe into your body to attack the cancer cells. Every other day, you will watch this subcutaneous bulge on your belly redden and swell. You will feel it itch. You will wonder whether repeated injections in the same area will cause scarring there. Whether your belly will look unsightly. Then you will decide you are being silly to worry about this when your life is in question. When you don’t die, you decide, you can worry about how your belly looks. Not until then.
The stair handrail will become your new BFF. Some days your arms will seem stronger than your legs so it will be your arms that pull you up, step by step. When you have to stand for any length of time you will carefully balance your weight evenly over your legbones and trust that even cancer femurs can’t break from holding up 95 pounds. You will hope this is true.
You will swallow your pride and ride the motorized wheelchair cart at Fred Meyer, Target, and Home Depot. You will decide that people will recognize you as the thin-but-elegant ex-queen of a country everyone knows but no one can remember the name of. They will see you for who you are and will appropriately give you and your motorized cart a wide berth before you knock something over with it.
Your ass will flee to the same place your breasts went. You will cinch your belt tight over your skinny jeans to keep them from falling all the way down your hips to your ankles. Your skinny jeans — once tightly packing your lusciousness into an attractive shape — will become baggy and loose. You will not buy new size quadruple-zero skinny jeans because you don’t have money to waste and buying new size quadruple-zero skinny jeans would be like accepting you will be this size long enough to justify the expense. It’s been nearly 8 months already and you still weigh 95 pounds and it doesn’t seem like that will change any time soon but you push that thought out of your mind. Buying new skinny jeans now would seem like giving up. Like expecting to not get better. You will tell yourself that you expect to get better.
You will almost give up shaving under your arms. The razor can’t easily reach those hollows. You will stand before the bathroom mirror, razor in hand, pulling your underarm hollows taut, wondering why you are still shaving. You will not feel yet ready to give it up. Giving up shaving would feel like giving up caring.
Several times a day you will catch a glimpse of your face in the mirror. You will become very good at masking your shock at what you see there: pale, lifeless skin; hollowed cheekbones. When did you get this old? After an enema, the bathroom sauna-like now from 30 minutes of space heater, your cheeks will be flushed and pinked. This is the image you will take with you in your mind the rest of the day, not the other one. You will wonder whether fooling yourself like this is a good thing.
One day you will refer to your sagging pancake breasts as “niblets” and ho! Transformation! No longer sad sagging pancakes, no! Niblets will be cute, desirable, wanted things. Sweet yellow nuggets in a can. Sweet nippled nuggets in a miniature bra from the girls department of Fred Meyer. Niblets are hopeful. Your soulmate will use every opportunity to work the word into a sentence. Some days you will regret ever having used the word, but other days you will remember things like spring and how it feels to play.