Under Reconstruction

Image is an abstract image of brown and purple hues.

Photo from Flickr

I have not written on this blog for almost four months because I was preparing for, underwent, and have been recovering from reconstructive surgery. I was waiting for a moment to be inspired to write again, but maybe inspiration is too strong of a word.

When you are working to fulfill your basic needs, engaging in an activity that you normally love is not always the best thing. Sometimes when you try to do something and encounter restrictions or discomfort, reconnecting with the activity becomes more work than leisure.

Recovery has been my main activity, and boy, is it a lot of work. Especially when you live in the United States, recovery inevitably comes with medical bills, health insurance claims, (if you are working) human resource communications, and more administrative work to navigate the labyrinth of American healthcare.

By the way, I am someone with access to more resources than other patients. I have health insurance, workplace benefits, supportive loved ones, connections to people who are knowledgeable about healthcare systems, and my own strategic planning and self-advocacy skills to survive and thrive through the hard work of recovery.

I am proud of how far I have come, but there is still a long way to go.

Some people think that this is super hard on me because I live alone. When I had my mastectomy more than a year ago, a visiting nurse looked at me with pity and said, “You’re alone.”

In my mind, I thought, “You don’t know me.”

I do not want to get into everything that nurse said, but she assumed I was having the hardest time because I do not have a partner or other family members nearby. I was enduring challenges, but I would not say it was for those very reasons.

Truth be told, family members had visited me before that nurse’s visit. Actually, their presence was adding more stress to the situation. My family members were supportive, but they were not skilled in listening to me and showing their support in ways that were most helpful to me. Sometimes, yes, they provided the support I needed, and other times that was not the case.

When that nurse assumed I was not doing well because I was alone, I did not feel like correcting her.

She was not the first healthcare provider to assume I was having a difficult time because I lived without a partner or other family members.

Now would it have been great to have had a partner while going through my recovery from the mastectomy or from my reconstructive surgery? Sure, but I cannot assume a partner would have been supportive of me.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been no shortage of articles on the “shecession” like this one from The New York Times. Even among the women I know with relatively affluent lifestyles, they have lost their jobs in this “shecession” because they live in family and community structures where they are expected to take care of everyone else but themselves.

Last summer, my friend and I had a conversation where she revealed how much her friends were complimenting her husband for taking good care of both their child and her. He worked and also contributed a great deal to household responsibilities. In her mind, he was just being a good partner, but from the perspectives of her friends, he was an anomaly worthy of high praise.

My friend did not realize the gender dynamics at play with so many of her girlfriends in hetero relationships until the shecession came with the pandemic.

I was not too surprised. As a member of different groups for breast cancer survivors, I sometimes hear from mothers who have nobody to help take of them during their recovery because they used their network to find care for their children. This is not every mother’s situation, but I hear about this scenario enough to take notice.

While I acknowledge that it is difficult to be in recovery when you live alone, the thing is people expect those who live alone to have a hard time. They do not expect those who live with partners or family members to have hard time … so they might not offer those people help.

Maybe this is why I have gotten into Pose during my recovery. Friends were telling me what a great show it was, but I did not have time to watch it prior to my reconstructive surgery. I watched all three seasons and actually binged the first two seasons when I still did not have the strength and flexibility to stand upright after my surgery.

What I love about the show it that it is not just about friends, but family—chosen family.

Chosen family is how I have been able to survive and thrive through medical treatment and a pandemic. Now some of my chosen family is biological, and some of it is social. Either way, every member has been valuable and critical in my recovery.

When I was a kid, people asked me about my dream life. They asked me about my dream job (how capitalistic), dream husband, and dream kids (how heteronormative). When they asked about my dream husband, they asked about what his job would be (how capitalistic). They asked what he would look like, but rarely would they ask how kind he would be. They asked what my dreams were for my dream kids, but they did not ask how my dream husband and I would partner together to nurture and care for them. People asked me about the seminal moments of family life, but not the daily work that went into building a family.

Furthermore, people would ask about my dream house in my dream neighborhood (capitalism again), but nobody asked me what I wanted from the people in my community. Isn’t that crazy?

For more than a year, the United States has started a global racial reckoning. Because of the travel constraints in place due to the pandemic, I really had to get to know people in my town, and I really had not made a great effort to do that before. Yes, I had a community of loved ones in my metropolitan area, but that is not the same thing as knowing people in my actual town. It took a cancer diagnosis and treatment, pandemic, and violent acts of police brutality to ignite a racial reckoning, which compelled people in my community to establish and build groups focused on promoting racial justice and justice in general.

For nearly a year and a half, I have been making decision after decision, and these are all major life decisions. There does not seem to be an end in sight. That is a long time to be in a liminal stage or multiple liminal stages.

I am grateful to have come this far in my recovery, but I wish America were place that did not require so much recovery.

Lately, there have been articles like this one from The Washington Post that explain the plummeting vaccination rates in the United States. When I read articles like this, it makes me wonder how much longer I will be navigating liminal stages. At this point, I cannot see things becoming “normal” for a couple more years. Until then, I am more concerned with living a healthy lifestyle and promoting healthy communities than chasing some pseudo version of normalcy.

What concerns you most?

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