My teammates on the United States Disabled Ski Team used to tease me about the size of my chest, joking that my greatest handicap wasn't my missing leg but my missing cleavage. Little did they know how true that would become. This past year, I found out that for the second time in my life I had cancer, this time in both breasts. I had bilateral mastectomies.
When I heard I'd need the surgery, I didn't think it would be a big deal. I even told my friends playfully, "I'll keep you abreast of the situation."After all, I had lost my leg to my first go-round with cancer at age 12, then gone on to become a world-champion ski racer. All of us on the Disabled Ski Team were missing one set of body parts or another. I saw that a man in a wheelchair can be utterly sexy. That a woman who has no hands can appear not to be missing anything. That wholeness has nothing to do with missing parts and everything to do with spirit. Yet although I knew this, I was surprised to discover how difficult it was to adjust to my new scars.
When they brought me back to consciousness after the surgery, I started to sob and hyperventilate. Suddenly I found that I didn't want to face the loss of more of my body. I didn't want chemotherapy again. I didn't want to be brave and tough and put on a perpetual smiling face. I didn't ever want to wake up again. My breathing grew so shaky that the anesthesiologist gave me oxygen and then, thankfully, put me back to sleep.
When I was doing hill sprints to prepare for my ski racing - my heart and lungs and leg muscles all on fire - I'd often be hit by the sensation that there were no resources left inside me with which to keep going. Then I'd think about the races ahead - my dream of pushing my potential as far as it could go, the satisfaction of breaking through my own barriers - and that would get me through the sprints. The same tenacity that served me so well in ski racing helped me survive my second bout with cancer.