In Situ

By Kate

There’s a peculiarity in medical waste.  It’s not dirty, quite the opposite. It’s clean – too clean. It’s been preserved inside its body of origin. Never touched the out of doors; earth, human breath, the red plastic bags in hospital containers, although one is led to think so, don’t protect you, they protect it. ‘It’ being all manner of ugly guck that once had great purpose; greater purpose than most things in the world, in fact. The appendix notwithstanding, so much of what is physical inside of us is important. Except cancer. No one wants that monster truck riding the muscles and bones and squishy-nesses inside us.

A week ago I waved a half-hearted goodbye to my breasts as they were wheeled down the hall on a metal cart in a red bag marked ‘medical waste.’ My wave was a medicated one, so likely involved no more than two fingers at best and very well could have been nothing but a dream altogether, but the sentiment was there. They were my breasts. Or were. And had proven quite useful in their day. Maybe got me that first notice from Rick (although he would probably say it was my bubbly personality), fed my babies, gave me the extra motivation to get an awesome dress, perhaps even got me in the running for homecoming attendant in 1982, although I didn’t win. Not that my breasts were anything special. They really weren’t. And I’m mostly cool with them gone.

I have four drains taking their place. They hang from my chest like hand grenades. I’m wearing a “bra” that’s more like a suicide vest (forgive the metaphor, there might be a touch of anger I haven’t tapped into yet). It’s thick and tight and zippered up. Nothing underneath there now but stitches and hoses and stuff.

In Situ is a Latin phrase that translates literally into “on site” or “in position”. Oncologists use the term to refer to malignant cells that have not metastasized or spread beyond the membrane of where the tumor was discovered. As far as breast cancer goes, if it’s not in situ, it’s considered invasive. When it comes to cancer, actually, when it comes to a lot of things, the word invasive is unsettling. It conjures up monster trucks and the like. My breasts, getting pushed down the hall of Chester County Hospital, were invasive, or more correctly, invaded. And for that reason, even though they might have had something to do with getting my picture in the school newspaper in 1982, I was more than happy to see them go.

I’m not a fighter. I’m not brave. I’m not strong. I’m not courageous. The favored school bus torture game in the 1970’s involved someone yanking your arm back until it hurt so much you said “uncle.” “Uncle” being the only way to stop the torment. I’m sure there are contemporary versions that aren’t so randomly strange. Having established myself as spineless, the other kids didn’t even bother pulling my arm back. Not much fun in tormenting someone who screamed before you even touched them.

In the first chapter of Joshua, twice God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous”. Sometimes I wonder if Joshua was naturally weak, like me; not a fighter or brave or particularly lionhearted, and that’s why God kept telling him to be strong and courageous. I imagine that certain people, like those Navy Seals who can hold their breath for a couple hours, hop out of the ocean, yank a few trees out of the ground and haul them to the top of a mountain to use as cover in a dog fight don’t need to be reminded as they fall backwards into the ocean loaded with flippers and masks and harpoons to be courageous. Don’t forget now, be courageous! You can do it! 

Yeah, so. Me and Joshua. I know I’m taking liberties here. Perhaps he was of the Navy Seal ilk, but for the purpose of making my point, let’s go with it.  

I don’t like Nike commercials. They make me a little nauseous, and not because I’m watching some woman in spandex run miles, jump walls, check her watch and the like. It’s the end that drives me nuts. Just Do It. And there are so many other commercials that follow suit. In essence, they’re saying be strong, be courageous.

 Which is exactly what God said to Joshua.

But that’s where the similarities end. As far as Nike goes, told to Just do it, and even though feeling quite supersonic in my hot pink spandex I would still turn around, look the commercial-director-guy in the eyes and say “How?”

Joshua 1:9 would be the perfect answer, although I doubt commercial-director-guy would think of it.

       Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be        dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

The “how” as well as the “because” is that the Lord my God is with me wherever I go. Told to hop in the ocean with flippers and a harpoon, I’d still be ‘uncle’ terrified, but with my father in Heaven there I would say, “okay, if you say so,” grab his hand and fall backwards into the icy water.

Living, dead, happy, sad. Always—even if my cancer isn't—my life is In Situ. It’s in position. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.  –Psalm 16:6

I love that. It makes me happy.