So, as I contemplate my upcoming mastectomies, I'm finding it very helpful to broaden my perspective. Hopefully, this is not an exercise in cis privilege. But I've found trans theories and writings to be extremely helpful and soothing. From the perspective of a cis woman with cancer, mastectomy is not a positive thing. From the perspective of a transman, though, it could be liberating. And I've found it really helpful to reflect on this and to think that the same surgery that I'm having might be something that someone else would be happy to have. Not that I'm not happy to have it - I think it's a pretty good trade. But I mean, it changes the way I see the surgery to recognize that the reaction to it is really about perspective.
I'm thinking about doing a ritual before my surgery. I am someone who does not participate in ritual on a very regular basis, but when big things happen, it's important to me that they be marked in a meaningful way. I think by claiming this as a ritual moment, I'm helping shape my own understanding of it as well as my healing.
Interestingly, when I did a Google search on ritual and mastectomy, I came up with a few links to Jewish poetry and mikvah rituals. I started thinking about a mikvah - a ritual bath for Jewish women. The technical problems here are that I'm not so much Jewish as JewISH, so I'm not sure that the Mikvah Association here will let me in. A friend suggested I do it myself in a friend's hot tub, but some of the side effects of the chemo are exacerbated by hot water. I decided to call my oncologist to ask about this. I wanted to know if I needed to worry about making the side effects worse or about my lowered immune system in either a hot tub or a public facility (that, I'm guessing, wouldn't have chlorinated water).
I called and left a message for a nurse to call me back. How do you leave a message for something like this, when you know that the person you're leaving the message with is not going to understand it at all? This is Minnesota, after all, and while there is a sizeable Jewish population in the area, the odds that the person answering the phone was Jewish were pretty small. So I said I had a question about baths. "A bathing question?" the receptionist said. "Yeah," I said. (I wonder what on earth she thought.)
The nurse who called me back was not the nurse who I had left the message for. The nurse I'd left the message for is one I have had a good relationship with - and she's pretty quick. The nurse who called me back was Weird Nurse, the same one who freaked me out prior to my chemo treatments by droning on and on about nausea.
Weird Nurse was not terribly helpful. She was concerned that I could burn myself because the numbness I'm experiencing makes it hard for me to know the temperature of the water. So I assumed the hot tub was out, and asked about the immune system issues. She told me to be very careful, which confused me, because if I'm going to be immersed in a pool of water, how exactly am I going to be careful? And of what? I needed some more specific advice.
So I said, "look, could you just tell my (Jewish) oncologist that I am thinking about doing a mikvah...no, a mikvah..m-i-k...no, m-i-k-v-a-h...MIK - VAH...right, tell him that, I'm pretty sure he'll know what that is, and ask him if that's a problem given my immune system. Thanks."
So I get a call back and she says, "Wow, I had to look that up. You're right, he knew what it was."
And I said, "And what did he say about the immune thing?"
She said, "He said be very careful."
I said, "Um, of what? The water temperature?"
She said, "The water temperature primarily."
I got off the phone and told Mr. Plain(s)feminist, who said, "Clearly, G-d doesn't want you to do this."
So I may hold off on the mikvah for now. But I'm still in search of a ritual.