Trouble comes in three’s, they say. It’s been sniffing around our house for a couple of weeks now.
It’s my own fault. I invited it right to my doorstep with my cocky attitude. This double mastectomy at long last left me with a feeling that I had some measure of control over my destiny.
Will I never learn?
On a Wednesday night two weeks ago, my husband, who insists on walking home in the dark every night from his part time job at the city library, was assaulted. He had just purchased a couple of chicken sandwiches during his walk home when he noticed two young men following him.
“Can I do something for you boys?” he turned around to face them.
They wanted his wallet. “I don’t have any money,” John told them, refusing to give up the wallet tucked inside the chest pocket of his jacket.
“Why couldn’t you just hand it over?” I demanded later in exasperation.
“And be forced to cancel my credit cards and get a new driver’s license?” He was indignant.
The thugs followed him to our driveway – yes, to our own driveway - kicked him to the ground and searched for his wallet. John huddled close to the ground and grabbed the leg of the man in front who was kicking him in the head.
“Let’s go!” the other one finally yelled in frustration. “He doesn’t have a wallet!”
They didn’t leave, however, before stealing our chicken sandwiches. Consequently, the police log in the paper the next day reported John’s call. “Food was stolen,” the report read. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. But John was sheepish.
“I’m feeling pretty foolish,” he said.
Much more was stolen from us than a couple of chicken sandwiches. While John has promised me that he will drive to and from his job at the library from now on, we both find ourselves looking behind our shoulders, checking to make sure we really locked the doors, and pondering a move to a safer neighborhood. Maybe there is no safer neighborhood. Besides, we’d really miss the good people living on our block.
It wasn’t two days later, still reeling from John’s assault, that I received a call from our next-door neighbor.
“Can you come over?” her voice shook. “I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Something inside dropped clear to the pit of my stomach. Anne is one of those women whose sweetness spills right out of her smile and eyes. She and her husband Scott are the greatest neighbors in the world. They trundle over a crockpot of potato soup when you’re feeling under the weather and carry over their adored baby granddaughter to let you hug as long as you want.
Now Anne was scared to death. Although her cancer was early, she had scheduled a bilateral mastectomy due to a complicated pathology report and a significant family history.
“Dr. Goering’s performing my surgery,” she said.
I was filled with confidence. Johnny Goering had graduated from Central Catholic High School and had been a student in my husband’s classroom and mine. He was one of those earnest, true-blue boys. I remember the time in my seventh grade English class when I unwittingly sat on a planted whoopee cushion. Johnny Goering laughed so hard he nearly fell out of his desk.
Thirty years later, he performed my colonoscopy.
Had my sisters and I not sought out a breast cancer specialist for our particular situation, I would have gone straight to John Goering for my double mastectomy. “Take ‘em off, Johnny,” I would have told him. “And be quick about it.” He would have, too. He might be the best surgeon in town, but I’m still his English teacher.
“You’re in very good hands – the best,” I assured Anne. We talked about all the particulars of double mastectomies, and she asked lots of questions, her voice quivering sometimes.
“This is the hardest part right now,” I told her.
“I know,” she said hoarsely. “I wish I didn’t have to worry about my girls and my little granddaughter.”
Don’t we all? Would there ever be a cure for this hideous disease?
Anne would be all right, I convinced myself. Her cancer was early and very treatable thanks to her vigilant mammograms, and she had a wonderful surgeon. All would be well.
Then our son Tommy called. “Mom? I thought I’d better tell you about this before you read it in the paper.”
That sinking feeling of doom was becoming all too familiar.
While working at his part-time job at HyVee in Omaha where he attends college, Tommy was stocking shelves when he heard the security officers screaming for customers to drop to the floor. A man had just shot another young man in the parking lot. The victim, who was shot in the head, lay dying as the shooter rushed into the store - the same store where my youngest son was stocking shelves. The killer was apprehended by the security officers who managed to take away his gun, but every customer and employee in HyVee that night was shaken by the event.
For the third time in two weeks, the unthinkable occurred. It seemed there was no way to protect my family and friends.
I needed a good visit with my little sister Terri. She’s always a breath of fresh air.
“Come see my new boobs!” she invited my sisters and me after her final surgery last week.
We couldn’t wait. Sneaking up to her bedroom, away from all the Lewandowski kids, we waited in anticipation for Terri to disrobe and display her new breasts.
“Terri!” Deb, Mary and I squealed in unison. They were beautiful – soft and round without any of those hard plastic expander bumps and edges rippling her skin. The three of us, in our various stages of development, couldn’t stop staring. Ter allowed us to poke, prod and examine with wondrous curiosity. It was the emotional lift we all needed.
“You really think they look okay?” Terri looked at us anxiously.
“I want mine to look just like yours,” Mary breathed fervently.
Terri’s 8-month journey has come to an end. I’m happy for her. I’m happy about a lot of things. I remind myself that my husband and my son are alive and well, unscathed by recent events.
But I can’t help stewing over the what-if’s. What if Tommy had been carrying an elderly woman’s groceries out to the HyVee parking lot and had confronted the man with a gun? And what if I had only come home a little sooner in time to help John the night he was assaulted?
“You’re kidding, right?” John laughs. “What would you have done had you pulled in the driveway?”
I can see those two young men clear as day in the blaze of my car lights kicking and beating my husband, a gentle giant if there ever was one.
“I would have run them over,” I say with low urgency. Then I check myself, a little frightened. Is this what those two young thugs feel? This overpowering rage coiling up in your stomach like a snake ready to strike?
If I ever thought an operation to remove my breasts would offer me more control over my fate and the fate of my loved ones, I was wrong. The world can be cruel. My neighbor Anne knows all about that.
“It’s just as well you aren’t in control of the world,” John scolds me lovingly. “It probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for you to mow over two guys in our driveway.”
Probably not. After all, they only got away with a couple of chicken sandwiches. It could have been so much worse. I’m trying to be more charitable today. I really hope those two young guys get help. I hope they can straighten themselves out and lead good, decent, productive lives.
But most of all, I hope the chicken in the sandwiches they stole was grossly underdone.
And that they got severe diarrhea.