My husband built a deck off of the second story of our house. To say that it is beautiful is an understatement.

July is the driest month of the year so he waited to stain it until now. We also have a large wooden patio off of the ground floor, which is in need of refinishing. John got some stain samples, which he carefully applied to samples of all three types of lumber he used to construct the upper deck. We chose the stain color together.

He started staining last weekend. He ran out of stain on Sunday. The kind he purchased was not available at any of the stores that are open on Sunday. Additionally, this stain is quite expensive. He decided, after consulting with me, that he would buy a similar color, more economical stain for the lower deck. However, this time, he did not test the stain on wood samples. John just started staining away.

By the time I looked at it, here’s what I saw.


When John asked for my input on the deck color I said, “No orange.”  There it was, a sea of orange. And I felt irrationally anxious and angry, not so much with my husband but with the color.

I may have asked John to sand off the finish.

I may have even characterized it as “looking like ass.”

I may have said, “Maybe I can learn to live with it but it looks like BREAST CANCER!”

I have had a couple of run ins with Oompa Loompa orange during my time as a breast cancer patient. I tried to make light of it and I actually enjoyed writing posts like Wonky Wonka Boob. During the initial placement of the tissue expander, betadine was used to prep my skin for surgery. I also had trouble with some tissue necrosis after that surgery. Since the betadine was not removed during surgery, I was left with a Oompa Loompa orange “breast”, complete with tissue necrosis. When I had a skin graft the following month to correct the necrosis, I was awake. I saw the nurse put betadine on my skin as she was prepping me for the surgery.

And guess what? Betadine is a liquid, just like deck stain. And it stains the skin just like deck stain puts color on wood.

What’s the big deal about having orange skin, Elizabeth? You’ve had a wire in your nipple, been injected with radiation multiple times, had each boob squished for 7 minutes at a time for a PEM, and had a mastectomy that made your chest wall look like Craters of the Moon.

The difference is that my first two plastic surgeries took place at a time when I was mentally and physically exhausted. I was working too many hours upon my return to work following my mastectomy. It was hard to know how much work I would be able to handle and I guessed too high. And even trickier is predicting the times when the strong emotional consequences of dealing with breast cancer will come crashing down. And in the fall of 2012, there was about six weeks when theo accumulated stress and grief that came crashing down over me.

So orange has become associated with a really low scary time of cancer. Some might even say that it is a trauma cue for me. Stress can cause trauma but not all stress is traumatic. And not all people who’ve been traumatized developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; I mention this just for clarification because I don’t think I have PTSD).

I knew I was stressed. I knew that I was experiencing grief. But trauma, that was news to me, until I went off on that orange deck.

I’ve got a lot more emotional work left to do on breast cancer. I’m going to keep digging. Fortunately, I have a big and strong shovel.