But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

-William Shakespeare, Henry V, St. Crispin’s Day speech

Soldiers prepare for battle is different ways. Some get drunk. Some revel, party, and have sex with prostitutes. Some pray. Some cry and despair. Some are calmly resigned to whatever fate may befall them. Some do all of these things. “War is Hell” as William Tecumseh Sherman said in 1879 and most of us give soldiers at least a little latitude in the way they deal with this reality.

Preparing for a mastectomy is one kind of battle plan. Some of us cope by crying, by grieving for the loss of a culturally and personally significant body part. Grieving for the loss of being able to depend on good health. Others cope by getting angry, by cursing the barbarous  and coarse way in which breast cancer is treated, by amputating breasts, chemical warfare, and irradiating the Hell out of potentially tumorous sites.

There are many more ways to cope. I coped by writing silly posts about accidentally turning my hair orange, because I had an irrational need to be a little bit cute, to not have gray hair after my mastectomy. I wrote another post saying goodbye to my breast using all kinds of melon-related imagery. I also spent time learning about cancer and its history. Being silly actually made me feel a lot better. It took my mind off my worries and reminded me that I had the power to do something good, to make other people and myself laugh. But I never thought for a second that my mastectomy was going to be a positive experience. And I would have never predicted that I would be reading “The Emperor of All Maladies” in the pre-op area of the hospital just prior to my mastectomy. And coincidentally, I was reading the chapters on mastectomy. In a weird way it was comforting to know that the current surgeries were far less extensive than in the past. It was reassuring to see that there had been progress in breast cancer surgery. But honestly, I look back and think, “Why was I reading about cancer?” But at the time, it was the right thing to do.

I did not feel bereft, angry, or super sad in the weeks, days, or moments leading up to my mastectomy. I had anxiety, but it was relatively manageable. When it came time for surgery, I asked the anesthesiologist to knock me out as fast as possible, which she did. I did not want to belabor things. The operating room is surreal to me and I wanted to to experience the least amount of it as possible. More importantly, I knew that the faster I was knocked out the less time it would seem that I would have to wait until the surgery was done. I knew that there would be no perceived lapse of time between losing consciousness in the operating room and waking up in the recovery room.

But that was my way of coping, which worked for me. Not everyone wants to do what I did, scheduling surgeries as fast as possible, writing silly humorous posts, reading about cancer in the pre-op area, or getting knocked out as fast as possible. Moving ahead quickly, laughing when I could and reading history that put my disease in a larger context, made sense to me.

Some women prepare for a mastectomy by dancing. One woman, an OB/Gyn, prepared for her bilateral mastectomy by dancing to Beyonce with her surgical team. When I looked at the video, I thought of how dancing in the O.R. might be empowering for a surgeon. She may have never had surgery before and would have been used to being on the other side of the operating table. By dancing in the O.R. with her colleagues, she may have felt a sense of mastery that helped her prepare for her surgery.

I thought the video was cool but I understand why others thought it trivialized breast cancer or prescribed a model by which we are all compared. We should all be happy to have breast cancer. Yay, deforming surgeries! Yay, lymphedema! Yay, lack of sensation in the removed breasts! Yay, scars!

I am sad and angry that the popular media has taken this stance when it comes to breast cancer. But I do think, apart from that, each breast cancer patient needs to cope in his or her own way. Sometimes that way is dancing. And sometimes the dancing, just like mastectomy photos, are shared on the Internet.

We all prepare for battle in a different way but we are all fighting the same battle. Let’s do it together.