In a convention center the size of an airport, along the banks of the Mississippi River, thousands of doctors along with their staff and family members, took a moment to honor not just me, but four of our sisters. These doctors, who have spent years training and practicing their art, were applauding us. I wish I could bottle up the love in that room and give it to everyone.
Doctors are all too often portrayed as cold and impersonal. But these guys? They have dedicated their lives to making our lives better. One would think that a gathering of the national convention of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons would be a room full of 90210 slicksters. But they weren’t. These dedicated professionals spend their time trying to find ways to create the most natural reconstructed breasts so we can feel better about ourselves; they discovered what tissues and tendons they can use to give someone back the use of an amputated finger; they pioneered protocol to rebuild tracheas of patients who have been terribly burned that without their doctor, they would be forced to breathe through a tracheotomy tube for the rest of their lives.
These doctors are warm, engaged and interested in more than any monetary gain their profession yields them. They truly care about US. And they know how to party.
The evening started with all five of the 2012 Patients of Courage meeting in the lobby of New Orleans jewel of a hotel, The Monteleone, where they put us up as their guests. This year they were honoring breast reconstruction patients. They asked us to wear pink and we were ready for our closeups. Literally. We took a little bus over to the convention center for the pre-ceremony meet and greet. Doctors started to come over to us and introduce themselves. They knew who we were, but we didn’t know who they were. They had the advantage because they had seen our “videos.” A few months back a film crew came to each of our homes to film us in our day to day lives and to hear our stories. None of us knew what our videos were going to be like. But it seemed like the doctors who had seen ours knew us better than we knew ourselves.
We then proceeded to this gigantic room with three movie theater size screens surrounding the stage and the opening ceremonies began. Interspersed with the past year’s accomplishments of the ASPS, each of our videos played. There was Dora, and Beth and Danielle and Kim and finally me. It really is amazing to see yourself Jumbo-tron size. (And I noted that the old saying that the camera adds 10 pounds is not true. It adds 20.)
After the last video played, they presented us with our awards, the 2012 Patients of Courage award, and we all stood in a line on the stage, and the doctors who gave us our very lives back, stood up and applauded us. Applauded US? We should have applauded them! It was incredibly moving and not easy to keep from crying. If subsequent weird looking pictures are posted, my smile is a smile of me gritting my teeth and trying desperately to will myself to not cry.
Afterwards, we all marched over to Mardi Gras world and wandered around the floats in a surreal atmosphere. The party followed and all of us felt like celebrities. I cannot tell you how many people came up to me to thank me and congratulate me. I met doctors from all over the country and even one from Israel. The band was playing zydeco and disco. Suffice it to say I was in heaven. The music spilled out to the esplanade where the barges silently moved up the river. The moon hung low in the sky. The New Orleans air was sweet and humid and I did not want the evening to end.
It has always been my dream to go to New Orleans. I never imagined it would have been breast cancer that got me there.
I felt like I was not alone up there on that stage. Not only was I with my other honorees, all beautiful sisters, but I was representing us. I was also representing my doctor, Dr. Ron Israeli, and his incredible talent and all that he has done for me over the years. You may not have known it, but y’all were in the Big Easy on October 26 and I share this award with each of you.
Our videos may be seen here: