This is another one of those posts. You know the type. The kind where I start out trying to put my jumbled thoughts into some semblance of order and by the time I get to the very exhausting end it looks more like a dictionary threw up. I apologize up front for the chaos.
Secondly this post may require a hankie or two. I suppose it depends on the reader, but some of you are more sensitive than others. You know who you are. So read at your own risk.
And now I begin…
I grew up close enough to the beach in Southern California that our house didn’t require air conditioning. I remember only a very few times when it was hotter and more stagnant than usual, but for the most part a/c simply wasn’t necessary. And generally no matter how warm the day was, the night was always pleasantly cool.
Imagine my horror when I moved to Arkansas in June of one of the hottest, most humid summers on record to date. The stifling, oppressive humidity did little for my confidence in my new future. Evening didn’t bring any relief as it was usually as heavy as the day had been. I moved there for Todd and I loved him, but I sure didn’t like sweating profusely every time I opened the front door.
By October, however, the humidity and temperatures started dropping. The air became cool and crisp and the leaves started turning the most beautiful colors. I felt like I was being rewarded for enduring such a brutal summer. At nearly 23 years old I was finally experiencing my first true autumn. October became my favorite month.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned how seeing my latest reconstruction procedure just stirred up unpleasant emotions. October did the same thing this year. I don’t remember this last year, but maybe it was because those feelings were still so close to the surface.
My response to a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 39 was pragmatic. I hated it, but I knew it would eventually be over. I felt confident that between surgery and chemotherapy I was going to beat the monster. I never panicked, never truly thought I was going to die. I had my bad days and my moments of utter despair, but on the whole I went through it as well as possible because I didn’t feel I had a choice. I also had a little supernatural help through the whole thing, if ya know what I mean.
My head tells me all that should be behind me. I AM A SURVIVOR! And for the most part it IS behind me; the crisis over. But I wasn’t able to escape it last month. Everywhere I looked; every magazine I flipped through; every channel I surfed over; every station I listened to; every news program I watched – they all talked about Breast Cancer Awareness.
When you’re in the midst of treatment your every thought is consumed with cancer. There’s no escaping it. It’s there with every spell of nausea or the fatigue or the aches and pains or the loss of hair and eyebrows and lashes.
And then you finish your treatment; your hair starts to come back; you’re not as fatigued as you were; and all of a sudden you realize you went three hours without even thinking of cancer. Those three hours turn into five hours and so on until you might go the entire day with hardly a thought to the disease.
But in my case I went through reconstruction a year and a half after my mastectomy. It was a long and tedious surgery and a long and very unpleasant recovery. My entire day without a thought to BC was brought back to every minute because everything I was enduring was a result of the cancer.
Each procedure I’ve been through has been a little like pulling a scab off a healing wound. There’s a little less pain and oozing each time, but it still hurts. Eventually the reconstruction is completed, the trips to the oncologist are farther and father apart and life resumes a bit of normalcy.
You think to yourself, “I’ve finally moved on.” Then October comes along and everywhere you look is a plea to help find the cure. And you desperately want a cure to be found because you’re tired of hearing about yet another woman diagnosed with breast cancer or another recurrence. But even more than that, you have a daughter and even though you know it’s not your fault, she’s at higher risk now. Especially since your mother was diagnosed a year after you were. There’s truly a family history now.
Selfishly, however, I don’t want to be reminded of what I’ve lost every time I turn around. I don’t want to be overwhelmed with emotion when I see huge pink ribbon balloons in the grocery store because they’ve taken on a whole different meaning for me. I don’t want to face the reality that my daughter will always have the niggle of fear as she gets older unless a cure is found.
I’m a contradiction of emotions. I’m proud to be part of a sisterhood of some of the most incredible women I’ve ever known – including my mom – but at the same time I don’t want to be in that sorority. I don’t want anyone to be in that sorority. So I want a cure to be found and the support for BC research is astounding. But I don’t want to hear about it at every turn. There’s just no pleasing me.
I also get angry when I see the “Breast Cancer Checklist”. You know, “You’re at a higher risk for the disease if you check off however many of the following.” BAH! Three years ago I couldn’t check off any of them. I had no family history at all, I very rarely drank, I wasn’t obese, I was under 40, etc. I wasn’t even old enough for routine mammograms. Thank God I found my lump when I did.
I worry women will dismiss the possibility of breast cancer if they can’t check off anything. . Did you know that while having a family history may increase your chances of breast cancer, the majority of breast cancers are found in women without a family history? Sounds crazy, but that’s the way of it. The bottom line, people, is it doesn’t matter whether you can check off anything from the risk list or not. You must be diligent in monthly self exams and yearly exams by your doctor.
I also had more than just a moment or two of profound sadness last month. Memories were stirred without invitation. Every person who has had or has breast cancer has a similar, yet different, story to tell. My battle was compounded when Todd had to relocate to Pennsylvania ten days after my mastectomy. The difficulty of treatment was greatly magnified by having to go through it without him for the majority of the time.
One memory in particular brought up emotions I didn’t realize I still had. I received my treatments on Thursday and the following Thursday I always had a very low white count. Because of this I received Neupagen injections Thursday and Friday and sometimes even throughout the weekend, depending on how low the counts were. As thankful as I was to have this wonder drug available to me, I hated those shots. Neupagen is like fertilizer for your white blood cells, putting your marrow into hyperdrive which, in turn, causes pain in your bones and joints.
One of these Saturday nights when Todd wasn’t coming home sticks in my mind. I was so exhausted talking was a chore and my back, knees and shoulders ached so badly I felt like I had the flu. What I wanted to do was go to bed, but instead I stayed awake with the kids until they went to bed. I tossed and turned and couldn’t find a comfortable position, but I was so fatigued and desperately wanted to sleep.
After making sure the kids were asleep, I closed the door to my room, crawled into bed and sobbed. Todd would have taken care of the kids if he’d been home. He would have rubbed my back to ease the aching. I missed him so much and worried about how hard it was for him being so far away, all alone, wondering how I was.
Between my parents, neighbors and two church families I had all the help I could ever want. But there were some things no one could do for me – only Todd. The treatment and its effects were not pleasant, but having my husband living 1,200 miles away was much worse. Sometimes when I look back and think of the many times such as this I can’t imagine how we did it.
I suppose the memories, however painful, serve a purpose even now. It’s good to remember where we were, how God carried us through those horrible times and how He’s brought us through that valley to where we are now. Still, I’d rather be in control of those memories and not have them thrust upon me when I’m not prepared.
My suspicion is I’ll eventually love October as much as I used to, but it’s just going to take time. Next year my reconstruction will be completely done, I’ll probably only see my oncologist every six months or so, my gynecological problems related to the breast cancer will be so far behind me…
So if any of you found it curious that I didn’t post something about breast cancer awareness last month, now you know why. I started to several times and the posts came out so angry and bitter and I was afraid I’d cause more fear than encouragement.
In the end I do offer this encouragement to anyone who may be where I was two years ago. It DOES get better. Much better. Time heals both physically and emotionally, but it doesn’t forget.