I went in yesterday for my 9-month cancer check-up with my oncologist. For the past week I was on pins and needles – and my anxiety level was through the roof. As any breast cancer survivor will probably tell you – we all live with the constant fear of the cancer coming back. We have all gone through our treatment – whatever that may have been: surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, a combination of all of the above … each breast cancer patient walks a different path and has a different experience. But I think the fear that at any time the cancer could come back remains the same in all of us.
For the most part I work to put it behind me and just stay focused on the positive and count my blessings daily. I am a proud breast cancer survivor; however, I’ve noticed in the past few months I don’t really talk about it. I haven’t written in my blog, I’ve hardly updated my Battling Breast Cancer and Beyond Facebook page and I don’t share my story with people I meet – unless there is a specific reason to do so.
It’s not that I’m trying to hide it, I’m just doing what I always do when something hurts me to my core: I bury it. I don’t think about it – because if I don’t think about it, it’s not true – right? I am the queen of avoidance, but that is so unhealthy and doesn’t help with my recovery.
Then when I look at my calendar and see that I have an appointment with my oncologist that fear rushes back; I feel like I’m suffocating. The fear that the cancer could have come back and the memories of my pain and suffering … and depression … come flooding in and it drums up old feelings of abandonment and pain. It causes me to start questioning everything and everyone all over again.
It makes me remember that last year at this time I was literally fighting for my life. I remember being in so much pain, especially as my chemo treatments went on. Pain that I can use words to explain, but unless you’ve gone through it, you can truly never understand.
There were days when I could only lay there and cry because I was in so much pain and it felt like my bones were crumbling from the inside out and my joints hurt so bad that I could hardly walk. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed, other times I made it downstairs to my couch but couldn’t walk to get back up the stairs to my bed and I’d be stuck down there for a couple of days.
My son Aiden, who had just turned 11 years old, had to bring me large bowls with water and soap because I couldn’t even walk to get in the shower. My chest hurt from the 4 surgeries I had at that time – I’ve had 5 now and #6 is coming up in a few weeks. I was nauseated all the time and no medicine or IVs could get it under control, mouth sores – inside and out – and everything tasted like metal – then salt, then chalk – even if I wasn’t eating or drinking anything.
I had hot flashes from the temporary menopause the chemo put me in. Indigestion, which subsequently caused laryngitis; my teeth hurt –and I actually got the first cavity of my life when I was going through chemo because it breaks your teeth down, which of course, I couldn’t even get filled until a few months after I completed chemo because dental work can make chemo patients very, very sick. My head was tingly from where my hair fell out and I had a horrible, itchy rash on my scalp; my skin stayed dry and cracked and no amount of lotion or oil helped.
Those are just some of the physical side effects, but I still battle with the emotional scars of this disease.
I question myself – What did I do to deserve this? Could I have prevented it if I’d have done something differently? Why did this happen to me?
I question my body image – my breasts are fake. Do I look disproportionate because my fake breasts are smaller than my old breasts because the reconstructed size is FDA regulated? I don’t have nipples; I’m going to get 3D nipple tattoos, but that’s not the same – my breasts are deformed, will anyone find that sexy? I have no feeling in my chest anymore and it’s not coming back. I have scars from the front of my chest all the way around to my back from all the surgeries, and on both of my sides from the drains and on the left side of my chest from my chemo port. How do I explain them? The mastectomy scars aren’t noticeable – unless you see me topless (which I doubt I’ll ever let anyone see me that way again), but that chemo port scar is very noticeable and people will often ask what the scar on my chest is from – and I’m not always ready to share. How do I explain it when I’m not ready to?
I question my friendships – I had friends and family members who just didn’t show up at all. They left me during the hardest time of my life to deal with the possibility of dying on my own. Some of my friends I’ve grown closer to, others, are no longer part of my life. I had issues with family members when I was going through everything, and all these months later, the relationships are still strained. Will I ever truly be able to forgive and move on? That pain still runs deep.
I question potential relationships – Will anyone want me given all of these issues with my health? Can someone accept my reconstructed body? Can someone handle my anxiety of the cancer coming back and my constant need for reassurance that I’m not tainted or broken? if my loved ones I’ve known all my life – or for several years – weren’t willing to be there for me, how can I expect to meet someone who will be?
I act very confident, but I’m not at all. I don’t feel like the woman that I once was. I haven’t been talking about it because I don’t want to actually face my feelings … but my growing is going to come by accepting, admitting, forgiving, moving on, sharing my story – and hopefully encouraging others.