Have you ever been driving and when you get to your destination, you can’t remember the actual drive? Or sometimes during my morning workout I’ll complete a set of exercises and ten seconds later not remember that I’d actually done them. Well, I’m coming up on a year since I discovered that lump in my breast, and for the life of me (ha!) the past eleven months is a complete blur. And it seems that all the thoughts, feelings and experiences that I moved through, but didn’t have the time to process are now plowing over me like an avalanche.
A little catch up- Although my PET Scan in December came back clear, a few weeks later I found another lump in my breast. Having had a bilateral mastectomy, it shouldn’t be anything, right? Always wanting to avoid overreacting, I hesitated contacting my doctor. But after about two weeks of feeling the thing, I sent my Surgical Oncologist an email asking if it’s anything I should be concerned about. Her call the next morning requesting to see me right away answered that question.
An ultrasound could not determine what the lump is. Yes, it could be scar tissue or dead fat cells from the grafting that was done during my reconstruction, but the radiologist could not be conclusive. So they decided to ‘watch me very closely’ and follow this lump to make sure it’s not another tumor. I’ll go back for another ultrasound in a month or so.
Getting back to ‘normal’ also meant resuming my regular skin checks with my Dermatologist. Having had several skin cancers in the past, all treatable with a few snips and stitches, my Dermatologist and I are buddies. But at this appointment, he was different. Now that I’m post- breast cancer, he suddenly become over vigilant. He did a much more thorough skin check than before that resulted in discovering a lump at my lymph node by my pelvis. (Who knew we even had lymph nodes there?!!!) He had never even examined those lymph nodes before. So when he solemnly asked “So, uh… when’s the next time you’re going to see your Oncologist?” it’s was all I could do to avoid laughing. Not a humorous situation, but, are you kidding me? So yeh, I sent off another email to my Surgical Oncologist and we both decided this one could wait to be examined at my next check up in a month.
At this point in time, I’m kinda thinking that if we keep digging deep enough, we’re gonna find some stuff. And shit, I’m just kind of done.
Back to the avalanche.
I’m on my third month of taking hormone blockers and I think they’re messing with me. This shows up for me in a couple ways. First, my bones are really achy. When I go to stand after sitting for a while, I walk like an old lady. And second, I’m experiencing an exaggerated version of PMS, where I become overly irritable, followed by some deep sadness. It’s not really depression, but more a lack of joy…in everything.
Warning- rant to follow.
I am no longer bald- that’s something to celebrate, right? I should be grateful. And I am… but….My hair is coming back darker and curlier than it was before. And I’m not really enjoying the growing out process. And if one more person tells me how cute my hair style is, I may just scream. Yes, I know people are well-intentioned. And heck, I may have made the same kind of remark to someone I’d seen going through this process. But for me, it’s just a sad reminder of what I’ve just gone through. This is not a hairstyle I’ve chosen. I did not go to the salon and ask for a pixie haircut. This strawberry blonde, curly mess growing is not by choice. Some days I feel like Little Orphan Annie! And as much as I wanted to play Annie as a child, nowadays it just gets me angry. I miss my light blonde hair. I miss having longer hair. I miss having a warm head!
And then there’s my boobs. I miss them too. MY boobs. The ones I had before surgery. Because the ones I have now- they don’t feel like mine. They don’t look like mine. And honestly, they don’t even look that great. Don’t get me wrong, the plastic surgeon did a wonderful job. But because my boobs pre-surgery were kinda saggy, I would’ve had to go up several sizes to fill the skin and I just didn’t want to do that. As a result, my boobs have lots of dimples and indentations in them now and the shape just looks unnatural to me. And they don’t feel great. Sometimes they hurt. It’s just another reminder.
Piled on top of all this anger is a boatload of guilt. I’m reminded of how lucky I am. I have my life. The treatments worked. My health insurance, for the most part, was amazing at helping us handle the cost of the financial toll of this disease. And my body has mostly rebounded from the year’s events. So with all of that in mind, all these challenging feelings seem indulgent. There’s a voice always whispering, “Sarah, come on now. How dare you? You should be feeling unending gratitude.” So every experience of anger, sadness or frustration is followed by tremendous guilt. And there’s an aching thought that somehow I ’should’ be doing more with my life; that my life as a Mom to these amazing boys, running our household, it just isn’t enough. It’s not a positive whisper, one that encourages me to do more. It’s more of a very judgmental side of myself, criticizing and nagging; as if saying, “This is what your life was saved for?”
So yeh, there’s a lot going on in my head these days. And little things trigger me. Recently I saw a story on facebook about a guy who ‘cured’ his cancer by eating raw. First of all, yay for him. But secondly, shit. Really? Here’s my inner monologue reacting to this story: “Wow, so more evidence that eating raw is good for you and may even CURE cancer? I’m not eating raw. I’m not enjoying eating very much at all lately. But when I do eat, it’s not raw. Right now, it’s carb and sugar heavy because I’m f-ing sad all the time. Great. So now, I’m not only hurting my body by not sustaining it with healthy food choices, but I’m inviting cancer to come right back in. Way to go, Sarah.” And then it turns to: “F-ck that! If I fought so hard to stay alive, I should be able to eat whatever I want! And f that guy for implying that by not eating raw, I’m welcoming cancer back!” OK- I know that guy wasn’t really implying that. He was just sharing his story. Again, yay for him. But clearly, there’s still lots of anger and guilt present for me.
“Waaa, waaa, waaa. Quit your bitching and moaning. Stop indulging yourself and shake it off,” says my inner voice.
And then I learned that this whole thing I’m going through…it’s not uncommon. In fact, most cancer survivors experience a period of time when they process the trauma of, well, getting cancer and going through treatment and surviving. And for me, this part is much harder than the actual treatments. When I was going through treatments, there was a plan to follow and it kept me on track. Now, going through this, it’s ambiguous and wrought with traps, reminding me how I should be grateful, when all I’m feeling is sad. And I’m a bit angry that there wasn’t a warning about this part of recovery and no courses on how to navigate this post-cancer phase.
And if I’m being totally honest and transparent, which is all I know how to be, I’m a bit angry that the support that was so abundant during my treatments has all but disappeared. People congratulate me now, like the whole cancer thing is done, I’ve crossed the finish line, mission complete. Unlike the loving compassion I received from friends when I shared my cancer diagnosis, now when I share my sadness and difficult feelings, my friends just nod and suggest therapy, anti-depressants, or finding my passion. These are great ideas and ones that I’ve utilized in the past, but right now, they’re just not resonating. But I understand my well intentioned friends. Sitting with someone in sadness is not easy or something we’re taught. We naturally want to help someone feel better. I get it.
Another tactic is reminding myself that there are so many people who are experiencing so much worse than me. But this can be tricky because while I understand that notion intellectually, my own sad feelings remain the same and joylessness persists. And then guilt creeps back in and compounds the situation. So ultimately, my training has taught me that avoiding my feelings, or masking them with drugs or busyness, will not lead me to radiant health. Sometimes, you just have to go through it, you know?
So it seems I’m in mourning for my pre-cancer life. And It may just take a bit of time for me to adjust to this new life of mine. One with achy bones, strange, awkward boobs and cancer still dangling over my head.
So please bare with me, dear reader, as I go through my stuff. More rants may follow. And hopefully, as I continue to work through all of this, these feelings will lift.
I ask for grace, compassion and understanding. No need to solve this for me, but I welcome a hug, a loving nod, or a wink- you know, the kind that Samantha used to give to Carrie, reassuring her she had her back. And I hope…I really hope, I can find my joy again.