[Disclaimer: I was reminded by a marketing group that my website should celebrate my clients, not me. While I understand that point of view, I learned over 45 years of pharmacy practice that good professional relationships, just like personal ones, are based on vulnerability and trust. I am sharing my journey because cancer is personal, but the reactions are universal.]
…If we can hold on through the night. No matter how much support we have, there is a time deep in the night when we are totally alone looking the monster in the face and asking if we have the strength to fight and survive this. We cry tears of desperation, totally helpless and vulnerable.
In the run up to surgery, it was hurry up and wait. There was the push to have early diagnostic tests done, and then there was a wait for the MRI. The MRI was done on my stomach, with my breasts hanging in midair. Not uncomfortable, just weird. The radiologist who gave me the results was encouraging. She saw only one mass and no lymph node abnormalities. Back home, I had the blood work and chest x-ray done. Surgery was scheduled for early May.
Four weeks feels like forever. It’s just enough time to re-read notes and understand what someone else is going to do to my body. They are words only, the emotions don’t grasp. It’s also enough time for the mind to start the “what if” games. Do I put everything on hold? Do I go on with my life and call a halt later? Do I keep it a secret or scream it from the mountain tops? One close friend has given me copy of Yvonne Ortega’s book Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer. A member of my quilt guild presented me with a wonderful prayer shawl. Every few days, another bill arrived. I scheduled private time with each grandchild so we can finish the quilts we started when they lived with me. I started having really vivid dreams in color that make no sense. Freud would have a field day. The day before surgery, the hospital called, “How would you like to pay for this?”
My daughter and I arrived at the appointed time to find out surgery was not until late morning. The radioactive dye had to be placed four hours before surgery. This took 15 minutes, then off to Women’s Health for the radiologist to thread a wire from the side of my breast to the tumor and try and catch the titanium clip which kept moving away. How do I know? I was watching the ultrasound screen. I don’t remember being wheeled into surgery. Recovery is a blur. I was sent home with a soft white camisole and told to wear it ALL THE TIME, except for showers until I see the doctor.
I slept for 3 days. Emotionally I am riding a huge roller coaster. I cry, I curl up with the cat, I am angry at everyone and no one, I am scared. I have watched TV, spent time working on a quilt, read. The theme song from The Poseidon Adventure keeps running through my head. I have two incisions and the one in my armpit HURTS.
Today was the post-op visit. The final pathology report says Stage 1 Breast Cancer and it’s gone. It doesn’t matter if it were Stage 100 and spread to everything including my toenails! I am still grieving ME! I still have more doctors to see – the Radiation Oncologist and his partner who does the drugs. There are still decisions to make.
We need to talk about cancer, not hide it. We need to cry in public and ask for support. We need to be kind to ourselves and find a few peaceful moments each day. We need to celebrate the challenges we face, because they make us wiser. We need to BREATHE!