Monday, June 27, 2011

Cancer of The Mind

Originally, I had something completely different planned but it didn't feel right. This one is going to be one from the heart. I am not writing it keeping the reader in mind, I'm writing it keeping me in mind...

When I was first diagnosed, I was in disbelief. Cancer is something that happens when you're older, and is really serious and too often fatal. It's impossible that it's what's growing inside of me.

I had a hard time knowing that once 'they' knew it was cancer, they expected me to wait 17 days until they were going to remove it from my body. I realize 2 1/2 weeks is not very long, but when you have cancer growing inside of you, it feels like years. They want this thing to keep growing while I try to continue living a normal life? You know that feeling when someone close to you dies, and you wonder why the world around doesn't acknowledge it or even stop entirely? Like, going through the check-out at the grocery store, you want to ask the cashier 'How can you just stand there and ring through my bananas when my grandfather died today?' Even though it's irrational that the cashier would know, it feels surreal that she doesn't. Well, that's how I felt. I was on auto-pilot and while I was saying "Yes, we need bags, we didn't bring our own", I was actually thinking "I have cancer, I have cancer, I have cancer."

For the 17 days between diagnosis and surgery, there were more laughs than tears, fortunately. I still, to this day, firmly believe that there should be a '20% Off Everything Card' for those with cancer. You need a new car? 20% off for you, you have cancer. Going grocery shopping? Don't forget your 20% Off Everything Card!

Keith (my bf) and I would joke about a pretty girl walking down the street for example, "She's really pretty", I'd say. Then I'd follow it up with, "Ya, but she probably has both boobs; real women only have one." I'm lucky that Keith is a one-boob kinda guy; he keeps me grounded. I feel sad (it feels like guilt but I know it's sadness) that at 34, he is dating someone with one breast and cancer. He didn't sign up for this as much as I didn't but he has the choice to leave and he doesn't. I respect him and love him forever because of that.

The night before surgery, I was a mess. My house was full with my mom and dad, my mother-in-law, and Keith, and one of my brother's and sister-in-law came to town too. It felt like we were celebrating a birthday or a momentous occasion because we were all together but I was too anxious for it to be a good thing. I was so scared and cried while everyone could only watch and try to say positive and calming things. But how do you prepare your 26 year old girlfriend/sister/daughter to have her breast removed? To be honest, I don't remember any one thing standing out from that night, maybe that it was my last night of actual sleep in the past 3 1/2 months.

The surgery went well and I came out of it in great spirits. The pain wasn't too bad but the pressure on my chest was intense. For about a week, Keith had to help me to the washroom and for about 3 weeks he had to help me get dressed. I couldn't look down when he was changing my shirt because I just couldn't accept that I had had a mastectomy. I remember when the bandages came off, I kept my eyes closed, put my shirt back on, and went home. I remember the first day I got dressed by myself, it was tough but I did it and I did it without looking at my chest. It was probably 3 weeks before I seriously acknowledged that I had lost a breast and at least 4 weeks before I could touch it. So many nerve endings are effected that it's still numb.

The next step was surgery #2. They hadn't expected my lymph nodes to be involved but the first of the seven that were removed had microscopic levels of cancer so they wanted to remove my remaining lymph nodes. Current cancer research proved that it would be more detrimental to take them at my age and if there was any cancer left in them, chemo would kill it.

So, that meant no second surgery, so no second recovery, which meant chemo had just been moved up. Chemo is a word that we just throw around now and have unfortunately become desensitized to. You throw it around until you're the one who's about to go through it. It's one of those things that once you've experienced it, you've crossed over to the other side. This may be a weird comparison, but to me it was like losing your virginity - you're either a virgin or you're not; you've either had chemo or you haven't. You can never undo chemo or the side effects.

My first chemo went 'well'. My nausea reached maybe a 2 out of 10 and within a week, I felt good again. I spent the remaining two weeks cleaning the house, running errands, and living my life kind of the way I used to. My 2nd chemo, on the other hand, was awful. I had all the side effects and ended up on an IV drip for 2 days. You know when you don't feel good and when you finally throw up you have some relief? Well my friends, it was nothing like that. It didn't matter how much came up, there was no relief. I would officially like to resign from chemo, please.

What I couldn't be prepared for, that no website or book managed to warn me about, is the mental game of cancer that you start playing the day of your diagnosis. Everything changes. Cancer is something you have for the rest of your life, whether it's in your body or your mind. I've read about women going through severe depression during their cancer diagnosis and treatment. I didn't think I would ever be effected but after the past few weeks, I can understand how easily it could happen.
I was working 45-50 hour weeks prior to my diagnosis and now I'm not working at all. Now, I only set my alarm for doctor's appointments. Personally, I do well with a busy schedule. I liked being a full time student and working 30 hours a week; I work well under pressure. I just don't feel like I am an active participant of society anymore. If anything, I feel like I am a drain on the health care system. I am not looking for support or strength, I have that, I'm just frustrated.

I have thrown myself into scrapbooking. I had planned on scrapbooking for a while but I didn't know what to include and I wanted it to be something I looked back on and smiled at, not something that made me sad. With the recent articles running in the local, provincial, and national papers, I found my focus. I copied and pasted all of the private messages that I received via facebook into a word document and printed off all 15 pages of inspiration and support. I'm going to include pictures from the Relay for Life as well as cards that I've gotten from family and friends. Just like this blog, the scrapbooking gives me a purpose and gives me something to look forward to with an eventual end result.

I'm just trying to find a purpose in life for the time being. That's not to be confused with the meaning of life, I just want to find a reason for living, right now. I feel good about what I have done so far. I honestly do feel like I am making a difference with getting my story out there, but it's not enough. I want to be the reason that someone else isn't as scared of cancer once they've heard they have it. I want to be the reason that someone feels optimistic about the future. I want to be the reason someone found the lump at stage one and not stage four. I want to help! Too many people suffer from this bull shit disease and I want to be the reason for some relief.

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