Are you doing better than you were last week? That question is the question of the hour.
TL;DR: Yes, I am doing better than I was last week, both physically and emotionally.
This isn’t a slow journey…physically or emotionally, healing may only come with time. I don’t believe the adage “time heals all wounds” because I do think there are some wounds that run so deep, they’re always a little open and little raw. We become adept at hiding those wounds, and we forget, from time to time, they’re there. But, they’re there. They’re deep, but they’re there. So, when I say healing may only come with time, I say that because I can’t say with 100% certainty this will all heal. This all is a lot.
I’ve been through a physically debilitating surgery that not only affected my appearance but also took away some of my mobility with my left arm. That may heal with time. Or, I may never recover 100% range of motion. Right now, I can’t stretch my left arm straight up as completely as I can with my right arm. I have a two inch incision under my arm where the auxiliary lymph node removal took place. As that wound heals, my arm tightens with scar tissue. So, I try to exercise it as I can to strengthen it and to recover some of my range of motion. Still, it may never come back.
Then, there’s the fact that I still have two drains in place, one on each side. Yes, the drains will go away. Eventually. While I have them, though, they limit my activities to an extent. I can’t fully put my arms down to my sides because of the drains. I have to find ways to hide the drains or contain the drains. Today, I have them contained by my surgical bra and detachable pockets attached to the surgical bra. It’s not entirely uncomfortable. The drains, though, are. They affect my sleep. I can’t lay comfortably on my stomach. I can’t lay comfortably on my right side. I can’t ever intentionally lay on my left side again due to the surgery on that side. I don’t mind sleeping on my right side. I hate sleeping on my back, and until the drains come out, I’m stuck. I have to sleep on my back. It sucks. My sleep is broken and not truly restful. Sleep heals. I need more restful sleep.
I’ve spoken about the other physical issues I’m facing in other posts. Maybe I shouldn’t be as honest about the issues as I have been, but at some point, some other thirty something year old woman may find herself in my shoes, and while I hope that doesn’t happen, if it does, and she finds herself here, I don’t want to gloss over the physical and emotional upheaval breast cancer causes. I was semi-lucky when I was diagnosed because I knew a woman who had been diagnosed in her early thirties. I worked with her. She was one of the first I reached out to and could talk to honestly about what I was facing. I want to be honest here, with myself. I owe it to myself to be honest, and I owe it to anyone else who may find themselves in similar shoes wondering what lies ahead. Everyone’s journey with this is different, but it helps to know where someone else has walked.
Well, that got philosophical…
I know I’m not the perfect breast cancer patient. I don’t fit the pretty pink narrative. I hate being in the spotlight. I hate being the center of attention. I’m not a pink warrior. I’m just me…in my blue and black wig, $5 leggings, and irreverent t-shirts. I own two t-shirts with pink ribbons: One I bought because it proudly proclaims my breasts are fake and the other I bought years ago at work to support a Komen team. I trudge through what I’m facing because I want to go about with my life. I just live my life. It’s not pretty everyday. I’m not positive about what I face every day. Heck, I’m rarely positive about what I face. That’s not me. So, I trudge through each day doing what I have to do. I wasn’t raised to be a quitter, but I also wasn’t raised to have my head in the clouds and assume everything will magically be okay. I was raised to honor my commitments, to do the best I can do when I can, and to admit when something is too much. I was raised to believe it isn’t weakness to ask for help when help is needed, to humbly accept it, and to always give it back, whether it be in a thank you or to do something for someone else. I want to be the perfect breast cancer patient, but I’m not. I’m just not. I’m not a joiner, so I haven’t actively sought out other breast cancer patients. I certainly don’t avoid others, but I’m a loner. I’ve always been a loner. I’m a contrary soul. I need and want to be around people, but then I don’t. A compares me to a cat. When I want to be around others, I make it pretty obvious. When I don’t want to be around others, there’s little doubt I need to be left alone. From what I’ve seen, that doesn’t fit the pink narrative. I’m okay with that because I’m being me. I’m doing the only thing I know how to do: live the way I’ve always lived. Get up, do what needs to do be done, love your friends and family, go to bed, and start all over again, even when it’s hard. Fall apart when you need to fall apart, but at some point, put yourself back together. That’s what I was taught as a child, and that’s what I teach my children. I’m working on putting myself back together from the devastation and despair of surgery so I can continue with my treatments, whatever that looks like. And, I’m trying to prepare myself for what might be ahead.
I have a small group of very close friends, and we’ve cried together over this and they’ve told me to get my stuff together over this. They’ve caught me when I’ve fallen and helped me on my feet, and they’ve let me crash and burn so I can rebuild myself. They know me. They get me. Just like A. We all get that this could still go south…that the new hope from last Wednesday, when we got the pathology report, could still change in the blink of an eye.
Emotionally, cancer is a roller coaster. There’s no other way to describe it. There are heart stopping drops, exhausting climbs, moments of even tracks, and the mountains, molehills, valleys, plateaus continue. I HATE roller coasters. I refuse to ride them at amusement parks. But, when it comes to life, that’s different. I have no choice. I only choose how I live. That’s life.
I’m not the most even keeled soul when it comes to emotions anyway. I cry when I need to cry, I despair when I feel despair, I scream, curse, yell. I do what I need to do to help myself. To me, that’s healthier than bottling it up, which I could do and have done in the past. Owning your emotions is hard. It’s easier for me to own my negative emotions than my positive ones. I fear being hopeful because I don’t want to feel the pain when hope is yanked away, and while I could commit to being miserable and pessimistic, that seems exhausting…as exhausting as being happy, sunshine, and rainbows all the time, too. I feel like there has to be mix, and I’m living that mix of emotions. I can’t predict from day to day how I’m going to feel or how the next piece of news is going to hit me. I just know it is going to hit me, and when it does, whatever comes, comes. That’s who I am right now. I don’t want to pretty it up or brush it over. Again, how does that help anyone?
Emotionally, I’m still on a roller coaster. The tracks happen to be flat right now. But, we are facing a climb this week. I see Dr. O this coming Friday, and she will go over the pathology report with us in detail. I’m not sure she’s going to be as positive as Dr. H. I feel she’s going to be pretty guarded in her discussion with us about reoccurrence and survivability. I’ve looked at some of the studies. I know it’s not good that cancer was found in my lymph nodes and still present in my breast. But, I know it’s good that it was only in two lymph nodes and most of it was gone from my breast. From what Dr. Google tells me, I’ve got a 50/50 chance of surviving the next 5-10 years. Seems legit. I figure we each have a 50/50 chance of surviving each day (especially if you have to drive I30, Central Expressway, or 635 on a daily basis). Is it the most positive outlook? Nope. But, it’s mine, and it is what it is.
For a good part of the last two weeks, I’ve felt a lot of despair and heartache. And, to me, that’s okay. Walk in my shoes. I climbed a hill when we got the pathology report. I began to feel some hope and happiness. And, to me, that’s okay. Walk in my shoes. Now, I’m facing another hill. I’m a little more cautious and cranky. And, to me, that’s okay. Walk in my shoes.
Everyone’s cancer journey is different. I’ve chosen to be real…maybe too real sometimes, but this is what it is. This is my cancer journey. It’s a journey I never, ever, wanted to make. Yet, here I am.