I never thought this would happen to me. I gave breast cancer a passing thought in Octobers and whenever I heard about a coworker who’d been diagnosed. I feared cancer. Not breast cancer. After all, I’m in my mid thirties. There’s no history of it in my family. I never thought I’d be the first in my family.
I never thought I’d be the one in the one in eight statistic…the one in the one in 200 who are diagnosed in their thirties.
I never thought I’d be the one causing my family, my loved ones, my friends stress and worry regarding my life, literally, my life and feeling like a burden even though I know I’m not.
I never though I’d be the one who’s asked at every doctor’s appointment “Do you have any pain today?” It’s a standard question at an oncologist visit or cancer surgeon visit, and I hate it. I don’t want to be reminded of the fact that cancer causes pain, and besides, it’s not just physical pain. It’s emotional. It’s psychological. It’s spiritual. And, yes, it’s physical. Cancer, and cancer treatment, takes a huge toll on the person dealing with it and on the caregivers.
I never thought I’d need caregivers in my mid-thirties, or I’d need someone to go with me to every doctor’s appointment because I feel like I need the support and another set of ears.
I never thought I’d be the one who panics internally every single time I’m told I need a medical type test because I’m afraid the test will reveal the cancer is still there or it’s back or it’s spread.
I never thought I would hate touching my left shoulder or left underarm, but I do. Part of it is numb from surgery. Part of it has a crevice where lymph nodes and tissue once were. Part of it just feels weird. I don’t like the way it feels. I’m afraid of hurting it and causing lymphadema or other complications. I’m suspicious of it. After all, it’s the side of my body that betrayed me.
I never thought I’d have to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment…the fatigue, the insomnia, the hot flashes, the night sweats, the muscle and joint aches, the digestive issues, the hair loss, the skin changes.
I never thought I’d need to question everything I eat or drink. Should I really drink a Dr. Pepper? Is it ok to eat a small slice of birthday cake? What if I eat that cookie? Do I really need the coffee creamer? Is it ok to eat this many strawberries? Why don’t recipes I like use a lean meat? If I make a pasta dish, is it ok for me to eat it, or should I just make a salad? Can I use that salad dressing? What about bread?
I never thought I’d walk through the greeting card aisle and wonder if I should buy a bunch of different ones for my kids in case I’m not around for their big moments.
I never thought I’d have to go to a jeweler and leave my wedding and engagement rings in his care to have them resized. My fingers have swelled a little bit since surgery. Resizing them is my only option. “Is this a temporary condition?” the jeweler asked. I suppose, in hindsight, laughing wasn’t the best reaction. No, it’s not a temporary condition. It’s permanent and might get worse.
I never thought I’d be so angry, sad, and fed up all at once.
I never thought I’d sit in an empty house and have a one-sided screaming argument with God.
I never, ever thought my new normal would actually be my life. The endless appointments and tests and results and scans and fears.
I never thought something would happen to me that would exceed my level of pessimism so much that it would force me to try and find some optimism.
I never thought cancer would be such a defining part of my life. I can’t seem to escape its clutches. How do I stop it from defining me and from being a central focus? I don’t want to just be about cancer, but it’s always in the back of my mind. It seems to always come up in conversations. I can’t seem to escape it.
I never thought I’d spend so much time thinking about and dealing with breast cancer. I never thought I’d be the one in the one in eight.
I may not have ever believed this would be my reality, but this is my reality.
I should never have thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It can happen at any age. It does not care what your life is like or what you’re trying to do. It does not consider whether you have a family who needs and loves you. It does not care if you take care of yourself or not. It does not discriminate. It picks who it picks and everyone picks up the pieces. It’s cruel and cagey.
And, it can happen to anyone whether you think it’ll never be you or not. It could be.
It happened to me.