Everyday, I put on a mask, a facade. Everyday, I pretend to be okay. That’s my answer. “How are you doing?” Me: “I’m fine.” A friend at work today, after receiving that response, looked at me and said, “Uh-huh. Try again.” We spent almost our entire lunch talking.
What we talked about was last night. I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever, in three years of having the occasional panic attack, had. It had been building all day. I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired…so very tired. The left side of my abdomen is suddenly slightly swollen. Still, I pretended I was fine. It was S’s birthday. I had to be fine. So, I put on the mask, the facade.
It cracked at 9:30 last night.
I walked out of our bathroom, sat down on the bed, and broke. I just broke. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t stop sobbing. I couldn’t stop shivering. I couldn’t tell A what was wrong. I couldn’t do anything but sob and shiver and gasp. A sat and rubbed my neck for awhile. Then, he asked the most dangerous of questions: “What happened? What triggered this one?” Do you know how hard, how humiliating, it is to answer, “Me. I sparked it.” It all spilled out after that.
“What if my abdomen is swollen because the cancer has spread? What if the pain I have that shoots from the middle of my abdomen to my back is because the cancer has spread? What if the cancer is still lurking? What if it’s silently killing me? What are they going to do to help me know the signs to look out for in case the cancer spreads? What’s next for me when Herceptin ends? I’m so tired…I’m exhausted. I can’t keep doing everything I’m doing, but I don’t want to ask for help because I’m tired of being weak. I’m so, so tired, though.”
There was more, but those thoughts, circling in my head as I took a bubble bath and read a book, triggered it.
A, ever logical, told me:
“Your abdomen is a little swollen…you just had major, massive surgery where they cut you from side to side and pieced you back together. I’d be shocked if you didn’t have some swelling. It’s from the surgery. If it gets worse, we’ll call Dr. L or Dr. O before you see them next week.
“The pain that shoots around you is muscular. There’s no other explanation. There’s nothing, NOTHING, anatomically speaking, where you describe the pain except muscular. I’m going to guess it’s because you are doing too much, too soon. But, if it gets worse, we’ll call Dr. L or Dr. O before you see them next week.
“The cancer may be lurking. I can’t tell you that it’s not, but I can tell you that you have done everything you can do to ensure it’s not lurking. You’ve done chemo. You’ve done targeted therapies. You’ve done surgery. You’ve done radiation. You’re doing hormone therapy. There’s nothing more you can do except trust Dr. O and Dr. H.
“I don’t know what happens after Herceptin ends. We live our lives without you having to go to Dallas every three weeks. A year of Herceptin is the medical standard if your heart can take it, and your heart has held up just fine.
“I know you’re tired. I know you’re exhausted. You’re doing way too much way too soon. I know it’s because you don’t want to be Cancer Girl anymore. I know it’s because you want to be normal again, but here’s the thing: You’re not going to be normal again. This has changed your life, our lives, and there’s no going back. You have to take care of yourself. You have to listen to your body. You texted me earlier today and said you had a headache building. It’s from exhaustion. You’re not sleeping enough. You push and push and push. You’re going to push yourself too far if you don’t stop.
“You’re not weak. Who in their right mind would tell you that you, after everything you’ve been through over the last year, are weak? If someone says that, I want to know what their definition of strength is. You are not weak. But, you are not taking care of yourself. If you’re doing anything wrong, it’s that.”
A can deliver a walloping when he needs to do so, and last night, I needed it.
I’m not 100% better today. I’m not even sure I’m 50% better today. I went to sleep with a fever and still shivering. I woke up without the fever and the chills gone by 7:00 am. Maybe admitting to having this kind of struggle makes me seem weak, but I also think it’s normal. Maybe I’m processing the last year. I don’t know, but I do know this – I don’t want to crack again. Not like I did last night. So, I’m going to have to take a very hard look in the mirror. A is right. I’m pushing myself too much. I want to be normal, but this? It isn’t normal. I’m not healed from this surgery. I need to take better care of myself. I need to admit when I’m not taking care of myself and do something about, whether it be asking for help, or just admitting I’m having a bad day.
I am scared. I am scared of Herceptin ending. I’m scared the cancer is lurking. I’m scared it’s going to kill me. I’m just scared.
I have to work through that.
But not the way I did last night.