Thursday, August 18, 2016

Breast Cancer Retrospective

Before my breast cancer diagnosis, I was aware of breast cancer around me. A co-worker's mother, another co-worker's wife, my parent's neighbor, and more. But it never really touched me because no one I knew personally was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a disease of older women. I also felt because I had previously had cancer that sometimes people expected me to be more sympathetic to other's cancer diagnoses. I did feel some guilt because of this.

I never expected to be diagnosed with another cancer. I felt I already had my share of cancer with thyroid cancer. I didn't 'deserve' any more. Because I had a benign breast tumor at age 22, I really did have my share of medical crap. However I got to have a mammogram every year from then. How fun is that!

At age 45, my annual mammogram was scheduled for January - just as I was starting a new job. I pushed it back to early May so I wasn't a new employee who immediately needed time off. I mean it was just a mammogram that I had had for years upon years upon years. No big deal. BUT that was the bad one. They called me back for extra scans and then they sent me for an immediate ultrasound which was bad.

I was in denial. My mammogram was May 8. My recall mammogram was May 14. (I was laid off from my job on May 18.) Then I saw the surgeon May 23 and had a needle biopsy on May 29. I was called on May 31 to get the news that I had breast cancer. Until I got that phone call from my surgeon, I was in denial. I could not have another cancer. No way. No how. Not me!

I stayed in denial for a long time. I did join a support group before my second surgery to make sure I had the emotional support I needed. Once I was diagnosed with cancer a second time, I was not going to let cancer suck anymore time out of my life so I started working on the emotional side of me.

I started getting pissed off. I mean cancer had stolen so much out of my 20s and 30s and early 40s that I wasn't going to let it happen again.

I think I finally got into the grief stage early in chemo when my hair was falling out, I had neutropenia, was hospitalized, and I felt like shit. Seriously the days when my hair was falling out, I was stuck in a hospital bed. I was so sad about how bad I felt and how much my life had changed. I was not happy.

I really struggled during chemo when I had to keep going to chemo and again and again. It was really hard. I love food and love to cook but I spent most of my five months of chemo focusing on keeping food in my stomach, living on the BRAT diet, and running out of rooms due to the aromas rising from plates of food. (But did I lose weight? No!) I was depressed then. I was in a second support group for women with breast cancer. It was designed as an 'introduction to breast cancer' for the newly diagnosed. But I still struggled.

Finally chemo ended and I started radiation and found a therapist. We spent a lot of time discussing the changes cancer makes in your life. I did struggle emotionally but I hoped I had enough support. Then my health started to tank. If you thought I had it bad with breast cancer, my life since then has been a never ending list of medical disaster after medical disaster.

Breast cancer continued to loom over my life. Even though I had a non stop list of medical disasters I considered myself to be a breast cancer patient. Why? Because I identified it that way. I didn't put a pink label on myself but I still thought of myself that way. Somewhere along the way I decided I couldn't let breast cancer identify me. I mean I am not a 'pink warrior' or anything like that.

Was I depressed? Yes because every time I took one step forward, I felt like I slid two steps back. Am I still depressed? I think so. I have to cope every day with the fact that not only was I diagnosed with cancer twice, I no longer can work. I need to plan my life around my limitations. The list of things I can't do is huge. Can I meet friends for shopping or a museum? No. How about out to dinner and a movie? No.

But breast cancer doesn't dominate my life I may not still be in the depression stage from it. So post cancer depression? Maybe not. Maybe I am finally getting to the acceptance stage. Its been a long road. Every mammogram raises my scanxiety level. Again. I am not sure that is ever going away. Every doctor appointment which includes a breast exam gives me a twinge.... I accept that I have breast cancer and that it will loom over me for the rest of my life. 

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