So, it’s been one week since the biopsy that confirmed that I had breast cancer AGAIN. It’s been a doozy of emotions over the last week as I processed my worst fear. It’s hardly the news I had hoped for or what any survivor wants to hear. Yet here I am again, sitting in a place of uncertainty and disbelief.
The good news (and I use the term “good” loosely) is that since I’ve been monitored very closely over the last four years, my surgical oncologist believes we’ve caught it early again. The bad news is that it’s in a different area of the same affected breast so she does not consider this a recurrence. Rather, it’s cancer cells forming in another area. What’s bothersome about this piece of information is that I’ve been on a medication for almost four years that’s supposed to block the estrogen in my body (which feeds my type of cancer). I’ve disliked taking Tamoxifen but put up with all the nasty side effects of pseudo-menopause (hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain) because I thought I was doing everything possible to prevent cancer from returning. In addition, I had radiation therapy on that breast. So, to know that despite these measures, cancer continues to grow is more than a little disheartening.
Yesterday was a hard day. No matter how much effort I put into trying to remain positive, I found myself wallowing. I’m grieving the soon-to-be loss of a body part. Since I had a lumpectomy the first go around in 2013 followed by radiation, I’m unable to go that route again for my treatment. Instead, I must have a mastectomy. Ask any women how she feels about removing her breasts and you will likely understand the gravity of my situation.
I spent the weekend praying for peace as I came to terms with that news. For the most part, I’ve accepted that removing the cancer is paramount to any issues I have with my aesthetics. Furthermore, due to a family history of breast cancer on both sides of my family and the fact I had another occurrence, my surgeon has encouraged me to weigh the pros and cons of removing the unaffected breast as well. I talked with several fellow survivors about their surgical experiences and thought I was in a good mental state.
I dutifully started researching unilateral and bilateral mastectomies and found myself in tears as I stared at the pictures of breast reconstruction. I know that some women joke that “hey, at least you get a free boob job.” But friends, the photos I looked at were anything but beautiful or comforting. Instead, I felt fear rising as I looked at patched up, scarred, Frankenstein-ish breasts. The words of my surgical oncologist rang in my ears as I remembered her gentle warning that “no matter what, reconstructed breasts will never be quite like your own. ” Reading that there would be heavy pain during a long recovery and a questionable outcome didn’t make me feel optimistic about surgery. I texted my friend who already walked this road with an “I feel crazy” and “this is too hard” message. But God sends His angels when you need them most and she reassured me that these days are hard and that’s ok.
I spent the rest of the afternoon throwing quite the pity-party for myself. I couldn’t believe I had to travel this road AGAIN and have to give up even more. I was angry at the unfairness of a second battle and mourning my breasts all at the same time. Hadn’t they fed my beautiful babies and nourished their little bodies? How could my breasts punish me this way? And why didn’t I appreciate them more instead of cursing their non-voluptuous size?
Meanwhile, I texted some of the women in my tribe and told them I couldn’t find my way back to happy so I wouldn’t be able to join them for a movie after all. Luckily, one friend lovingly reminded me that I had permission to grieve but that I myself said I didn’t want cancer to steal my joy. Boom! Truth bomb. It was just what I needed to hear. I needed reminded that I had another choice. I could wallow, grieve and feel sorry for my situation, or I could go be in community with women who make me laugh, smile, and feel joy. I chose joy.
This isn’t going to be easy and I’m going to forget and grow overwhelmed. Good thing I have such great friends who can remind me to LIVE. My friend shared this passage from a book and it really helped me remember who I am:
“Sometimes the best solution is to take a breath and seek God. When we do this, we find that we are not lost–even when we are in the middle of the most difficult thing imaginable. Not only does God have perfect timing, but he also knows the way through our troubles.”
So off I go to fight cancer, seek gratitude, and spread love.