Why am I Still Crying?

 

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I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
And I’ll be taken over by the fear
-Lily Allen, “The Fear”

Today I had a followup appointment with my surgeon. The meeting went well–he said everything was healing up nicely and he went over my pathology report again, reiterating what great news it contained. All in all, pretty darn good.

So, why did I spend half the drive home crying?

I should be really happy right now. Yes, I’m still in some pretty wicked pain, and my chest is a hot mess, but that will all eventually change. I’m “cancer-free;” I should be ecstatic, right? I certainly shouldn’t be boo-hooing in the car.

And yet, here I am. My emotions are all over the place. I don’t know how I’m supposed to go from being the cancer patient back to a regular person. I’m too afraid of recurrence to let my guard down. And every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror, I’m taken aback–the mind’s eye vision of myself doesn’t fit how I actually look with my barely-there growing-in hair, pale skin and flat chest.

And even nuttier, I’m actually kind of sad that my time with my doctors is starting to wind down. I’ve grown kind of attached to these people, having seen them so much the past few months. Not to mention the fact that they literally saved my life.

I’ve heard people say that the treatment of cancer is hard, but figuring out life after treatment can be just as difficult. I always used to think that sounded kind of weird, but now I’m starting to understand what they were saying.

I don’t know how to proceed. I’m not sure how to process all of this. I don’t know how to be me anymore.

There’s a flyer in my oncologist’s office called “Finding Your New Normal.” I guess that’s what I have to do now. I won’t ever be able to go back to the old me.

 

 

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What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think since my surgery. And one of the things that I ponder is all the stupid things I used to say and think about cancer.

Like most people lucky enough not to have personally dealt with the disease, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I’m still no expert, but I know a great deal more now than I once did. That knowledge makes me cringe at some of the things I used to think and say.

Outside my own transgressions, I’ve had a lot of well-meaning people say some pretty ridiculous things to me. I know it comes from a good place, and I also know that most people struggle with finding the right thing to say to someone with cancer. They want to help. But some of the things they say are pretty unhelpful. And some are downright rude and/or hurtful.

Here are some of the worst/most common things people have said to me that I would advise people to avoid when interacting with people battling cancer:

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“You know eating/drinking meat/sugar/alcohol/etc., causes cancer.”
During my first appointment following my diagnosis, I met with a nutritionist who gave me a list of food-related cancer myths. What she told me was this: Yes, eating a plant-based diet with lean protein is best for cancer patients. But, it’s best for everyone, and it has nothing to do with cancer. There is just not enough research definitively linking any food/drink to cancer. Yes, there have been studies that have mentioned certain foods could cause an increased risk, but these findings are not widespread enough to officially draw a direct causal link to cancer.

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“You know your deodorant/lotion/makeup/soap causes cancer.”
No. Just no. This is even worse than the food one. There is no solid medical evidence linking any personal grooming products such as deodorant to cancer. Most of the time, you’ll hear these claims made by people/companies peddling “natural” body products, which, to me, is disgusting. To use the fear of cancer as a marketing ploy is really beyond the pale. My deodorant did not cause my cancer. My genetics did.

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“There’s a cure for cancer, but the government/pharmaceutical companies won’t ever allow it to be discovered/used because they would lose too much money.”
I must admit, I’m guilty of saying this one in the past. And of all the wrong things people say, this one sticks in my craw the most now. The truth is, there is no one cure for cancer. There aren’t five cures for cancer. Because cancer is an incredibly complex disease. Even within one type–breast cancer, for instance–there are so many different variations that change the way it’s treated, the way it grows and whether or not the patient survives. For example, breast cancer patients can have one of two different types of gene mutation that can cause their disease (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or they might not have the mutation at all. Their cancer could be estrogen receptive, progesterone receptive or HER2 positive. Or it could be a triple negative or any combination of the three. There are so many variables that finding a “cure” that address all of them all is damn-near impossible.
On top of all that, this kind of statement spits in the face of all the intelligent, dedicated people out there in the medical industry fighting cancer every day. People like my wonderful oncologist, who not only has a professional stake in this battle with his years of medical training and experience, but also a personal stake since his own wife is a breast cancer survivor. If there was a cure, he would be the first one doling it out.

There are so many things you can say to a cancer patient. “I’m here for you.” “I hope you’re feeling good.” “I love you.” If you want to be helpful, offer to make food or do chores. But unless your friend or loved one asks, don’t offer your medical advice. Because trust me, they probably don’t want to hear it.

And if you’d like to learn more about the disease from a factual, research-based source, I highly recommend visiting the American Cancer Society website.

Couch Life

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Earlier this year, my husband and I bought new living room furniture.

We didn’t intend to make such a large purchase–we were initially just looking for an oversized chair to replace a lumpy sofa that had long outstayed its welcome. We went to a local furniture store that I love and found the perfect chair in a display right inside the front door. At first, we were only going to purchase that one piece, but it also had a matching sofa and the deal was just too good to pass up.

As the salesperson gave us the pitch on the set, she showed us that both the chair and couch were actually recliners. The couch has a dual-electric recliner feature. We weren’t in the market for recliners, but we liked the look and feel of the furniture so much that we decided to pull the trigger any way.

This past week, I have been SO thankful we purchased this furniture, particularly the couch. It has been my home for the past seven days, since it’s pretty much impossible for me to get in and out of our bed. With a pull of a lever, the electric mechanism sits me right up, or reclines me into a relaxed position. For someone whose arms and torso are extremely sore, this is pure magic.

I’m just over a week post-op now. I’m still really sore, and these drains are still driving me nuts. Each day is a little better, but I’ve still got a long road before I feel halfway normal again.

I had my first post-op appointment with my plastic surgeon yesterday. She looked at my mangled chest and said everything looked good (relatively speaking), and she celebrated my clear path report with me. She also gave me the terrible news that I’m not getting to ditch these drains until the end of the month (long sigh).

The day before yesterday, we went to my in-laws’ house to see my son. He’s been staying with family since my surgery to give me some time to recover. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from him, so it was a pretty emotional visit for me. I cried when he walked in. I cried when he gingerly hugged me, trying to be gentle to keep from hurting “mommy’s boo-boo.” I cried half the way home (we left him there for a couple more days to give me more time to recover).

But, he’s coming home tomorrow. I am over the moon! I have had moments of excruciating physical pain with this surgery, but nothing compares to the emotional pain of being away from my child.

This time tomorrow, I’ll have company on my couch, and I cannot wait.

 

Recovery

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Hospital fashion is seriously hot.

So, I am officially post-op.

And all things considered, I’m doing pretty well. I came home yesterday after a two-night stay in the hospital. I had a fainting spell that gave everyone a little scare in the hospital, so they decided to keep me an extra night.

The pain has been intense, but manageable. I’m mostly horizontal, but have been up and walking since the evening of surgery, and my mobility has improved each day.

The drains are gross, but not nearly as bad as I expected.

I took my first real shower today and looked at my chest for the first time since the operation. I didn’t know what to expect, and it wasn’t easy to see what I look like right now. But, as Rodney reminded me, this is temporary and I won’t always look like this.

So, all of that is great, but here’s the best news: my pathology report was all clear. The tissue from both my breasts and my lymph nodes were cancer-free. I know, way to bury the lead!

I could literally hear the smile on my surgeon’s face when he called me with the news. The chemo completely eradicated what was there, and nothing new had formed. He told me this is not only good news for the short-term, but for my long-term prognosis, as well.

As I told family and friends the news, so many of them exclaimed that I beat cancer. And I guess I did in a way, but I don’t feel like I can ever totally feel like I beat it. That may change, but the fear of recurrence is still far too real for me to be so boastful. I feel like I’m jinxing myself or something.

So, I will enjoy this victory and keep moving forward in recovery. Thanks to all who’ve sent good thoughts and prayers my way–they make a difference!