Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Healing

Cancer is a strange beast. Not only for what it does to your body, but what it does to your mind.

Now that breast cancer is so much more openly discussed, women can support and educate one another and that's good. It's so helpful when dealing with all of the emotions, to know that someone really does understand how it feels to get that call, to lose your hair, and so on.

But it can also bring envy, followed by guilt. Because breast cancer can be diagnosed earlier, there is no one standard outcome once you've gotten that call. You might need a mastectomy, but you might not. I was able to have just two lumpectomies(one on each breast; I had four tumors in all).

Right out of the gate, I felt a little bit guilty, because my friend's wife was recovering from a mastectomy and she had those awful j-drains to deal with. So while I could barely lift either arm, (due to the sentinel lymph node biopsies on each side) who was I to bitch about it? Some people have the full set axial nodes removed -- everything under each armpit. As it is, I have weird lumps and craters, but no real signs of lymphedema.

The confusing and unattractive emotions can flow the other way as well. When I meet someone who "only" had surgery and radiation but no chemotherapy, I can't help but feel a flash of jealousy that she didn't have the months of stomach problems, fingernails breaking off... And the hair loss. That one's huge, obviously.

I write all of this because these same ugly feelings were triggered by news that Giuliana Rancic is being treated for breast cancer.

I have not ever really been a huge fan of hers; she's just another skinny pretty Hollywood entertainment reporter to me. I don't mean that to be as bitchy as it sound; I'm sure she's funny and loving and works hard at her career and so on.

But when I read the article that I saw yesterday I couldn't help but initially react with "pfffft. You're not having chemotherapy! You just have to lie on the table every day for six weeks. Be grateful."

It comes from me being sad that if MY mammogram had been a week or month sooner, every step of the followup and treatment would have been sooner, and maybe those cells would not have slipped out away from the main tumor and into a nearby lymph node. A week or a month probably could have made a world of difference in whether I needed to have chemotherapy.

And yet... I had a less aggressive pattern (4x3 weeks) than some who receive eight treatments, one every two weeks. I cant imagine how that would have destroyed my stomach.

And, of course, I lived.

It took longer than I wanted to feel like I was back to "normal" (for me at least... I know you're thinking that ) BUT I LIVED.

So we as fellow survivors must always remember to temper our reactions and be aware that they are affected by our own story. My chemo shouldn't be a badge of honor I use to snub someone and say "you have nothing to complain about - look what *I* went through." At the same time, people need to understand that a survivor can feel these natural emotions, and needs to deal with them in a productive manner.

I need to forgive myself for that sad envy when it crops up, and work through it to be more compassionate.

I wish for Ms. Rancic nothing but a 100% successful course of treatment. I'm tremendously sad for her that this is prolonging her struggle with infertility, and realize that this news is terrifying and devastating to her and will interrupt her entire life for a few months. She will be scared and exhausted and discouraged and hopefully her skin will tolerate the radiation fairly well and not burn too badly or get infected. It will still be a big bag of crap for her to deal with.

I honestly am happy that she doesn't need chemo, which I assume would further rob her of the ability to try to conceive, and yet I just wish I didnt have the sad asterisk of my own story ("I'm glad she won't have to have chemo LIKE I DID BECAUSE OMGZ IT SUCKED.")

And, of course, most of all, I hope she kicks cancer's ass just like I did. I hope she embraces the loving support of her family and friends, and that carries her through until her treatments are behind her, and on into the future.

We need to all be kind to one another, and support one another, and remember that this beast can ravage not only our bodies, but also our hearts and minds.

Almost two years after my fateful mammogram, I'm still healing.

2 comments:

onescrappychick said...

((hugs))

Trish said...

lotsa hugz dear. surviving is great, but the guilt and loss can suck.

a congregant went thru the same program of chemo for melanoma that I did. He didn't make it, I'm still here. It is like a knife thru my heart every time I hear his name or see his family.

and yet, I listened as a friend of a friend kvetched about having a Mohs procedure...and would.not.stop.going.on.and.on.about.how.painful the Mohs was. Really? Try hundreds of recon surgeries, plus being melon balled nearly to death and oh yeah, that chemo thing.

I try to see things from other's perspective, but sometimes, you're right, the balance doesn't seem quite right.

keep on keeping on and celebrate this thing called life!