#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Post War Wounds & Battle Scars

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Photo by Alan Barry

After a bloody battle, most warriors would lick their wounds, or at least clean them with hydrogen peroxide and slap a Band-Aid on and then move on with their lives, never looking back. Been there, done that, not going back. A cancer survivor has no choice but to keep looking back to see how far they’ve come, how much has changed and keep fighting— day in, day out, as the dark shadow, the “R” word (recurrence) hovers overhead, haunting our days and nights.

It’s been four months since I last updated this blog and since then I’ve had four more people reach out and tell me that they, or someone close to them, got the horrible news nobody ever wants to hear— you have cancer. One woman told me that she was so scared to hear not only did she have cancer but it was Metaplastic Carcinoma, a very rare, very aggressive “new” cancer (same as I had) and that she stumbled across this blog from a Google search. I’m so glad my writing is able to help others and let them know what to expect along the way.

I wish I could tell you that life goes back to normal after surgery, chemo and radiation, but it doesn’t. People who said they’d be there are not. People who were so scared that you might die and promised they’d make an effort to be in your lives break their commitments and carry on with their lives just like before you got the news. You’ll try to hold on to those who are there, sometimes a little too tight. You’ll try to live life to the fullest because life is short, you almost died and, heck! You beat cancer— this time. You’ll wish you could stop thinking about and talking about and writing about cancer but this is your new normal.

YOU ARE A SURVIVOR. You’ve been through WAR- you’ll tell yourself while being reminded daily as you look in the mirror that the scars are still there, on the flesh and deep down beneath. The battle rages on and most times it’s a battle in your mind.

Sure, neuropathy from ACT chemo comes and goes, your joints ache, your eyelashes and eyebrows aren’t as thick and full as they used to be. You’re exhausted and have major mood swings that makes everyone around you think you’re insane (you kind of are, learning how to hide that is key).

On the outside to someone who met you after the “C” word, you might seem crazy. But that’s okay. You’ve been through WAR. I’ve read that cancer patients can get PTSD because they’ve been through something so incredibly traumatic. Staring death in the face over and over is enough to make anyone go a bit crazy.

You get mistaken for a 40-something when you used to get mistaken for a 30-something. It’s because of the short hair, and tired look that never seems to go away.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. YOU CAN RISE ABOVE. It’s a choice. Through this almost 2-year-long fight, I’ve learned that I won’t base my feelings upon other’s actions (or inactions). I’ve learned to be thankful for those who are always here for me day in and day out, through all of my mood swings, ups and downs and craziness, and they still love me no matter what— my husband, my kids, my super sweet therapy dog Sadie, my cancer support group (that I haven’t been to in way too long) and a handful of friends.

The holidays can be particularly draining, especially when there are strained relationships with family members. You’ll rationalize in your head that  your whole family should be together, after all, you almost DIED! Don’t they care? The sad truth is, nope. Many do not. But that’s okay. Why waste your precious time and energy trying to fit a square peg in a round hole? Doesn’t fit. There are plenty more people out there just like you that have walked through the fire and came out the other side stronger, fiercer and full of moxie to take on anything life throws at them. After all, you almost DIED! And you kicked cancer’s ass! If the people around you who you think “should” appreciate that don’t, it’s their loss.

When I went to a strict Christian church years ago the preacher would always say that the “Us four and no more” mentality was wrong and selfish. I disagree. Sometimes that’s all there is (sometimes five for us). I’ve volunteered countless hours of time and money to help others in my community and to give back as my way of saying thanks for all I’ve been given. Whether you want to call it karma or reaping what you sow, being a good person and putting good out there into the world does come back to you. And if choosing to only surround myself with the four or five closest to me around the holidays helps me remain sane then so be it. I’ll be selfish for the sake of my sanity.

I’ve been so blessed with an outpouring of love and support from strangers-turned-friends from around the globe for which I’m so grateful. I was given a second chance in life and won’t take that for granted. Some of my warrior brothers and sisters are no longer with us and that is so unfair.

I think of my friend Pat Nagle who left us this past September after battling breast, then stomach cancer. She was always there for us, was a gentle, sweet soul and a huge encouragement through my cancer journey. Although I only knew her for less than two short years, Pat touched my heart in a tremendous way. No matter what she was going through physically or emotionally, she always managed to give  a word of encouragement and bring a sense of calm to our cancer support group. Pat was instrumental in me staying sane during difficult times by sharing the battle she fought. If she knew I was going in for chemo or surgery she would reach out and send me a quick note to let me know she was thinking and praying for me. I will miss her gentle spirit but I am glad she is no longer in any pain.

I think of Maria Fowler, an award-winning photo journalist for USA Today who welcomed me into an online support community for women with Metaplastic Carcinoma. It’s been one year since she passed away and many of her sisters are still struggling. We had plans to raise awareness for the little-known cancer that only 1% of women diagnosed get called Metaplastic Carcinoma. I was going to help her with her website, she was going to be filmed as our expert on the subject. Sadly neither happened. Life (and death) had other plans.

I don’t know why I’m still here and they are not but I do know that while I am here on this earth that I will make it my mission to help others through my writing and through reminding people to squeeze their boobs! Early detection does save lives, not all but many. If I hadn’t found the lump myself while dying my hair it could have progressed to stage 3 or 4 and spread. Thank God it didn’t.

When the fear tries to grip me at night I say a prayer and think of what my oncologist told me— “You caught it early, it’s stage one and hasn’t spread. You’re going to be fine!” I know that no one can predict the future and anything can happen. We’re not promised tomorrow or even today so we must love the ones we’re with an enjoy and be grateful for each day we’ve been given.

I know this sounded like two parts self-help with a dash of Hallmark card clichés but that’s my life now— sometimes sappy, many times goofy and crazy and always something to be grateful for. There have been many ups and downs, twists and turns and loop-dee-loops but I’m still strapped in with my hands inside of the car (most of the time). I hope that by my sharing my story it can help you or someone you know to feel that they are not alone.

 

 

 

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