Thursday, March 31, 2011

03/31/2011

It’s hard when you are in for the fight of your life to let the reality of the fact that you have cancer really get to you. I don’t mean to devalue the fear and insanity that we are overcome with when we are diagnosed, but at least for me, these past months have been a blur. I haven’t had time to break down and fall apart very much because I’ve been so focused on getting through chemo, radiation, surgery, and holding down my job. The doctors told me when I was first diagnosed that this would happen. Treatment becomes like a second job that won’t let you focus on the cancer. It exhausts you and forces you to spend time you would normally spend crying alone in the bathroom, just fighting to get enough energy to walk. When you're done, you're often left standing alone: a different person inside and out.

This week, I think I finally settled into the fact I have cancer and I am following up that revelation with the best way I know how: falling apart. I’m still very much in active treatment, but it isn’t daily anymore and it’s becoming a reality that the changes that have been made in the past 6 months are permanent. I think it scares me more now than ever to sit down and look at my body, the scars from the surgery and the missing pieces, to realize how hard all of this has been on my body, and how my world has changed. Even though I’m working out 3x a week now, it’s taking me much longer to get in shape. Its hard to know that I’ll probably never be able to sleep soundly again, and after recent tests of my FSH levels it is becoming more likely that I will not come out of menopause. I have to realize that no matter how hard I try to retain it: I’ve lost a huge part of myself.

I’ve talked to some other survivors lately who agree that one of the hardest things about this journey is that now that the major treatment is over, people expect us as survivors to simply get on with our lives. We are, after all, done with the hard part of cancer, right? To me, the hardest part of this journey has just begun. The part where I wait for the cancer to come back, the part where I worry if I’ve done everything I can to make sure that I don’t lose my life, the part where I relearn to love myself for who I am now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that things aren’t going to get easy now just because I have hair on my head and I’m not hooked up to an IV. The immediately apparent visual indications of the cancer will likely fade away, but most survivors are still dealing with so much. I still have no guarantees that I’m going to live a long life and I never will. I still walk around everyday with a 20% recurrence rate over my head. Until science gets smart and figures out how to cure this crap, the recurrence rate will never go away. I will still spend sleepless nights waiting for results from a scan, cry myself to sleep because of an ache or a pain and forever fear that cancer is going to strike again. Long after the end of chemo, I’ll likely suffer the effects of the mental fog known as “chemo brain” and I will forever see myself in the mirror with someone else’s body. Its amazing how quickly the persona we create everyday of our lives can be taken away and how rapidly a person can be forced to face the world with the mask. Its amazing how quickly you can become bald and overweight, how normal the idea of nipple tattoos and silicone implants can become; how something like looking in the mirror and seeing a port in your chest can become what you expect. The funny part is, my life will never get back to the normal it once was, and I’m now grappling with the reality of a "new normal". Within this new normal, I’m going to endure the fears and the physical and mental changes the best way I know how. All I ask is for patience and grace while I adjust to my new life and understanding that while I might not be in the middle of chemotherapy or radiation, I still feel as though I’m standing in the middle of my own personal war zone.

It is true that nothing will ever be the same and no matter how hard I try, I can never go back to being the “me” before cancer, but In some ways that’s a good thing. I know its cliché, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past months. I’ve also learned a lot about the people around me. I’ve learned that there are people who will stand beside you when you need them the most, and I’ve learned that there are people in this world who will drop off the face of the earth when you’re at the darkest point in your life. Most importantly, I’ve learned which one of those people I want to be when my friends or family are going through a rough time.

Thanks to you (you know who you are) for being "those people" who have stuck around through treatment and will continue to be there to hold my hand a guide me when I have days when I feel like I don't want to take another step. Thank you for understanding that the journey of breast cancer doesn't end here and that I need and appreciate your love and support more now than ever.

Hugs & Love,

Heather

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