Sunday, January 29, 2012
Cancer can suck it
Last night the floodgates opened. I cried torrents. I sobbed til it was hard to breathe. I huddled as tightly as I could against Andy, saying over and over "I'm scared. I'm just so scared." He asked whether I was rethinking the surgery, whether I'd changed my mind. I told him I didn't know. I said that it didn't matter what I chose, all my options sucked. I read recently that there are no shitty choices, just shitty options. Because at the heart of it all, as the bracelet I wear says, "CANCER CAN SUCK IT."
I couldn't sleep, so I got up and went out into the kitchen to think. In the dark, wee hours of the night, I realized that it wasn't about whether my choice of treatment was in question, but about grief. I'd been told that at some point I'd grieve the loss of my breasts, but it hadn't happened yet, so I had set it aside, thinking that if it did happen, it would be after surgery and I would deal with it then. I chose to have immediate reconstruction, knowing I could never look in the mirror if I didn't, I really thought that I'd be ok. My breasts are already scarred from my reduction over 20 years ago, so that wouldn't be too different.
But last night, Andy's arm brushed against the side of my breast and suddenly I heard a thunderclap inside my head as the realization hit me that I will probably never feel that again once I have surgery. I'll never have normal reactions to cold, to arousal. Despite knowing I'm nearing 45 and am perimenopausal, the knowledge that even if we were to somehow have another child, I will never nurse another baby, shrieks in my heart.
I try to think about how lucky I am. My cancer was caught early. Because of the treatment path I've chosen, I won't need radiation or Tamoxifen. As long as nothing microinvasive is found on my final pathology, I most likely won't need chemo, either. I'll recover from surgery, and be largely done. I don't let my mind wander to the things that cancer is taking from me, but rather I spend my days thinking about what cancer has to teach me. I try to present a positive face to the world, to draw on the well of inner strength I've discovered this past shitty year. People are always telling me to think positive, to be strong, and I do, and I am. But I think maybe that's done me a disservice.
I chose last week to start my time off work early. I hate my job, and continuing to work and to go about my life as normally as possible kept me choked off from my deepest, darkest fears. I wasn't truly processing what's happening to me, what I'm about to go through, how it's already affecting me. I paid it great lip service, letting those around me think that I was some kind of superwoman, figuring it would help me not give into the depression. But once I decided to stop working, to spend the time til I leave for the hospital actually taking care of my emotional health for a change, all that changed. Cancer's lessons began in earnest, and not all of them are positive. Don't get me wrong, some are amazing: there is the realization that I do not want to remain stuck at this job I hate, that I deserve to find something that allows me to fulfill my financial obligations in a way that gives me satisfaction. The continuing discovery of my seemingly neverending well of inner strength. The blossoming of my creativity. The joy that opening up to my friends, learning to trust people with my feelings, brings. The understanding that pain is pain, it's not a relative thing. That hating my job and wanting to find another way to earn money doesn't make me a horrible human being because there are people who would do anything to have a job at all. That yes, I can be angry and frustrated with people who tell me they're jealous that I get a tummy tuck out of this whole thing.
The price that cancer extracts is so high. I've spent so much of the past 4 months terrified, anxious, depressed. Finally having all the information on what I'm facing, then choosing a treatment path and having a surgery date, helped immensely. But still... in just over a week I'm going to have the biggest, riskiest operation of my life, trusting that the people taking care of me when I'm under anesthesia do their jobs to the best of their ability, honor their oaths, and that my body cooperates. I don't want this surgery. I don't care what my body may look like later, how much better my clothes may fit. I don't care what the lessons I learn do for me, because right now, they are doing things TO me. Tomorrow I hope I can pull myself back up and face the world again, but at this moment, I am in the tight grip of terror, of nebulous fear, of paralyzing grief. I want the world as it was in the seconds before I heard the life-changing words "you have cancer." I want a magic wand that's not broken, a fairy godmother who will come and take it all back.
I just want to not have cancer. This is the single worst, most terrifying thing I have ever faced, and while I understand how the world sees me facing it, that is not my truth, or at least it isn't all the time. Right now my big-girl panties are in the wash, and I feel small, vulnerable, and more afraid than I have ever been.