Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thoughts on safety and comfort zones

A friend who is also a new breast cancer survivor and I were talking today about safety and comfort zones. Our conversation was so important, and since my husband and I have also talked about it, I think it's important to put here so others can read it. This, I believe, is The Thing that anyone who hasn't been diagnosed with something potentially fatal cannot grok. They can love us through our journey, but this is what separates our understanding and theirs.

Once you have cancer, there is no comfort zone. Once you've knowingly walked around with tumors in your body, even (as in my case) if they're pre-invasive, you know your own body is attacking you. You can't go "damn, I don't like my job, I'll let Calgon take me away when I get home" because you drag that body, those tumors EVERYWHERE YOU GO. And that knowledge rarely lets you have a moment of peace.

I'm going to put something out that I didn't want to talk about early in my journey, because I thought that some well-meaning person might try to have me committed for it. Not long after my diagnosis, before I knew I had tumors in both breasts, and before I knew that it had been caught before it spread, I walked into my kitchen and I opened the knife cabinet. I stood there and stared at the knives, wondering if I had the nerve to cut out my own tumor. It took a little while for any type of logic to penetrate and even then, said "logic" was only "if the doc can't feel the tumor from the outside, if you know there is no palpable lump, how exactly do you propose to find this thing by yourself?" All I knew was that if I could get to it and cut it out, I could feel safe in my own skin again. That was all I cared about, all I wanted. Of course I didn't do it - I didn't even take a knife out of the cabinet and hold it. But oh, I wanted to. So much. I collapsed on my kitchen floor and sobbed. I felt so alone in that moment, because I didn't even feel safe enough to tell anyone what I'd done, what I wanted to do, and how terrified I was.

Later, after you have chemo, take meds, get your torso rearranged - whatever your treatment is - you still live with the knowledge that your own body has betrayed you this way, and it can do it again no matter what you think or do or say. And even if you don't live in neverending-constantly-thinking-about-it-fear, that fear is always there, buzzing at the back of your mind. And even if you never thought you'd die from YOUR cancer, the reality is that people die from it every day, and there but for the grace of god and all that toddle. 

So a cancer patient has no comfort zone, not really. We have to work harder, strive further, trust more, be stronger, cry more tears, to reach any sort of comfort. But safe? How do we define that now, as survivors?

I welcome your thoughts!


Shimmer418 said...

I fully agree with you. Since i finished my radiation and the Dr. gave me the all clear, my first and foremost thought is, "When i get it back, How am i going to deal with it, and how bad will it be the next time around?" I am fully aware that my chances of re-occurrence has doubled and the next time, they may not find it so early or at stage 0 like they did this time. I don't think others understand the ticking time bomb mentality we get. As I've said to you before, Breast cancer is like luggage, you always carry it with you.

debbie hagen said...

Once again I am in awe of your ability to put this pain into words. While I do not have the same survivor background that you do, I am humbled by your strength and courage to share it. I wish only to provide any support that loving thoughts and healing prayers can give you in this, and thank you for posting these.
Peace and rainbows, debbie

dryad said...

It's like that in some ways with Crohn's. My body could attack me at any time. It's like wondering when the ground might erode beneath my feet. I haven't had a comfort zone since I was in my early teens.

caroline aka FiberTribe said...

I am not a cancer survivor, I couldn't dare say I understand from the inside what you've just described. AND I entirely understand, due to events in my childhood, that there is no 'safe' anywhere, anytime. It's very different from what you describe but I do feel a resonance. One goes on. But safe? that is to laugh and laugh because it is better than crying over the long haul. I send you many, many hugs for all that you are, all that you endure, and especially for talking about it all.

Kathi said...

I was just talking about this with a good friend earlier. She has not had cancer. I was telling her that, finally, after nearly 4 years post-diagnosis, I am starting to have a few moments now when I feel sort of normal. I know I will never feel really normal again. It doesn't exist anymore, the state of normal. But some corner has been turned, at least a little. We'll see how long that lasts, however.

She asked me if I thought it was maybe because I could finally feel a little hope that I'd left cancer behind. And I explained that no, that kind of hope is what is left behind, like a loss of innocence. And it's permanent, I think. I will always be looking over my shoulder now. I think most of us feel that way. How can we not? Especially with breast cancer, which is such a filthy sneak as far as recurrence & mets are concerned. I call breast cancer The Stalker. Even after we get a restraining order, so to speak, it still lurks...

moronez said...

Having OCD to go along with the Tourette's brought on the obsessive desire to drill a hole in my skull and rip out the part of my brain that is making my body convulse, making my mind cycle in endless circles over concepts and situations I have no control over...you know the part right there... I swear I can feel where it is located in my head. But no...it is an illusion. Others have had parts of their brains removed just to function in society only to have symptoms come back. It's like the TS just moved to a different part of the brain. If the doctors couldn't get it right what hope do I have of success with a bone drill from eBay?

You are not alone my friend. Wanting to take charge of your life again by removing the bad yourself is empowering.

I will never truly be in control ever again. My symptoms wax and wane but never leave me completely alone. I want to be the one in charge! It's MY body!