17 Things No One Tells You About Breast Cancer
There are so many "myths" and misconceptions about breast cancer. The ones I'm struggling with now are #15 and #16. For two years my life revolved around tests and procedures designed to rid my body of breast cancer. I had mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans, a bone scan, a PET scan, biopsies, blood draws, chemotherapy (8 treatments over 5 months), surgeries (7 to this date) and radiation (33 treatments). As you can imagine, that is all-consuming and pretty much took over my focus. I've skated through being a wife and mom, a daughter, sister and friend. Thankfully I have incredible people who love me and forgive me for that. The bottom line is when you have cancer, you have no choice but to be selfish and focus 100% on yourself.
But then, after all of that, after 815 days of that, what's next? Yes I am healthy. Yes I am better than I have been in over two years. I have no signs of cancer so I live with the mantra "no news is good news" every single day. But that doesn't mean I'm "over it". Here's why:
- The fear never leaves. Never. I wonder every day if that will be the day that cancer comes back. I don't have routine scans, so I have no "proof" that stupid little cancer cells aren't lurking somewhere. I worry about every ache and pain, every bump and lump, because I can't help it. I'm not a pessimist. I'm a realist. I've already faced the worst case scenario, so it's impossible not to go there again, at least in my mind.
- My body is living proof of my fight. I've gained weight. My hair is short and almost 100% gray. I have limited range of motion in my left shoulder and almost zero feeling in my chest and under my arm thanks to my surgeries. And the scars, oh the scars. I look like I've been pieced together like Frankenstein. Not kidding. Obviously there are scars on my chest, but also on my stomach and legs. I will never again look good in a bathing suit. For someone who has struggled with low self esteem forever, looking at myself is a low blow. Every time. Yes, being alive is beautiful, and being a strong fighter is beautiful. But my body is not beautiful.
- Everything hurts. And I'm so incredibly tired. I was thrown into menopause at age 41. Menopause is no fun anyway, but for it to happen instantly is really no fun. And thanks to chemo after-effects and the estrogen blocker I'm on, I have bone and joint pain. Every time I stand up, I do it slowly like an old woman. My knees crack on every step when I climb stairs. I have restless legs every single night (and sometimes during the day). I take medicine to counter the side effects of other medicines.
Like that article says, "It's okay to not be okay." Hopefully as time goes by I will be more and more "okay". But my last surgery was less than two months ago, so even though this all started back in 2013, everything is still pretty fresh for me. And as #17 says, "You are left alone to figure out the clusterfuck that is now your life." Excuse the language, but that pretty much sums it up. I don't want to sound like a complainer. I'm just doing my best to accept the "new normal" of living with everything I've been through.
I'm so incredibly grateful to be alive. The people in my life have been so wonderful and supportive, helping when I need it, lifting me up when I am down, taking care of my family when I couldn't. I've needed them so much, and they were there (and still are). The only thing I ask of anyone who knows someone who has been through this - please don't assume everything is all right, that the person is "over it". In truth, it's probably never going to be completely "all right" for them.
I'm still Michelle, but I won't ever be the same.