There are things to work through after fighting cancer, things that blind-sided me. Finishing treatment was kind of like having a baby: I’d studied up on the pregnancy and birth process, knew what sort of pain to expect when, so it wasn’t too scary when my experience matched what I’d read. And I had all kinds of support, at the hospital and from my husband and staff at work (I was the director of a county public library system) especially. But when we came home with a baby, I was completely flummoxed: Now What? Overwhelmed by a new sense of personal vulnerability and responsibility, I experienced a flood of unexpected emotions, not all of them positive.
And here I thought my struggle was over–that the difficult, gambling decisions had been made. Home free, worry free, until my next mammogram six months down the road. But not. (Did I mention that I passed my first check-up and mammogram in June? Now THAT was a relief!)
Yesterday morning I was persuaded by the nurse, who measured both my arms and found them to be exactly the same, that I did not have lymphedema. This was followed by a long visit with the doctor who convinced me that my risk of getting lymphedema is something like three or four percent. So not only was I convinced on both counts–that I didn’t have it and that I likely wouldn’t get it–I was also impressed with my thoughtful, cutting-edge (so to speak), and careful treatment. So I agreed to get zapped after all. Today was Day 7 out of 33.
I seem to be recognizing my life-threatening circumstances in stages. It’s hard to know which stage I’m in until I’m booted into the next. People who have been here before me recognize where I am, I think, and they are patient. They know. The professionals, I’m guessing, have seen this again and again. I don’t know if I’m normal or just superresistant. A psychiatrist once told me, about thirty years ago (!), that I was the most resistant patient she’d ever treated. I expect my radio oncologist might sympathize.
I found out today from my radio oncologist, who spoke with me for almost two hours, that I do indeed have invasive cancer and I have decided that I am going to have to go through radiation after all. I resisted it because lymphedema to my right arm, upon which my whole life and livelihood rests, scares me more than losing a breast. But now I believe that it would be foolish of me not to do it. I was so happy, feeling as if I was let out of prison, and now I feel reincarcerated. Sort of apt, don’t you think? Sort of incarcinoma-ed? I am not without courage but I am a wimp. Getting sucked into the medical machinery like this scares me silly.
Isn’t life just like that? When the news was bad, I thought I was finished, that there wasn’t going to be any good news for me again. But I was wrong. And when things are going along great, I feel on a roll, that nothing bad can happen to me. But those things swing, pendulum like, through my life. However, I had never been hit with a life-threatening condition. I lived a healthy life, exercised, ate well, looked great. I felt immune.
The last roses (multihued)
I decided to log my experience. I began my log soon after my first lumpectomy–waiting in pre-op had driven me nuts. I couldn’t watch tv or talk to my good friend Judy who was there to hold my hand, and, as it turned out, be my witness to events no one believed until we both swore they happened. So when it turned out I needed a second lumpectomy plus the removal of who knew how many underarm nodes, I bought something to write in. It turned out that writing kept me calm. I just went on and on describing what was happening, what I was hearing, feeling, fearing, and otherwise dealing with. It was a lifesaver for me.