Part 1: I just had breast cancer
2 weeks ago I had breast cancer, and now I don’t. 2 weeks ago the reality actually started to set in. There was absolutely no indication that anything was wrong, just something noticed in routine screening. Thank goodness for the keen eye of the radiologist, and medical testing that allows for cancer to be detected. Final, confirmed diagnosis. 31st October 2013.
2 weeks ago I had breast cancer and now I don’t. Apart from having one less breast and the pain associated with that, I really don’t feel any different. How is one supposed to feel after such a quick affair with an often deadly disease.It seems almost fraudulent to accept such compassion and well wishes as I have been granted, as I really am ok. I feel for those who have a daily struggle with this disease, whose cancer cannot be taken away so easily, and who have to go down the path of chemo and / or radiotherapy.
2 weeks ago I had breast cancer and now I don’t. I wonder what would have happened if I had not gone for screening. Would my otherwise nicely contained cancer have found its way out into other parts of my body. Would I then, like others, be facing months, years of gruelling treatment, where this disease takes the center point of my life, and the light at the end of the tunnel does not shine so bright.
2 weeks ago I had breast cancer and now I don’t. Nothing I did or didn’t do created this. It just is what it is. I am unsure that any amount of ‘clean living’, happy thoughts or meditation can prevent things like this happening to those of us who are susceptible to it. It can and does happen to ‘me’. And we are all ‘me’. With all our flaws, our loveliness, our spiritual and other beliefs, why not ‘me’. Life can throw things at us that we are totally not prepared for, and the best we can do is surrender to that particular chapter and hang on for when the road gets bumpy and unpredictable.
2 weeks ago I had breast cancer. And in the 2 weeks between then and now, not having breast cancer, it has not been easy. Recovery is hard, the pain sometimes almost unbearable, and the lack of independence is frustrating to say the least. And hospital, well, it’s just not home. Seeing the worry on the faces of those who love you and hearing it in their voices in confronting. Confronting because in times like this you realise how very loved you are, and that in itself is not something that we as adults are conscious of everyday. I, at least, was not conscious that so many cared about my wellbeing. It is humbling to realize this.
Today I don’t have breast cancer. For a brief moment in time I did. I have one less breast, now with a tissue expander nestled behind the muscle, which will be regularly expanded, slowly stretching the space to get it ready for reconstruction. This, too, will hurt. But not for long. A new left breast is in the making. This will take a few months, and thanks to the wonderful surgical care team I had, I know I am in good hands for the rest of this process. But I don’t have breast cancer anymore. And I am very grateful for this.
Part 2 Getting to know my changed physical self
The constant pain and discomfort where my left breast used to be has been getting a bit much lately, and I have to remind myself that it is better than the alternative, better than having cancer. And that it will not be like this forever, for I, and my body, are in transition.
I have been told that massaging the area helps, so, with deep breaths, I have been diligently trying to do this as often as I can bear. My skin in some places is so sensitive, it feels like I have been badly sun burnt and the slightest touch can feel almost unbearable and bring on waves of nausea. Other places are completely numb, and when touched, I have no sensation on my skin at all. And then there is the pressure of the foreign ‘thing’ the tissue expander, pressing against my ribs and giving a very unnatural shape when I glance down at my chest.
Touching the 15cm scar gives me a strange sensation, for there is a complete lack of feeling on the surface in some places, but a peculiar pain / sensitivity just below. Massaging / touching creates more unconscious nauseous feelings deep in my gut, and this I don’t understand, for nothing about looking at or feeling my scar / disfigurement makes me uncomfortable.
How could I feel ill or shame at my body, when this part of me, my breast worked so hard to contain Cancer within itself. For me to sacrifice my breast so that Cancer did not make its way out to the rest of my body was to respect my breast’s work. My left breast went into battle, and held its own against this opponent. It kept Cancer locked into its own area, sacrificed its whole self so that Cancer could not wreak havoc on the rest of me. In this part of my body something was growing that could have potentially killed me. That part of my body surrendered itself so that the rest could live.
Gazing at my body, the area where my breast used to be does not fill me with dread, nausea or shame. I feel completely at ease with my scarred and still bruised self, for without this I would be telling a very different story.
On the days when it the discomfort and pain all feels too much, looking at my body reminds me that the journey of healing is a slow one, despite my mind now having processed the ‘I have cancer, I am going to lose a breast, to then ‘I no longer have cancer’ to now being ready for reconnection and for the other things in my life. The sharp stabbing pains through my scar line, and the feeling that my ribs have a brick pressed up against them, remind me of what my body has been through, and is capable of.
This is my body, my physical landscape. It’s not what some would call pretty, but it is rather beautiful I think. The beauty is in what had to be given up in order for the rest of the landscape to survive. Taken out in time, before the weeds grew roots outside the garden bed in which it grew. Now the environment is being prepared for newness, room is being created for something new, and whilst this is uncomfortable andunpleasant, it is far better than the alternative.
Thanks to the story teller & to Health Consumers Alliance of SA for sharing this story.