This is me last August shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer…tired, grubby and happily enjoying a camping trip with friends, determined to fight but also determined to live my life. I haven’t talked a lot on social media about my cancer because, honestly, I’ve been more interested in living my life than talking about my disease. But cancer is a Big Thing and it’s hard to go through a Big Thing without learning some things that stick with you. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
Life still happens when you have cancer. Cancer is such a huge scary word. It seems like when you get a diagnosis a big huge door must come slamming down putting a halt to everything. Except it doesn’t. You still have your job to do and your bills to pay. You still have to feed the cats and shovel the snow and get your car licensed. There’s still Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas. The sun still rises and sets and the world is still hopelessly beautiful.
It’s just that now you have this big exhausting, overwhelming list of appointments and tests and procedures and medications that you also have to deal with. And it’s scary, especially at first when you do a lot of waiting for test results to find out anything useful.
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by cancer and let it take over your life. And that just pissed me off. I have zero interest in having my life be about cancer. I know I alarmed some people with some of my scheming to schedule treatment so that I could still go to football games. But I knew that as long as I was not jeopardizing my health (and I wasn’t) it was important for me to do my thing, to live my life.
It’s really hard to tell people you have cancer. Think about how crappy it is to hear that a friend has cancer. Now think about being a sensitive, compassionate person and having to deliver that news to a friend. It sucks. I did not want to be the source of that fear and pain for people I love. I was blessed with some angels who took on the burden of doing some of the telling for me and I am forever grateful to them.
Plus, when you tell people you have cancer, you have to talk about your cancer and that puts you right back in the overwhelm and fear. Yuck.
Everyone’s cancer is different. Did you know that there are over 400 different chemotherapy medications? And that’s if chemotherapy is even appropriate to treat your cancer. Even within the category of “breast cancer” there are tons of different categories and factors that make each person’s cancer unique. And each of our bodies are unique and respond to treatments in different ways.
After a lot of testing and discussion, I chose to have a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. I consider myself lucky the chemo hasn’t made me nauseous, but the fatigue and muscle pain have been crushing. Also, my chemo killed my taste buds and food tastes weird and sometimes gross. First world problem, I know, but something that has been tough for me.
Let’s not even talk about hair loss.
I am fortunate that my cancer was found early in a routine mammogram. My surgery was successful and my lymph nodes were clear. One of the strangest aspects of this whole deal is going through all of this yuckiness without ever experiencing any symptoms of my disease.
My friend and fellow survivor Dona wrote This excellent guide to getting through chemo recently and I can’t recommend it enough. Some of it is just plain good advice about getting through life.
Turns out cancer and life have this one big important thing in common: You have to walk your own path. You get to live your own life.