My diagnosis, as far as breast cancer goes, isn’t all that serious. Stage 0. Seriously, zero. That’s about as early as it gets. According to the doctors, I am “lucky”. Unless, I imagine, they find something worse in the tissue biopsy after the mastectomy. Then perhaps they’ll stop using that stupid word. Lucky. “It could be worse!!!” they say.
Which…OK. It really could be worse. I don’t know why I’m doctor-bashing. Actually, I do: they’re an easy target. And frankly, I’m just pissed. I’m pissed that I’m facing a life-changing surgery in a week, followed by months of reconstruction, and surgeries every 10 years or so FOR LIFE. And hopefully no chemo, but we’ll see. Bastards.
Yesterday I read that doctors are now prescribing tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer from starting. I felt like punching someone.
In truth, none of this matters. My cancer was found so quickly after I stopped nursing that there was no time for prevention. And I was still thinking about maybe another baby, so I probably would’ve refused medication anyway. I mean…37. Thirty-freaking seven! I simply had no idea. I had been nursing – almost without a break – for the last five years.
Breast Cancer. Still so weird.
I was hoping, though, that if I ever faced cancer, I would do it with more grace. I find myself surprised by my totally misplaced anger. In the first few weeks after the diagnosis, a friend called to say she was “so sorry” about my cancer. I almost told her to SHUT UP. Instead I took a few deep cleansing breaths – the issue, obviously, was me, not my amazing and loving friend.
This anger pisses me off. It’s terrible, really. I find myself snapping at my boys, being unreasonable. Such a terrible way to deal with life. Which, at the end of the day, is really what this is: life.
It’s just life.
Part of the issue, I think, is the waiting. We’re waiting for surgery, then waiting to hear if I need chemo. At some point, the reconstruction process will start, and another (smaller) surgery for the implants. If I’m lucky, I’ll be done in 3-4 months. If not, this shit could stretch out into next year. The waiting is the worst. The unknown feels terrible.
Perhaps I would feel differently if my diagnosis was truly terrible. Perhaps then the unknown would be more comforting than reality. I don’t know. But I do know this: even a “lucky” diagnosis is making me crazy.
The biggest challenge has been controlling my own thoughts. It’s hard not to see everything as a sign. (And I don’t believe in signs.) I see a bird flying and think that must be what death is like. Pax blows kisses and shrieks ‘BYE MOMMY’ and my stomach drops. I read to Raines and think, “will I ever see him read?”
My doctors say YES, ABSOLUTELY. And I know they are right. But still…if I’m not careful, I end up living in a world of my own making. But it’s a terrible world where the breast cancer kills me. A terrible world where I can’t stop thinking Terrible Things.
Mike wants no part of this discussion, and I don’t blame him. He is not nearly as crazy as I am, and is much better at living in the, uh, actual world. Not the terrible one of my own making. These things in my head, all these terrible things are crazy, they are self-defeating…yet they feel, at times, so very real. So real sometimes I can’t take a proper breath.
So I call my Mom. My crazy comes from somewhere, right? And besides…Mom gets it. She gets it. In fact, she’s lived through All The Terrible Things. She’s lived through a diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, and a prognosis of only 5 years to live. She’s lived through a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and an ovarian cancer scare a few years later….she didn’t need me to say what All Terrible Things were, she already knew.
“Mom?” I whispered when I got her on the phone. ”It feels like….it feels like…..I’m having a premonition.” I told her about the birds. About reading to the boys. She interrupted me: “Have you calculated how old the boys will be when you die? Still in elementary school, right?”
I was quiet. But in truth, I had.
“At some point” she continued, “you came to a moment of acceptance, right? A moment where you go ‘I’ve had a good life. It’ll be OK.’ Right?” she asks.
And there it is. The most terrible thing of all. The one where you are sure, so sure that you are about to die that you start to try and accept it. Accept that your children will be OK. That your husband will go on. And they will, but this is truly a Terrible Thing. It’s a terrible, shameful thing and how did she know? How did she know the most Terrible Thing of All?
“I remember, honey” she says. “It means nothing.”
And then I sob in relief.
At some point I ask incredulously, “you calculated how old we’d be when you died???” “Yup” says Mom. “You’d be out of college, and Scotti would be out of high school so I thought, OK. That’s pretty good.”
And then we both crack up. It’s not funny, not really, but so crazy that it is.
My sense of humor is becoming a Terrible Thing as well.
Later Mom shared a quote from one of her best friends. To date, it’s the most helpful thing I’ve heard:
“Teene” said Mary. “Please tell Shana that she can’t believe everything she thinks.”
And just like that, the weight lifts.