So it's been two weeks since I found out that I have breast cancer, and I finally got a little bit of good news. I've been losing my mind waiting for the results of the chest xray I had last Thursday, since that is the only diagnostic test they're doing on me to see if my cancer has spread. They lost the test or something, and I finally got through to someone today who understood that I might have a heart attack if I don't find out soon. So they got it together, and my xray is clear. No lung cancer! I almost fainted from relief when I learned that. My blood tests are normal too, but all that means is that I'm healthy in the non-cancer way that I already knew I was healthy.
When I say I was going to have a heart attack, I'm serious. I went to my internist yesterday because my heart's been beating so fast and I've been so out of breath that I was CONVINCED I had lung cancer. They did an EKG on me, tested me to see if I have a blood clot. Nothing. The doctor said it could be due to anxiety.
These past two weeks have been the worst I've ever spent. Every woman I've talked to who has had breast cancer says that the time between diagnosis and surgery is the worst. Once you have surgery, or treatments to go through, you have to focus on that and you have less time to think. I still have a lot of waiting to do--waiting to find out the results of the BRCA test, waiting to find out if it's spread to my lymph nodes at surgery, etc. And I've been thinking about the negative things that can happen with chemo--not the suffering during treatments, but the long-lasting effects. Besides the fact that I have to do it regardless, I have learned from some women that not everyone has horrible chemo side effects. I mean, besides the hair loss, menopause, fatigue and everything. As they say, it's doable.
I have to admit that one thing that really bothers me about the timing of this cancer is that I have felt so good. I'm happy with my weight, my body is working well, I've been exercising a lot, and for the first time EVER in my life, since I was 11 years old, I am getting my period on a normal, regular 28 day cycle. And now I have to give all of that up, and everyone just says I should be happy to be alive.
Are you content with just the breathing part of life? Probably not, and people with cancer are no different. There's a lot else that matters too. If it were 30 years from now, maybe I'd feel differently. But for now it pisses me off that my body is for the most part healthy, has worked well with cancer for apparently several years, and now I have to poison myself with drugs that come with skull and crossbones warnings and flashing red lights, to the point of killing some of the good stuff in my body, just to stay alive. And I should be grateful, or feel lucky.
I know that's not the "I have cancer but so what I'm going to beat this monster!" attitude that many people want cancer patients to have. But really, rather than use our strength, bravery, stubbornness, or whatever we have going for us to beat cancer, we really just wish that we could use those traits to not have the damn disease in the first place. I mean, I learned that lesson about not taking life for granted a long time ago, when I was a kid. Now I have kids, and I have a new mission--to see them grow up.
What no one likes to admit is that no amount of wanting something badly enough makes it come true. If that were the case, no parents with small children would die from cancer or anything else. You can fight, and you should, because there's nothing else to do, but you can lose. For every Lance Armstrong there's a Walter Payton. Remember when he got on tv to say he had cancer? I don't think we ever forgave him for crying. It's as if we thought he owed us something different, some different face of humanity. But if anyone should have beat that thing, based on physical fitness, positive attitude, money, resources, general likability--it was him. Let's not take it away from him by talking about strength--he had that. Christopher Reeve had that--he was Superman. But shit happens, and it happens to people who don't deserve it.
I'm not being defeatist, I'm just saying--it was bad luck that gave me this disease, and it will be good luck (and modern medicine) that gets me out of it. And of course I have all of you, which is really a necessity for anyone trying to get through something like this, as I need all the help I can get. The other things that people have been so kind to remind me about myself, which seem a little lost now--my stubbornness, intelligence, strength, humor, whatever it is that you think I have-- will help me deal with some of this in the meantime, while luck plays itself out.
I guess some of that helped me the other day, when I told Lenny that I have cancer. She had been having some issues--refusing to go to gymnastics, not sleeping well, acting out. She must have wondered why the phone was ringing so much when we usually don't talk to people much, why I was disappearing for long stretches of time on walks, why my mom was showing up to take her to school. So I just decided to tell her at the dinner table. Have you been wondering why so many people are calling? Yes. Well, I'm sick. Remember when I couldn't pick you up because I had an owie on my breast? uh-huh. Well, I have cancer. I will have to have an operation, like your dad did when you were two, and I won't be able to pick you up for a little while. Then I will need to take medicine to make me better, but the medicine will make me very tired and my hair will fall out and I will look like your little brother did when he was a baldy newborn baby. Why will you lose your hair? Well, I don't really know, but that's what the medicine does. And no medicine that you take will ever do that to you. You can't catch what I have. A lot of people will be visiting, including your uncle Luke who could take you to get some more piggie and elephant books. So, uncle Luke will be here because you won't be here? No, I will be here, I just might not be able to do all the things I can do now.
That was the gist of it. And she seemed to get it, and she has slept fine since then. Though I am still nervous as hell, it took a lot to tell her that and I'm so glad I did. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't tell a kid it's cancer. That's what it is. That's what I talk about with Gabe and when people are here or on the phone, if I talk at all. It is not like having the flu or a broken leg, and you aren't going to keel over like you might from a heart attack. It's like the thing it is, and it's not the C-word, or a death sentence, or something to brave through, but you do have to suffer first and then hopefully life will look a little bit normal again. I spoke to a very helpful woman who had a triple-diagnosis breast cancer diagnosis 9 years ago (another woman told me that at that time, they told you to write your will if you were triple negative) when her kids were the same age as mine. She said it was a gift, because they don't really know what's going on, and more importantly, they don't care. Bald? Tired? Throwing up? Boring? Who cares? They just want you here.