Its amazing how your life can turn around in 2 weeks. 2 weeks ago I had a mental break down that I have never experienced before. At first I blamed my break down on my lack of a birthday party, but even as I was melting into sobs and puddled mess I knew it was much deeper than that, I knew this anger and sadness has been hiding inside of me for the past 4 months, the one down fall of always looking at the positive side of things. Eventually you need a meltdown to purge yourself of the other inevitable emotions that come when overcoming cancer. One girl at the young survivor group I attend said she's becoming blind from always looking at the bright side. Being positive can be exhausting at times, and can sometimes prevent someone from going through the necessary emotions needed when confronted with a loss. In my case it is the loss of my health and I was trying to prevent myself from feeling the fear, anger and depression that I needed to feel in order to accept my situation. I was trying to skip over it all and go right into acceptance, but I learned the hard way that isn't possible.
I started this journey with my head held high, naively believing nothing could take me out of the state of perseverance and positivity, but I didn't know what was around the corner. I didn't choose this struggle, this struggle choose me and with each passing step it slowly chipped away at me and by the time my birthday came I was utterly exhausted with it all. I was in a real funk, unknowingly depressed and desperately looking for happiness. I thought I could let my birthday blow by like another day, and like I've done with so many other birthdays. So I didn't plan anything, but when my birthday arrived I desperately needed that joy a party can bring and I desperately needed a day all about me that was happy and cancer free. For the last four months every day has been about me for my friends, family and I, but about cancer and about sadness and about fear.
When I had my last chemotherapy treatment on Jan 28th, I thought the worst was over, and It was in many ways, especially the physical strain it placed on my body, but I didn’t know that a revolting emotional reaction was just around the corner. There was a short lived high after I finished, lasting just a couple of days, but then I had to start facing the inevitable glooming surgery that will take place next Wednesday, Feb 27th and nothing can take you out of a glorious mood than trying to decide how best to mutilate your own body.
I had played every scenario over in my mind, talked with friends and family and met with several doctors to discuss my options. I actually had a lot of options, which is awesome and stressful at the same time, causing larger chunks to be chipped away at my psyche, rapidly increasing the pace for the birthday meltdown.
Because I am BRCA 2 positive, meaning I have a genetic mutation that gives me the odds of getting a new breast cancer by 50% if I kept everything, I was looking at having a radical bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction (new boobs!) which would reduce my risk by 95%. Unfortunately, you can't have reconstruction before radiation. Well, you could but there is a high risk the radiation could damage the new boobs, thus requiring more surgery. In my quest for information, I talked with breast cancer survivors who had mastectomy with reconstruction and almost all of them didn't have to do radiation, so I got it stuck in my stubborn head that I could convince my doctors that I wouldn't need radiation if I chose that option. In breast cancer treatment, it is common for women who opt for just lumpectomy to do radiation, but if they opt for mastectomy they don’t. So why couldn’t do that either?
I hit a large, massive concrete wall with my plan to convince the world I didn’t need radiation when I met with my radiation oncologist.
For the first time, I finally had a doctor who sat me down and explained the seriousness of my cancer. In a way I knew I had a sorta serious cancer; I knew the scary numbers about how quickly my cancer cells like to multiply and I knew it was serious to have cancer in my lymph system, but I guess I never really understood the gravity of it. I think it’s because at FAHC they are so positive, they told me their aim is to cure me, so I think I kept telling myself, “how bad can this be if they can cure me?”
Well, my radiation oncologist clued me in as I was presenting him with my argument for not having to do radiation. For the first time, he explained to me in simple and great detail what radiation does, the good and the bad and why I need to do this: Because I have an aggressive, later staged cancer and because I’m so young, meaning I have more life ahead of me to have a recurrence. It suddenly became clear to me what I needed to do; I decided right there I was going to have a lumpectomy. I know that I still have a higher risk of recurrence and high new cancer risk by keeping everything so in a year I will revisit the idea of doing bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I feel pretty lucky, the reconstruction options they have these days are pretty amazing, nothing like they had 20 years ago. So next week I will wake up with a few incisions, but will retain my original parts with minimal damage.
My tumors are actually dissolved to the point that there nothing that can be seen by the naked eye. AMAZING!! You’d think that would mean no surgery, but they actually can’t be sure they got everything unless they have removed the tissue where it once resided. They’ll test that tissue to see if there are any cancer cells to be seen, but there are also tiny undetectable cancer cells that could still be looming, so they have to make sure they take enough. Luckily, for my main tumor “enough” means very little; however, there are 2 other sites were tumors once resided and those are in my lymph nodes.
I had 2 tumors in my axillary nodes, which means that the cancer had spread from my main tumor to the lymph nodes, but thankfully it seems to have stopped there, again AMAZING! But this means I have to be stripped of a lot my lymph nodes, and that is where most of the surgery will take place.
So you see somewhere between my last chemo and meeting with my radiation oncologist, my birthday meltdown occurred. I am so glad I got that melt down out of the way before I met with the radiation oncologist otherwise my handling of his no nonsense talk might have been different. I’m in a better place now, feeling peace again, but at the expense of making my friends and family feel horrible for not planning a party I had originally told them not to plan. I know I need to find healthier ways to manage my stress and that is why I am currently attending a Mindfulness workshop and will continue to find ways to improve my well being.
In the end, I got the birthday party I wanted! Last week, my dear friend Kerry threw me a party! Everyone was given special instructions to not talk about cancer nor wear pink. We ate a lot, laughed a lot and I even had a ½ glass of wine! It was the perfect party.