Yesterday marks an end to something. In just three weeks, the following events happened: I found a lump, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer that has spread to my nodes and started chemotherapy today.
Of course, it’s more complicated than one sentence can uphold. But to some degree: it’s that fast. You’re living your normal, happy life—and in an instant you’re told you have cancer. I’m not sure if I can get the ensuing thick, ikyness on paper, but allow me to sift through the shock, information-deluge, sadness and vulnerability for a bit.
After I said: “I have breast cancer,” friends and family rallied around the most foreign words I’ve ever uttered. People were giving advice on where/ from whom I should seek treatment, hair-loss and wigs, medication and where the “port should be placed”. For the first couple of days, my phone took a beating because when I heard something I wasn’t ready to hear, I’d throw it across the room. Unfortunately, that strategy doesn’t stop the truth. What’s odd is that every word out of anyone’s mouth was depressing. “Wigs are lifesavers,” sounded awful. “You won’t be going anywhere for a while,” and “No more play dates at your house so you don’t catch a cold,” sounded claustrophobic. “Cancer is depressing,” sounded, well, somehow the most depressing of all.
Processing new information is a schizophrenic experience that is both bizarre and ultimately ineffective. I go into meetings with doctors and nurses and small bombs of unexpected information surprise me. After a while my brain just stops retaining data. Upon learning I’d lose my hair, I somehow thought it’ll all fall out and then start growing back immediately. Nope, I lose it in 2 weeks and it’s gone until the end of chemo. March. People are so nice though—they’ve seen that pseudo-calm, defensive eye-lid blinking before and try to reassure. “Your hair grows back though, as do your lashes and eyebrows.” Wait–what? My brain just got a tenth of the way around accepting I’ll be bald and now eyebrows and eyelashes are thrown in there too? Is this a horrible hazing prank? Ugh. Each time I hear a tiny injustice like that my body feels like it’s under attack, like I’m a zebra looking up from grazing in the savannas, freezing at the sight of lions nearby. I can’t think. I must flee.
My big sister flew out from Dallas and took me to a wig shop in SF. That’s when I realized a truth about cancer. It’s insult to injury. I’m going to be pumped full of drugs to attack the cancerous cells, but it also attacks good cells. I’ll be “leveled to zero” (as the doctor says), physically and emotionally exhausted. Not to mention the toll that this will take on my family… and then just start slapping on other freakish appearance things– and Voilà!
So, I’ve let go. Feeling badly, scaring my children and losing the way I normally live is so humiliating that I’ve released control. That seems to be the one thing I can control. I have one job now—to get this vessel through to the other side. I’m losing my hair? Fine- I just chopped it off anyway (see below) and had fun with it with a friend. Chemo? Ok, they’re sending in the navy seals to wreck everything in sight so that cancer doesn’t stand a chance. There’ll be collateral damage. But it won’t beat me. No way.
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 1)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 2)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 3)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 4)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 5)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 6)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 7)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 8)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 9)