Breast Cancer · Cancer · Depression · Family · Grief · Life

The middle of the war 

When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer and you share the news with your family and friends, people tell you some pretty specific things. They tell you that you’ll beat this thing. You are a warrior. You’re strong. You’ve got this. Then, when there aren’t any more cancer cells in your body, they congratulate you because you’ve don’t it. You beat it. It’s over. Maybe if you’ve been through chemotherapy it feels more like a war than it has with me. I don’t feel like I won some sort of battle. Instead, I feel mired in the trenches. 

Before I had cancer, I would have thought that a person at my stage of the game was pretty much done. Cancer’s gone, right? War over. It turns out that not what it’s like at all, at least not for me. 

Cancer is a horrible disease in so many ways. The first is, of course, that it can kill you. Many people die from cancer every year and I am so glad to not be among them. Less obvious but almost as insidious is the way it affects your daily life, though, and not just while those cells are present and active. I feel like im battling against cancer every day now. I’m battling the constant presence of negative thoughts. I’m battling the pain all day long. Daughter is falling apart, Husband is grieving. We’re all waging this terrible battle. 

Right now it doesn’t feel like our family’s war will ever be over. All I want is a few days in which cancer isn’t the focus. I don’t want to think about my breasts- or the one remaining one. I don’t want the next surgery looming in the distance. I don’t want to cry when I catch my reflection- naked or clothed- because of what’s gone from me. I don’t want to hate my tops or my ravaged chest. I just want to be like I was. I guess that’s what everyone wants in some ways, and we just can’t get it. So for now I can look forward to the days when it’s not the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the thoughts that I try to force out of my brain as I fall asleep. Every war has to end eventually. 

One thought on “The middle of the war 

  1. I haven’t had cancer. My illness isn’t like cancer. However, I have to say that this sounds a lot like having a major, long term illness. My psychologist and I talked yesterday about how I will never recover. We often talk about this, and I always hope that it isn’t true, and that I’ll find some kind of way out. Now that I’ve gotten a lot of the other aspects of my illness under control, I see that there really aren’t solutions. Interestingly, my brain tells me “I’m sick” often now. I didn’t really self-identify as sick before. Maybe when my weight stabilizes I won’t have this or maybe it is a protein problem, or maybe there is some exact quantity of water or carbs or something else that I will consume that will make me feel better (and not look so much like the walking dead). Maybe it is that I am starting to be aware of reality, or maybe it is that I’m realizing how incredibly limited my food options are. Of course, I could probably go back to the way I was before the diet, with the hives from food allergies and uncontrollable anxiety, but I don’t think it is worth it to eat a piece of chocolate cake (although I have to be incredibly careful about eating anything with the tiniest amount of sweetness now, because my body demands more and I don’t stop eating and then I find my blood sugar through the roof and then crashing dangerously low). Unfortunately, I can’t go back to before I took the drug that made me sick.

    Probably I’ve said so before, but one of my friends (who was dying from cancer at the time) told me that something would have changed anyway. I wouldn’t have just continued as I was. Things always change. And when I read the Facebook posts of people I went to high school with, I can see that clearly everyone has shit that they would give anything to change. Life doesn’t go the way we planned or would have wanted. I’m not saying this to make you feel like your misery isn’t valid. I want you to know that we all are right there with you. I can say that in my life, even though nearly every second is dedicated to trying to feel better (I seriously read scientific studies about things that could possibly help me on my phone in bed), I have gotten to the point where I’m mostly okay with it. I mean, I can see “not okay with it” right around the corner, but I try like hell not to go there, because that way lies madness. Don’t give yourself too much shit for not being okay with things right now. It is new, and you have _so much_ going on. I expect that you (and your family) will learn to deal with all this in time. Don’t be your own enemy. Life is hard enough without being down on yourself. When you are ready, start finding things you can do. Get outside and go for a walk a park if you can (walking and being in nature reduce cortisol). I like to go to lectures and museums and plays. Whatever it is you do, do it to nurture yourself. While it is fine to be a warrior sometimes, other times it is okay to just be a sick woman who needs comfort and rest.

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