Wednesday, November 5, 2014

That time I had breast cancer

I haven't written about that time I had breast cancer.  Perhaps I haven't told my story because I felt it lacked importance; I didn't die. Okay, I don't really believe that my story isn't important, but watching other women become so very ill and some not living  makes it hard to understand.  I cannot truly understand why I wasn't chosen to die at that time.  Is it possible to have just a touch of cancer?  That's kind of the way I have often felt.   But even with a touch of cancer, there's much involved.  The "why me?" questions,- yes they do come up.  Not so much why I got cancer but why others have it worse.  I ask this not with a heart of guilt but one of overwhelming gratitude.

The letter came on a Friday - the letter I received after my follow-up mammogram because something looked suspicious on the first one.  I took the letter into the bathroom, locked the door to read it.  I wasn't ready to share.  The letter gave me instructions to follow-up and that my dr.'s office would call.  That call came a few days later while I was in Old Navy.  I stepped outside to talk to the nurse, and she confirmed that I did need a biopsy.  I chatted with her for a few moments and asked that if this was indeed cancer, was it not in a very early stage.  I asked this because I had done research online (which, by the way, can be of comfort or scare you death).  She gave me positive assurance.  Don't remember if I went back into Old Navy and continued my shopping.  Don't think I did.   It really happens - your mind does a major shift.  Things that seemed of importance just a couple of minutes before really aren't.

Because the cancer appeared to be at a very early place I didn't schedule the biopsy right away. I put it off for about a month and a half because this happened right before all of the holidays.  The last thing I wanted was for this to be the underlying topic of Christmas.  Even if it were to be the worst possible news, I wouldn't have wanted this to be celebrated as my "last" Christmas.  I didn't bring it up, to anyone.  During this time I was directing a Christmas production that included a rather large cast.  Two cast members just kept arguing over things of non-importance  (or things that now were non-important in my mind).  I wanted so badly to get up in their faces and scream, "I might have cancer!  I cannot be bothered with your stupid issues!"  So, that's when that started happening.  The thing you always hear people talk about when some unplanned huge thing pops up in life.  Worry, fretting, having anger over such mundane things.  And  how many times I had been and am guilty of the same.  Do I stop and think more about that now?  I hope so.  I do try.

The diagnosis came on a Friday.  No matter where you are or are not with your beliefs or faith, at that moment when the cancer word enters the conversation, it's not the first thing that enters your mind. My thoughts were not, well, God, this must be Your plan.  It was more like, oh crap, this isn't good. My mental image shifted quickly to baldness and dying.  I wasn't able to tell our kids, my husband did it for me.  There was nothing in this entire process he could have done any better.  Okay, except that one time in the plastic surgeons office when he and the doctor got the giggles. I pointed at my husband and said,  "You, leave the room. "

As always happens at these times in life, you quickly become educated on a whole new topic.  I thought through treatment choices that were given and made my decision.  After my mastectomy I think I almost wore out that button on my morphine pump.  Discovered a few hours later that morphine makes me really sick, so I gave up the pump. Then there's the glamour of a mastectomy; there are drains involved.  Fluids leaving your body in ways you didn't really expect.  My husband, without being asked, just took charge and changed the lovely drains.  He just took it as his role to take care of things, gross things.  A deeper act of romance I have never known.

If God were a mere concept to me instead of Someone I actually talk to, I don't know how I would have fared.  Many people, most of all my kids, on my behalf talked to Him and asked for great things. Peace, healing, comfort, less worry. I felt the strength from those prayers when at times I was happy but I should have been sad and peaceful when I should have been racked with fear.   I was gracefully given life this time. I am humbled, thankful, and no more deserving of that gift than anyone else.

The things I have learned and continued to learn sound so cliche but don't feel cliche.

I'm humbled that my cancer was discovered so extremely early,
Amazed at the strength of my husband and kids,
Grateful for those that love me,
Learned to overlook things that need to be overlooked,
Collect people and try to have an effect on as many lives as possible.
I can't change the world, but I can have an influence on my little corner of it.

Now each time there is a dr. appointment for just routine things, my mind does go to thoughts of, what if the cancer comes back in some kind of way?  I remind myself that I've already had that diagnosis and I'm still here to talk about it.  The people who love me still would and the prayers would again be prayed. After my mastectomy in my post-surgery fogginess, the first image I remember seeing standing at the foot of my hospital bed was my daughter-in-laws wonderfully round pregnant tummy.  She and our son were expecting their first child, our first grandchild.  Since that time seven additional grandchildren have come into existence. There are many moments when I with great humbleness think, I could have missed all of this, and am overwhelmed with thankfulness that I didn't.