Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Laying It Down

Every February I get a letter from the breast cancer prevention program reminding me to call and book my yearly screening mammogram. With a strong family history of breast cancer it seems reasonable, no? I'd been bracing myself for this year's letter and when it came I stuck it to my fridge and said out loud, 'you fuckers.' You see, last February's mammogram culminated in radiologists deciding the cancerous lump was a cyst and I was free and clear until this year's check up.

Had it not been for the weight loss, which led to the CT scan, which led to the needle biopsy, which led to the surgeon ordering a breast MRI, who knows when the breast cancer would have been discovered. Had it not been for the surgeon ordering the breast MRI, before it was realized that my pathology report was mixed up with someone else's, and then deciding to go ahead with it anyway after the correct pathology report from my needle biopsy said there was no cancer, who knows how this would have played out. The needle biopsy missed the tumour completely. What a soap opera.

A day after I got the letter I saw my doctor. As we talked, and the mammogram letter came up, he listened to me and then said, "you seem to be in the angry phase." I so wanted to reply,  "let's just cut one of your balls off and see how you feel about that, okay?"

How long will it be before I stop cupping my hand over the place where my breast was and mourn its absence? Two days after my mastectomy, as I stepped onto the mat that triggered the automatic exit door of the hospital, I felt my body hesitate. My right breast was somewhere in the building and for a moment I felt disoriented. I suppressed the urge to yell, "I won't forget you."

At my final appointment with the surgeon this week, with compassion in his eyes and firmness in his voice he said, "You need to find a way to move forward. Yes, mistakes were made. Those mistakes saved your life." Tears sprang up in my eyes as I recognized the truth in what he said. It's really the same as what the oncologist said to me two weeks ago. Examine the story I am telling myself. Don't let it define me. Through tears I told the surgeon, "The mistakes broke me."

Look at what it's cost meGive me back what I've lost. That's really what I want to shout. I'm no longer who I was, no longer believe what I used to believe about just about everything in life. I am continually filtering thoughts when talking with other people. Trite answers I used to believe come to mind and I realize I don't believe in those answers any more. Examined and left wanting by my words I told a friend last week that I feel like I am being rendered mute.

And so I've made several phone calls reaching out for professional help in moving forward. Intuitively I know that some kind of ritual to honour my journey would be healing. There must be a way to move forward without feeling like I am dismissing just how deeply the twists and turns have affected me. A way to bless the journey and release the anger. I know that everyone who goes through an injustice of some kind must finally lay it down or become bitter. Lord have mercy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Stories We Tell

"The stories we tell ourselves affect how we live our lives."

That's the oncologist words above, challenging me to examine the story I tell myself about my cancer journey and my way forward from here. He's said it because I mentioned again about having so many twists and turns along the way and that perhaps that's compounding the awful side effects of the estrogen blocker medication I'm on.

In the echo of his words I feel lost, unable to grasp what it looks like to be finished with appointments and to move forward. I don't want it to be over either but I don't know why.

It takes a night's sleep to grasp that he was telling me: "You are cancer free, go live your life, don't let yourself be defined by this." A faint glimmer of hope stirs in me at the phrase 'cancer free' and I feel guilty that I have no energy or desire to do a happy dance even though I recognize it is good, good news. There is a part of me that wants to march back into his office and say defiantly, "I will never forget" and I think to myself what an ungrateful wretch I am.

I feel like I am being yanked in a game of tug of war with one arm glued to the rope in front of me and one arm reaching for the rope behind that is just out of my reach. I'm crying as I move forward and it's the mastectomy side's arm being pulled forward. Damn, it hurts.

It takes me a week to see that the oncologist was never asking me to forget what happened. My discomfort with moving forward comes from believing I have to either move forward or cling to the past. I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize that I can both move forward and honour the past. The tension between the two is much like the pull of my mastectomy scar every time I stretch out my arm.

While I don't want to be defined solely by this part of my journey I will never be the person I was before it ever again.

And that will always be my story.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Best News Ever

Was declared cancer free yesterday. Huge, huge, relief. Feel like I can now move forward. Thank you for all your prayers and support especially these past six months.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


"I don't want to walk timidly through life."  I say this to Fr. Charlie, my spiritual director. It is a relief to unload all my fears and hopes and gut honest thoughts. We haven't spoken since the day before my mastectomy. There is a lot of ground to cover. After several hours I leave his office, affirmed once again in my humanity.

I had almost cancelled the appointment because the weatherman had been forecasting snow and I have become a coward when it comes to winter driving. I find the need to talk myself through many things these days. It's as if well, because of the cancer diagnosis I realize on another level that if that can happen anything can happen. So I constantly have to remind myself that just because anything can happen doesn't mean it will happen. And like a boat gently tapping up against the dock, waves constantly keeping it in motion, I keep bumping up against fear of the unknown.