Relearning to be happy
Here’s what I discovered from what’s called the Cancer Journey; it can be a trip. A vicious cancer colonized me, doctors cut out my breasts and lymph nodes, poisoned me with chemo, and irradiated me. How can I reconstruct my life? I’m not delusional or trapped in the twin tyrannies known as positive thinking and good attitude. If there’s an upside to living breastlessly, I’m gonna find and write about it. Breastlessness isn’t all great, but some of it is.For one year I had everything to make me happy
At 58 I met the man of my dreams who rearranged and down-sized his 20-year collection of bachelorhood for me; I accepted a job and loved it; and a biological grandson ‘magically’ appeared to bring joy for the future.
Then along came Breast Cancer
Not just any old run-of-the-mill garden variety. Nope. Triple Negative is a rare, aggressive type that invades only 16% of breasts, yet kills 25% of all breast cancer patients, the genome most resistant to known treatments, and the most successful at adapting to treatment so that it can lurk to kill another day.
The June 2009 mammogram showed micro-calcifications the radiologist assured me were benign. I decided to skip a June 2010, yearly exam because new, government-sanctioned guidelines were to test every other year. My partner, Decker, groped me in April 2010. No lump, no dimple, no pain, no swelling, no symptoms, but a hardness. Retest showed those micro-calcifications were indeed cancer, which had now spread. THANK YOU, Decker, for having sensitive hands, for insisting on a mammogram – I love you. The oncologist outlined the choices, including ‘do nothing’, which gave me four and nine months to live. Do nothing was never my style.
Requiem for my breasts
My breasts were lovely – small (32 C), firm (I bought my first bras at age 55), perky (no sag or droop), smooth (no stretch marks or scars), and attached to me (much more than I was attached to them). Even though they looked and felt nice, gave me a figure and brought pleasure to admirers and gropers, the decision they had to go wasn’t difficult. Some do struggle to decide or regret and grieve the loss. I didn’t. Maybe because my breasts were deadly and I like living more than I like filling out a T-shirt.
Approximately nine months, the time it takes to be born, stood between me going to the second hand store with a suitcase of clothes that no longer fit me, and Decker having to do it after I was dead.
What happened after the two surgeries, chemo, radiation and brutal side effects of all that crap, was Brain Fog. Crushing, time sucking, demoralizing, paralyzing, reduce me to crying daily and make me catatonic Brain Fog. From diagnosis to the one-year mark, I couldn’t read a book or write a word. My terrific job as a Conflict Manager requires analysis, concentration, focus, and long hours listening to people talk. For almost 24 months I couldn’t follow a conversation. People exhausted me. Attempts to work had me in tears every day. I laid off work again because I was a hazard to the fabulous team at Parks Canada Agency (Robert, Tom, Rebecca and Pierre) that had covered for me during my year of treatment and to the clients.
I have everything to make me happy
The goal of this blog, for me, is to re-learn to think, write, and concentrate. What to write about? I’ll start with the great things about breastlessness, not just getting through it but thriving with and enjoying my new body. I’m at the convergence of three realities: love of words, passion for conflict management, and joy of living post-mastectomy. I’ve not published much yet, but now I’m – finally – writing for (my) life.