Cancer Sucks… And Then You Live

People get caught up in a world created within the limits of their own minds where they tell their children they’ll read to them, play with them and talk to them… later. They’re too busy for social invites because work can’t wait and life is moving fast and they can’t slow down long enough to stop and play. It’s a lazy cycle we fall into without ever thinking there might not be a later. And the truth is, there might not. You wake up, the same as yesterday, plan for an ordinary day, whether it’s taking care of the household, attending crucial mergers or making sure all your children have what they need for day; rides, books money etc. without thinking ahead… and are told you have cancer.

Not exactly how it went, but floored none-the-less. Went in for my very first mammography as suggested by my mom through a medium (a person who chats with ghosts). I scoffed at first, not because I didn’t believe, but I had no symptoms and felt no lumps in my breasts. I went because my mom told me too. A habit guess I haven’t broken since she passed away seven years before from colon cancer. I won’t lie. Anxiety shadowed me all through the test and when the torturing of my breasts ended and they told me to sit outside to wait for the radiologist to take a look, my nerves settled a bit. When she came back and told me she needed more pictures, I sighed because I had to get back to my three young children. I trusted no one but me to take care of them. And on top of that, a ton of things to get done. The pictures done, I sat again outside the scanning room, but this time, when she came back she gave me a phone number to a breast specialist. She said I had crystallizations inside my right breast and that further tests were required. A biopsy confirmed it. I had cancer. The news was hard to digest or talk about, but I had three small children, a sister and two brothers who needed to know. I would have to say it out loud and over and over again until it made me sicker than the cancer. How do you tell your family you’re dying?

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. My husband never left my side. Throughout all the doctor appointments, procedures, explanations of what would happen next, he was my eyes and ears and cognitive thought. When we got home from each, he explained everything said, from the percent I would live to the strategy the doctors were implementing. Whenever the doctors spoke, all I heard was a voice in my head asking what the hell was happening? Initially, the news got worse and worse. The cancer infiltrated my entire right breast, invaded my lymph nodes and started creeping into my chest muscle. I don’t remember when I told my family about it. Actually, my husband intercepted all calls and did all the informing. I could barely breathe, let alone speak. The first three months was a blur. When it came time for the face to face acknowledgment of my situation with my sister and brothers, I chose to go that part alone. I told my sister first. We cried for a while in the car outside her house. And then together we went to each of my brothers’ houses and told them. And then the support came rushing in from everywhere.

I wasn’t left alone for a minute. My cousin, a cosmetologist set up a plan for my hair during chemotherapy. My sister set up a walking regiment, to force me to get up and out into the world I knew (and so did she) I would want to hide from. My brothers’ never let me forget about love an family. After my bilateral mastectomy, choosing to take both breasts off because, if I survived, there was no way in hell I would go through it again, I had a few weeks to heal before treatment started. I could do nothing but lay in bed. I refused to take the narcotic painkillers prescribed to me… hating that they sent me in and out of the twilight zone in rapid successions. So Tylenol got me through the worst of pain. Tylenol, Motrin and my family.

Treatment consisted of four months of dose dense chemotherapy. The first four would take my hair. The second four would just make me loopy and look like the Pillsbury dough girl turned zombie. Fun. And people lied about how I looked and I thank them deeply. If they hadn’t, I’d probably would never have left the house. My family, both sides, kept me busy when I wasn’t sick in bed. I walked for miles with my sister. Got to see my brothers more. My children became more of a priority, not just their wellbeing, but their happiness. I took the time to snuggle, to read, to play games to really enjoy them. Best medicine ever. When it was time to shave my head, my cousin dropped everything to do so. I think that was the worst part emotionally.

I’d always prided myself for having long wavy hair, but when the roots started hurting and found more and more strands on my pillow in the morning, I knew it was time. Tears welled up as soon as I heard the roar of the hair trimmer. She shaved it down to an inch or less. I just couldn’t go further, not yet. Less than a week later, in the shower, I succumbed to my vanity. Clumps of hair slid off my skull and into my hands. My husband rescued me from the tub, where if found me lying in a fetal position. Only his words of comfort and encouragement got me through that event. And then I grew a sense of humor. I bought a wig and only wore it on Halloween. I thought it was amusing. It itched too much to wear on a constant basis and chose instead to get creative with my head adornments. If I felt like long hair, I wore long fancy scarves around my head, on average days I bundle my white skull in a cartoony or cool colored bandanas. I chose bald around the house and kept a ball cap ready for visitors.

Once all was said and done, and I’d survived the last of the treatment, which was twenty-eight days of radiation, my family through me a surprise party. I used to hate parties, hated going out, but I’d come out of the experience, different. A whole new world opened up during hell. I could see passed my fears and realized I wasn’t living before. I won the battle in more ways than one and I’m utterly grateful to my husband, children and family for pushing me forward and never allowing me to give up.