Any Fool Can Survive a Crisis

I found that quote a few months back; chuckled,  and continued on my way.  Funny thing, though.  I couldn’t shake the sentiment from my mind.  Oh…I didn’t tell you the remainder of the quote:  It’s the living day-to-day that requires real effort.

What I’ve learned, particularly during the last week of February and the entire month of March, is that getting on with the normal, everyday of life after breast cancer treatments have finished is more difficult than I imagined.  My breast surgical oncologist was right and I was wrong.  My breast cancer was a TEN not a six or seven on my personal scale of challenging life events.  It is the living day-to-day that requires real effort.

The most difficult issue I face (after the damn Tamoxifen side effects) is trying not to wonder if “it” will ever come back:  in the same breast?  in the other breast? elsewhere in my body?  with a vengeance?  My breasts are still lumpy.  The scar that I’ve worked assiduously since my surgery is nearly invisible, but the thickening beneath the tissue into my breast is firm, rather like a slightly overripe apricot feels when pressed between my fingers. I feel a grainy, gritty texture between my thumb and index finger when I knead deep into the skin along either side of the lovely crease that reaches from slightly outside of my left breast into about two inches of my fleshy bosom.  I can feel the sandy grit break away beneath my fingers.  I understand that’s scar tissue being displaced, but it’s a feeling I never knew in my breast before September 21.

My most recent medical checkups and tests all show no sign of a recurrence.  I’m thrilled with those results.  I don’t have to see my trifecta of treatment providers for another three months.  But I will have to wake up every morning and face the day differently than I had ever done prior to my diagnosis.

During treatment each day took me one day closer to being “finished” with something.  Now each day takes me one day further out from knowing I’m okay. Which leads me to question:  But how will I now if I’m not okay?

I had lunch not too long ago with a woman who’s endured many personal heartaches in her life, far more than her fair share.  She asked about how I was doing with life “after”.  I told her I felt scared often.  That sometimes I’m afraid to touch my breast.  That although I try and joke and act silly and gutsy I’m really just quaking inside hoping for the best.  We both teared up.

“Angie,” she said in a quiet but direct way as she looked at me with tenderness and breathed in deeply, “so what if it does.”  I started to cry at the table.  I took the lovely white napkin and dabbed my eyes to try and keep the tears from ruining my makeup.  I only ruined the napkin as I twisted it up harder in my hands.  She continued, “Wouldn’t you do the same thing you did this time?  Does it really matter?”

I thought about the fact that something grew inside my body for ten years without my ever feeling it.  I sensed something wasn’t right for several years.  I watched.  I waited.  I reported.  I trusted.  I argued.  I fought.  I ultimately won and defeated the tumor and it’s splaying tentacles.  I don’t ever want to have to do that again.

I’m learning how to live with the worry that nags like an almost imperceptible sound in my mind.  Like white noise.   I don’t want it to win.  I don’t want to miss the joy that is available in every new day that dawns because I am scared of a cancer that I have no control over.

My oncologist told me a challenge of living life after cancer has been treated is that it’s not like you are a patient who had a gallbladder removed or who had some other major surgery where you get to heal up and move on without ever looking back.  It’s not fair.  A breast cancer patient has gone through major surgery even if it’s “just” a lumpectomy, and then often chemotherapy and radiation.  Then you heal physically.  And you continue to heal mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

I think going through this might be very close to living through combat in a war zone.   Each day you survive you’re thankful.  But you know, as the sun begins to set, that if you make it through ’til morning you’ll have to do it all again.

Any fool can survive a crisis.  It’s the day-to-day living that requires real effort.

Written in honor of my friend, “Judy”, who learned after surviving breast cancer 28 years ago, that it has spread to her brain and her lungs.  She had a 50/50 chance of living a year after her diagnosis 28 years ago.  Her chances now are about 30-40%.  I’m praying she falls into those numbers now.  I want her to celebrate my 28-year cancer-free milestone..