Alright, guys, back from Maine and feeling refreshed and ready to knock out what is hopefully my last week of 10 zillion appointments. Seriously, I am pretty sure by the end of this week, I will have been stuffed into every machine and had my blood tested for everything the medical community has ever dreamed up, and that’s on top of two minor surgeries. It’s gonna be a doozy.
Two weeks after my initial diagnosis I have determined that getting diagnosed with breast cancer means that you are going to feel all of the feelings that exist. You know that five stages of grief thing? Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance? While I have gone through all of those and a lot more in the last two weeks. The most prominent feelings have been, not surprisingly, the painful ones, namely: sadness, fear, guilt and anger.
Sadness: I already talked a little bit about this here but generally a sadness has settled into my life that I have never before experienced. It comes in many ways and for many reasons. It is there for the things that have been and will be lost. It is there in moments of happiness reminding me that the joy is not unabated. It is there for the way things have changed and will never be the same. It sometimes brings me to tears, often times makes me lose sleep, but mostly just sits there, like an unwelcome guest, making my daily life a little more difficult than it was before.
Fear: This one is the toughest. The fear comes in many, many forms. Obviously I have a fear of pain like most people (although I have already felt my usually wimpy, whiny self transformed into someone who encourages phlebotomists to dig around a little more if they are unsuccessful). But for me, the pain of feeling unhealthy, of becoming weak and feeling tired all of the time is actually worse than the fear of physical pain right now. I can pop pills to get through an unpleasant biopsy and still go out with friends but feeling sick all the time is a rather terrifying prospect. Ultimately though, it’s the fear about the non-physical stuff that really gets me. My identity, for example, will be forever changed. Just being someone diagnosed with the C-word is identity changing, but losing my hair and potentially a part of my body, being sick for months, not being able to participate in my life in the same way, constantly needing help… these are identity-shattering things. On the exterior I might get back to my “old self” but in reality that person is forever gone and I am afraid of what it will feel like to lose her. And then there are the really big fears. Will I be able to have children? I have a good back up plan in place (see: space babies) but what if something goes wrong and this thing that I have always thought was fundamental to my long-term happiness is taken from me? And then, of course, there’s the mortality thing, which I am so afraid to think about it’s tough to write down here. I have pretty much no doubt in my mind that I will survive this thing but frankly, having cancer, no matter what stage, forces you to stare down your mortality in ways you probably never had to before. People throw around words like “prognosis,” “survival rate” and “recurrence” all willy nilly. To put it simply, I am afraid to die. See… just writing that is a terrifying thing. Let’s move on.
Guilt: It probably seems silly to feel guilty about getting breast cancer but it’s definitely there. First, there is the cause of this cancer. Where did it come from? Was it my fault? Did I not eat healthy enough? Was I too stressed out? Did I not give myself enough self-examinations? Should I have done more yoga? Should I have lived in the country side? Could I have prevented it? I just can’t help but feel those things. Now that I have cancer am I making it worse by eating this slice of pie or that red meat? Should I not be drinking alcohol? Should I be drinking more water? Should I be exercising more? Should I be exercising less? Should I meditate? And then the biggest one of all: What on EARTH am I about to put my body through? I feel guilty guys even though I know I shouldn’t, no two ways about it.
Anger: This one, quite frankly, is the most fun. I didn’t see myself getting all angry and self-righteous about this. I told my mom, “it’s not helpful for me to think about this as being unfair.” Well you know what? This shit is unfair. It’s really freaking unfair. And I am SUPER pissed about it. Are you kidding me universe? I get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease seconds before my 30th birthday and diagnosed with breast cancer minutes after? What kind of crap cards are these? I’m only thirty! LET ME LIVE MY LIFE! The anger is fun when it allows me to let loose, forget the guilt and say “Screw this, I’m eating the pie!” for a minute or two. It’s less fun when it makes me ball up my fists and tear up in fury.
So these are the painful feelings. They don’t come in stages, I can tell you that much. They don’t even come one at a time. Sometimes they cascade into one another until I feel like my heart has become a ball of pain. I have had just a few brief moments where I have let myself tumble into a darkness that is difficult to put into words. The “darkness,” for me, is my definition of weakness. It’s the place where I want to give up, where I don’t want my life anymore, where I want to be someone else, where I want desperately to wake up from the nightmare. It’s where I don’t know what to do but completely break down and fall apart. It brings me to the brink, makes me scream, makes me cry until my face hurts and sends me into a complete panic.
But the “darkness” is also motivating for me. It’s what gives me the ability to find my strength. Pushing against it, keeping it at bay, finding ways to never go there again, help me to persevere. One of my favorite things that someone has said to me since I was diagnosed was: I love the style of your strength. I am not certain exactly what he saw but I feel like I am slowly figuring out what that style is. I think so far it has included things like writing this blog, being cheerful when my brain tells me to be otherwise, treating myself and forgiving myself for the indulgence and turning on Katy Perry’s Roar when I’d rather be sulking (I would, in most instances, not admit to liking Katy Perry songs but there is something about this ridiculously catchy pop song that makes me feel like I can punch cancer in the face).
And then, of course, there are all of the positive feelings. In the last two weeks I have felt overwhelmingly loved, lucky, humbled, grateful, supported, touched, blessed and much, much more. And this is not to mention the pure joy and deep happiness I felt watching my two best friends get married this weekend. I am sure it would have been the happiest and most loving day ever anyways, but I also feel that something about being faced with all of the above makes the goodness in my life grow to epic proportions. The well-known sentiment is that you need to know the lows in order to truly appreciate the highs. I know that cancer will give me that appreciation. Along with this I have been trying to be open to the many positive opportunities that having cancer presents. Overall, I am trying to see the next year or so as great practice. It will be a practice in letting go, in accepting the impermanence of things, in being with pain, with fear, with sadness and with anger, in not judging and being forgiving of myself and others, in seeing the silver lining and being grateful for what I have. Despite the pain I know is yet to come I am actually looking forward to the difficult lessons I have to learn. I know cancer will change me either way, so it might as well be for the better.
And because we all need a little ridiculousness and inspiration in our lives, here is a ridiculous video for a song that has been part of my inspiration. Enjoy!