I’ve had tests – mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, MRIs, scans, x-rays and a few things that involve being injected with a radioactive tracer fluid, just in case I don’t already have cancer.
I’ve had 2 surgeries – a lumpectomy and the removal of several lymph nodes. I’ve walked around with a drain hanging out from under my arm for several days. I’ve had a large button-like thing implanted under the skin on my chest with an artificial vein threaded into my jugular to help make being repeatedly injected easier on me. I’ve had 5 rounds of chemotherapy – today being my fifth. (Chemo days are milestones marking the progress of my treatment; kind of like little birthdays, except way more frequent and way less fun.)
Through all this I have been treated with great kindness and respect by the people responsible for my care. I’ve had many occasions to be grateful to my team of talented doctors and to the much-maligned health care system that has made my treatment possible, and more importantly, swift. I’ve also frequently marveled at the incredibly efficient, patient, strong-stomached beings that walk among us called “nurses.”
So here I am: bald, scarred-up, and routinely pumped full of poisons. I have trouble sleeping and sometimes I’m very sick, or in a lot of pain. This is life with breast cancer. The road can be long, dark, and scary – but on the upside I’ve saved a lot on waxing this summer, acquired a French silk scarf for my head, and met some amazing people.
While not exactly compensating for it, I can see that this curse comes with its blessings. For me the greatest of these has been watching my family and friends rally around me like a motley army of ferocious angels. All these people I love have schooled me on what love can do, and it’s a wee bit humbling.
As bizarre and difficult as my life has become in many ways, I do manage to forget all about cancer sometimes. I look in the mirror and see Baldy looking back and I’m surprised for a second that it’s me: that girl with cancer is actually me. Or maybe more to the point, I’m still me even though I’ve got cancer.
That was one of the things that scared me most when I was first told I had breast cancer; I feared that I would lose my identity to it, become That Girl With Cancer. (That, and of course that I’d die.) My husband and I have a beautiful daughter, a great group of friends, we’re close with our families, and we struggle to balance it all with our busy careers. I liked my life, and I wondered, would all the things that define who I am go the way of my ponytail and ability to keep food down?
But months down the road and here I am. Of course cancer and treatment have altered my life dramatically. Sometimes I’m numb, sometimes defiant, sometimes tearful, and sometimes I just keep moving through the moments of my life as though it’s all perfectly normal.
It’s become my new abnormal. But it’s still my life, and whatever changes have come I still feel like myself. I may not look the way I used to, but I’m not That Girl With Cancer, I’m still me. Just balder.
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