Breast Cancer: A Year In Review

Late in December of last year I realized I was on the five-year disaster plan. Five year curse, assuming of course that you believe in curses. The year 2000 brought about multiple deaths including both my grandpa (the first grandparent to die) and the violent disturbing suicide of a classmate. In 2005 my life quietly imploded into tiny pieces of shrapnel that just floated in my brain for years after my dad died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Last year at this time, there was a noticeable lump in my left breast that had been examined in early 2010, but dismissed by a doctor. By last year at this time the lump had grown, and I had it re-examined by a different doctor.

Months of denial made my diagnosis of breast cancer at age 27 that much more devastating. Weeks of complete hell and panic followed while I did research and planned my treatment by day, and cried hysterically in the car, the shower, and my bed by night. Surgery brought relief. A negative lymph node biopsy brought happiness back into my life. Having a mastectomy was the best option for me, and I can’t help but to resent “Save the TaTas” stickers and the overused phrase “drive through mastectomies.” I will have my breasts removed in favor of life any day. I am lucky that my breast cancer was caught at Stage 1. I am lucky that I finally found doctors who cared and took my symptoms seriously.

With no recommendation for further treatment, just periodic monitoring, I have been forced to return to (semi) normal life. I’m happy that cancer is no longer dominating the conversation and I do not have to take off days from work to go see doctors each week. The physical part is fixed. In November I had my implant surgery where the expander was removed and the silicone implant put in. I was in on a Thursday at 7 a.m. and out by 11 a.m. I took Friday off from work and went back on Monday. I’m still undecided if I want to do nipple reconstruction or not.

It’s the emotional side that has been hard lately. I’ve been confused about my place in the world of survivors. I’m not even sure I want to call myself that. Do I need or want a support group? Should I continue researching? Over the course of three weeks in November, I felt more depressed than at any other point with the frightening realization that breast cancer would probably be back. My remaining right breast was exposed to the same genetic predisposition and/or environmental factors that the cancerous left breast was. I have to recognize that because I am only 27 (well, 28 now) that there is a high statistical chance that breast cancer will develop at some point in the future. Women who are 60 and develop breast cancer generally need to look ahead to just 15-30 more years of life. I’m looking at 45-60 more years. The idea of going through another scary moment alone in the bathroom with a lump, a biopsy, diagnosis, and more treatments is emotionally painful. I’ve grown exhausted with the way cancer can so quickly takes over my thoughts. Whether it is facing the inevitable or just preparing for the worst, I’ve stopped saying if and started saying when I get cancer again.

That has been a hard pill to swallow.

I can’t even talk about genetic counseling. It has me so confused and so upset about potential insurance problems, that I have been actively ignoring the genetic counselor’s bimonthly reminder calls to fill out my paperwork and return it.

Mostly I am just happy 2010 is finally gone. Done. I hated you, 2010. You gave me a new job that I love. You let me get married to my very best friend who helped me through cancer (something many couples will never ever go through). And 2010, you gave me cancer. Can the good ever outweigh the bad? 2010 also took cancer away. But I still hate you.

I spent the last few days of my crap-year in Florida at my uncle and aunt’s home. No one mentioned cancer. I didn’t really even think about cancer. Back in Ohio, all my fears were waiting for me. Happily hanging out on my couch with just a little dust settling on them. Do I pick those fears up and continue to mold them into something useful or do I sweep them out the door? 2011, I need for you to be better, the question is how do I make sure you are better? I suspect this new year will be a time of reflection and exploration. Time will help me find a good place within myself. I don’t practice religion, but I am philosophical. I need to turn to the things that make me feel like a whole person again – not just a functioning fragment. 2011, I have high hopes for you.

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