It is not quite three weeks since my diagnosis, although it seems like a million years. This time has been spent getting tests and more information so we can plan our attack.
I had an MRI, which showed that the cancer was quite a bit larger than they had estimated based on the ultrasound. This upped my staging to at least IIA, and changed the surgical approach from lumpectomy to complete unilateral mastectomy. I was really pleased initially to find out that breast cancer treatment includes getting nice new boobs. Even the lumpectomy was to include breast reduction to make them match, which would have been done at the time of the initial surgery. Now I will still get nice new boobs, but it is going to require reconstruction, and because I might need radiation, it will not be done at the time of the mastectomy. Instead I will get an expander put in, which will be pumped up gradually each week, and then after the radiation treatment, they will do the reconstruction and make both boobs match. But in the meantime I will be having to live with one missing boob and one, umm, old boob. That will be unpleasant. I’d almost rather have them both gone, but nobody offered that option.
The other fun part is that rather than getting an implant (did you know that those have to be replaced every ten years???), they are going to use my own belly fat to do the reconstruction. So I will get a tummy tuck as well as a boob job!
In addition, I have vastly changed my way of eating since the diagnosis. I am basically following the Crazy Sexy Cancer diet (ala Kris Carr). I have been a vegan before, and I stopped because it was too hard to try to feed my family, most of whom were not in favor of beans and tofu. So it wasn’t a leap. The book (or movie) Forks Over Knives is also pretty informative regarding the health benefits of a diet free of animal products. Here is the thing, though … I am loving it! I not only have no desire to “cheat,” the very idea of eating something with animal products is repellant to me. My appetite itself has changed as well. I no longer desire to eat for entertainment, boredom, or out of stress. I just eat when I need to eat, and my only desire is for regular size portions. I also gave up drinking diet sodas, and I do have to wonder if this has something to do with my appetite regulation. As much as I resisted the notion, I have heard for years that although diet soda doesn’t contain any calories, the artificial sweeteners do trigger your appetite. Who knows? Maybe they were right? Or maybe it’s just my general state of mind, which is a little bit, umm, odd right now.
So yes, I am focusing on these improvements, because they are the good things to focus on. I have a lot of trepidation about surgery and recovery, but there is no point in it, so I am putting it on the back burner. It’s not like I can say, oh no, I don’t think I want to do that. I will just go in and do it and get over it. One step at a time.
The fact that I am dealing with cancer, which is a deadly disease, is something that I know, but it is something that just hasn’t made its home in me. To me it is an illness, something that has to be treated, and with treatments that are sometimes unpleasant, but I am not thinking about the possibility of dying. I asked my older daughter if she had looked up my survival rates, because I was pretty sure she had, and she told me they were 80-something percent. Those aren’t bad, right?
When I was reading the Bible one morning, I came across this passage:
“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2
That reminded me of a book I had read many years ago about a young mother suffering from cancer, Walking Through the Fire, by Laurel Lee. Published in 1977, it is now out of print, but I purchased a used copy on Amazon. Her description of her feelings at her diagnosis with Hodgkins Disease felt familiar: “I was in myself, receiving a new dimension of concerns, and I was outside myself, watching myself receive it. I was not upset, and I puzzled at this…. I walked outside thinking, I get to think about things that usually would be held from me until later seasons of life. Wisdom is the principal thing. My body rode the bus home, and I executed the correct mechanical procedures to transport us, but my mind kept sorting images.”
Yes, that is kind of how I feel. Somehow outside myself. In truth, there are those occasions when I am beset with this inner trembling, but even that seems to arise more on a physical level than a mental level. My body, I guess, knows I am afraid. My mind just doesn’t acknowledge it. I have a lot of practice at this kind of thing, though. My mind has been burying my feelings for 28 years now, since my daughter’s kidnapping.
The last time I saw my breast cancer surgeon, who I trust and love, she hugged me when we parted. I don’t think I have ever had a doctor do that before, even my primary doctor who is loving and kind and but hugs you only with her eyes. I very much appreciated the gesture, and hugged her tightly, but it kind of worried me as well. Doctors are always asking if I have more questions, prodding me as though there are some questions they know that I have forgotten, but I just say no. I’ve never asked that question regarding prognosis and survival. Just one step at a time. I wondered for a second if the hug was because she knew something I didn’t know, but I concluded it was just because she is a wonderful human being.
Laurel Lee’s cancer was advanced, and she was pregnant at the time of diagnosis. Plus it was forty years ago and cancer treatment was not what it is now. In her surreal state of mind after diagnosis she said, “The doctors were too serious for me not to be serious. I made an appointment within myself to consider dying.” I am pretty sure I am not afraid of dying. But there are reasons I need to stay here. There are people who need me, and there are things I need to accomplish. I have been procrastinating for a very, very long time on some of the things I need to do! I came across an interesting quote this morning by Ted Dekker: “Perfectionism is procrastination in cheap disguise.” This would apply to my failure to make proper progress in writing. I’m fifty pages into the book I have been hatching in my mind for so long. Perhaps this diagnosis is what I needed to light a fire under me, not only because I want to accomplish what I believe I need to accomplish, but because I hope to be able to make a living at something, somehow, some day.
It occurred to me that I had never learned the end of Laurel Lee’s story, so before I started re-reading the book, I looked her up. She did die of cancer, not the original Hodgkins, but pancreatic cancer, about thirty years later. Okay. Give me another 30 years and I will be fine. Meanwhile, Laurel Lee got to accomplish those things she wanted to accomplish, raising her little children, and touching the world through her writing.
There are still questions about my cancer that will not be answered until after the surgery. It could go from Stage II to Stage III yet, depending on the lymph node biopsy. I might need radiation, or might not. I might need chemo, or might not. There is no point in looking far ahead because the aswers are not available.
So all this has been like basic training, I guess. Soon the battle will begin. I will be sure to write from the front, and let you know how things are going.
Meanwhile, just remember, whatever it is you are facing today, YOU CAN DO IT.
Love you all.