Breast cancer blog: Facing reality when thrown life's lemons

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 11:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:03pm

Awoke to the sound of thunder and lightning. A competitive bowling match. Black rain. My first thought is that the swimmers won’t be out there today, and for a split second I was happy. I should be out there with them swimming and enjoying the banter in the lane. Swimming, as I will write about in another post, is my passion and I’ve been sitting on the sidelines.

This is one of those pity parties I can’t help but occasionally throw since being diagnosed. This is just another part of the reality of Cancerland, the landscape so fresh to me. In a quiet moment I still find the sentence unbelievable, and tense up when I think I am 37 and have cancer.

The bouts of occasional blueness sound something like this, “I’m not 47 or 57 or 67, couldn’t I have had a few more carefree years? Couldn’t I have gotten the sentence, say, in my late 40s?” Perhaps I would have felt less shortchanged than I sometimes do.

The father of a good friend reminds me that there are so many people worse off than me. “Like the people in Syria,” the father said. “At least you are not in Syria.” But Syria is worlds away. Or what about kids with cancer, many of whom never make it?, a friend reminds me. Very sad, I agree but the comparison game could go on forever, and I return to the reality of my changed life.

In a quiet moment I still find the sentence unbelievable, and tense up when I think I am 37 and have cancer

But there are constant reminders now of the new reality; there are the physical constraints and the incision on my breast remains unhealed (it will take a month to heal and three months until I am back to what they call normal). This week I will return to the breast surgeon and get the final report and the bandages removed. I am rattled wondering what the final report will say and what my breast will look like.

The oddity is that in the days after being diagnosed I was in a rather upbeat mood - so oddly upbeat that it was the responses from friends and loved ones that stunned me. Why did they look like they had been slapped and were going to cry when I shared the diagnosis with them?. My telling them it is “stage 0 and early early cancer,” didn’t seem to change their reactions of sadness and shock, followed by them telling me to “not worry because they know this and this person who had what I had and they survived and are doing great.” They mean well and are good friends, I know.

My positive streak shifted in the days after I left the hospital. I’ve struggled finding other women specifically of my vintage in Hong Kong who are members of the same sorority. I’ve become a Google monkey hunting for support groups, specifically for young women under 40. A good friend in Hong Kong put a message out to a woman’s group and indeed one woman with the same diagnosis stepped forward. We connected - nice pretty lady, in great shape, in her early 40s. She had a lumpectomy to remove the tumour, they had found cancer in the lymph nodes and chemo is around the corner.

We sipped tea at Starbucks and she talked about the details of hair loss (I had no idea that hair didn’t grow back as is until a half a year after chemo), and we swapped stories – some of it light hearted – about our doctors and hospital experiences.

As comforting as it is to find a similar castaway, I cannot believe I am having this conversation. As a journalist I’ve interviewed cancer patients and nodded with empathy, but now in a moment of disbelief I think “Wow, I am one of them, I am the story.” Outside the rain shifted from black to yellow and then completely stopped. I know that life will move forward outside of Cancerland with or without me. But I am not totally alone, at least not at this moment.

Useful links

Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation

Young Survival Coalition

Support Connection: offers online support