Breast cancer blog: 'This is it: It’s over'
On July 23, I snap a picture with the radiation machine, and part with the radiation crew with a thank you card and a box of chocolates. This is round 15 and the end of a season.
The aunt and another aunt then celebrated with an adult beverage. The aunt and I both knew that after we made a toast this would be a goodbye of sorts. We had bonded over this illness, but at the same token the illness for now had come to an end and we were at a loss for words.
Telling her “thanks so much for all of your support, so happy it’s over,” with a handshake or hug seemed awkward. I was at a loss for words, oddly still in shock. The last radiation session feels anti-climactic, but it is broken up by moments when I feel breathless and think, “wow, me, yes me, cancer, me.” I still feel that sucker punch.
The good news, life goes on, time only moves forward. I would be a case number filed away, and this chapter hopefully a memory. Soon my fellow radiation compatriots and the women who were fellow breast cancer conquerors would be in the rear view mirror. I wondered if I would forget about them. I hoped not because they have given me another perspective on life.
Remembering them keeps me in check, especially when I find moments when I am returning to the old self--hurried, impatient, and rattled by others reactions. How hard it is to change oneself. Quitting Diet Coke was one thing, but personality and lifestyle is whole other story. At times I’ve wondered if this disease could change my nature, but as with any aftermath change can move at a snail-like pace.
What have changed are my relationships with the constellation of family and friends. In recent days, I’ve found myself at a loss when talking with the closest friends, many who ask me how things are going with treatment. They mean well, but it is rather emotionally taxing to talk about the radiation round that is now in the rearview mirror.
I want a fresh conversation and slate. Ok now what? The father had warned me a few months ago after the surgery that the illness would be anticlimactic. People would slowly forget and stop asking, and I’d be ok with it.
An ex-boyfriend who had testicular cancer and radiation more than a decade ago, shared his story with me in the spirit of letting me know I’m not alone. He said that during his illness the attention could at times feel overbearing. Of course everybody wants to be babied sometimes, but this wasn’t the sort of attention he wanted.
He did not want the disease to define him, and take more of normalcy than it had already had. When it was all over, he had to once again find normalcy again, whatever that means. I totally get it, I say. Right now I am trying to remember what the pre-cancer me was like, the content of conversations with loved ones, what did I talk about? What was I like (it does hurt to remember the stronger version of me)?
Often it’s a fog. Because after such an experience, not a day goes by when I don’t think about cancer, either in the form of feeling grateful I am alive, sad for the left breast but relieved that it’s still there, contemplative of the healing process, a bit guilty and yet elated that I am one of the survivors and it was early stage.
Sometimes pissed that it happened in the first place, but hey a lot of people have it worse. And there remains anxiety in knowing that for the next five years I must be vigilant in diet, lifestyle and most importantly mindset. I knock wood when a friend says I am like a cat with nine lives. Cancer has changed me for the better in some ways, there is power in knowing that time is limited and not to be wasted, and in gaining perspective on people and situations.
One cancer survivor told me that the disease taught her to be very generous to others, but selfish when it came to her emotions. Why sweat the simple things and be influenced by others reactions? S-l-o-w-l-y the energy is returning. At times I still cling onto the disease like a child to a security blanket.
The hospital is a safe haven where the sick can be themselves, where it is normal to be sick. So I continue to attend the weekly arts and crafts class for cancer patients. Surrounded by the safety of creating clay animals with women like me, fellow cancer survivors, I feel safe. I can’t just abruptly shed this part of my life like a lizard its old skin. Maybe someday but not just yet, it’s still too raw.