***EDIT*** I was given my diagnosis as I published this article. I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
I was recently probably diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m saying probably because the radiologist has assured me that the 4cm lump in my left breast is most certainly what cancer looks like. And though there’s no cancer markers in my blood or Lymph, she’s led me to believe that the biopsy is merely a formality, and that regardless of cancer presence, there will be a lumpectomy. I’m ok with the lumpectomy, because my breast is malformed, and I’m vain enough (and single enough), that I’d like my breasts to resemble breasts and not footballs with flat spots – as much as they can as I venture into my 40s, anyway.
At first, I didn’t really want to tell very many people that they think I have cancer, but I was encouraged to spread the word far and wide. What I’ve noticed is a dynamic shift in the way people relate to me, and in how I relate to myself. It’s been scary, angering, and interesting – and I’m just barely through the biopsy. I have noticed (at least) 13 things that happen when they say, “You have cancer”.
- Disbelief to the point of shock. I mean quiet. It was so quiet, I could literally hear the tear roll down my cheek. Then I noticed I wasn’t breathing and had to inhale sharply to catch up.
- Tears. I suppose I’m going through a bit of a mourning process, but the tears come pretty steadily now. In the mammo room though, I didn’t wait. I stood there getting my tit squished (fucking ouch, by the way) and trying not to ugly cry when she said to hold my breath.
- Lack of eye contact. People who know look away. Hell, the doctors even looked away when they stood there to tell me I probably have cancer. More to the point, if I tell people face-to-face, they look away and don’t look back. You’d think I just confessed a deep, dark sin.
- People I haven’t talked to in years want to see me. Coffee? Sushi? Concert? It feels small, and is reason #1 that I didn’t want to tell anyone: it feels like they’re giving me a pity hang. They didn’t care enough to contact me before…
- Some folks prepare to say goodbye. I’m not dying, at least not yet, not form the cancer, and nothing is set in stone even when the docs tell me what stage my cancer is at. Your prepping for me to die isn’t helping me at all.
- People want to know how to help. How to help with what? I went through a heart attack alone. I can do this, too. And to that point, reason #2 why I didn’t want to tell anyone: suddenly someone is concerned for my wellbeing, and I don’t know what to ask for because I’ve done everything major in my life without someone’s hand to hold on to and with platitudes from afar. It’s likely I’m not going to ask for anything, not only because I don’t know what I need, but because if I really need it I’ll just do it myself.
- I’m being told to be more positive. Me. More positive. That’s so weird, considering
- I’m also being told that I’m handling this so well, and maybe I’m not sad enough. Know what I learned by going through a few major cardiac events 2,400 miles form home? That I just have to suck it up and walk into what needs to be done. There’s no time for a pity party, or to be sad, or even to heal really. when you’re dong things without a significant other, friends, or family members willing to bear part of the burden, you just get used to walking forward into whatever it is that you have to do.
- Choosing my words extra-carefully so as not to sound like I’m trying to get something for having cancer. Yeah, that’s reason #3 that I didn’t want to tell anyone: I don’t need prizes and parting gifts for having cancer. THAT SAID: shoutout to my sister Becci for not only being the best hairdresser and sister from another mister that I could ask for, thank you for the care package of assorted fancy shampoos and lotions. I always love those things, and they’re a great reminder to keep taking care of myself, not to succumb to 11 & 12 below.
- Psychosomatic responses to low-key stimuli. Everything seems to be heightened, now. It happened with my cardiac stuff, so I’m perfectly aware that it’s part of my fight-or-flight kicking in to defend my body. Every little sensation, taste, smell is extra-intense.
- Depression. I think this isn’t addressed enough, and when it is addressed it’s as though those of us going through some things aren’t allowed to be depressed. I’m not talking about sad or a depressed mood, I’m talking about the clinical definition of depression, one that causes a lack of will to do anything or impairs daily functioning. We simply don’t address or allow this enough, and suggest that the person isn’t handling things well when facing death. Interestingly, and probably not surprisingly, depression goes hand-in-hand with
- Anxiety. This is another emotion that people who live with it can’t just snap out of. If you’ve been following along at all in my blog, or know me in real life, you know that I suffer from situational depression and a form of anxiety similar to PTSD. What’s different about mine versus someone with generalized anxiety disorder is that mine is based on things that have happened and therefore might happen again. The good news for sufferers like me is that this is temporary and will lessen as distance from the situation is acquired. For people not wired this way, this makes the disease – or any disease – extra hard to handle.
- Impatience. I don’t understand why they just didn’t do the lumpectomy and biopsy that, but they didn’t. I want this lump out of my body, and they’ve told me they’re taking it anyway. TAKE IT OUT ALREADY!!!
There are a few more things that are happening right now, like I’m finally re-setting the boundaries that kept the toxicity out of my life (mostly). It’s not going well, and there’s a lot of push-back and guilt-tripping, and learning what people really think of me. It’s quite an experience. They’re supposed to call this morning with an actual diagnosis, but I’m running out of morning.