No matter how much I plan and prepare for my next blog post, “life” comes in and dictates what I am going to share with my readers. Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I am not a trained licensed therapist, nor do I have any authority over the subject matter, except for my own real life experiences. With that being said, let’s begin.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is an event that I wish upon no one. The best way I can describe it would be much like a gun shot to the stomach. Although I have never been actually shot in the stomach nor any other part of my anatomy, it is the closest description or metaphor I can put into words that could possibly depict the acute shock, mental pain and devastation you feel receiving a cancer diagnosis. I imagine being shot in the gut may offer those same mental reactions as well. The emotional shock and pain can be delayed for days, weeks, or years, but there is definitely an immediate reaction that is beyond words.
On October 14, 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. I was 38 years old at the time and completely blindsided. It started with me finding a lump on my left upper breast just left of my sternum. I immediately followed-up with my family doctor for an ultrasound, mammogram and a biopsy. It was confirmed that I had breast cancer. Despite the incredible care, concern and reassurance by the medical team, the diagnosis left me feeling as if my world had come to a screeching halt and the foundation beneath my feet was crumbling. Receiving the diagnosis was one of many challenging aspects of living through cancer. We become so focused on on our physical health that we sometimes fail to draw attention to our mental health. It is an aspect of cancer treatment that is not always discussed or addressed. You are left to read books and if you have a good oncologist, they will ask you how you are feeling. But how do you or how should you handle receiving those devastating words that sets the ball rolling?
Personally, there is no proper reaction or response. I think I lost speech for a good minute. I felt denial, disbelief, panic, heart ache, grief and anger all within a matter of ten minutes. When I reflect on that day in 2011, I am still shaken to the core and it is still one of the worst days of my life. But I made it through
I am briefly touching on my breast cancer story, not because it is not worth discussing or sharing, but because I want to focus on something more raw. Several days ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I have had a history of thyroid issues but never chronic. It was not until my most recent ultrasound of my neck indicated one of my thyroid nodules had enlarged. Again, I received immediate medical attention, underwent tests and finally a biopsy. I received the diagnosis seven days after the biopsy. When I sat in my surgeon’s office eagerly to hear the words, “benign” and “cyst” instead I heard “tumor” and “cancer.” That familiar crashing wave of emotions was thrust upon me yet again. I was taken aback and asked my surgeon to repeat the words once more. A flash back to almost seven years earlier rang through my heart and mind. Same surgeon, same diagnosis; cancer. Completely numb, but yet a smirk came over my face as if to say, “This is not happening again?!”
It was happening again and I was going to have to make calls to loved ones, I was going to have to tell my children, and I was going to have to deal with my own mental anguish once more. I was going to have to learn to soothe the fear ringing in my chest. I do not have a husband this time. I am on my own.
Part of my mind and emotions went completely numb and perhaps I was in disbelief. “How in the hell did I get cancer again?!” I wanted to shout out every curse word I had ever learned and reserved for special occasions. I wanted to scream them at the top of my lungs right there in the doctor’s office. I think I actually used several of them when I called my ex-husband to ask for his help in telling our teenage children.
It has only been a week, but yet it feels like a month has passed. I do not know how to handle this new diagnosis, and for a second time! The details are all a little hazy, but it is safe to say the days have been filled with a variety of emotions. I have laughed and joked about getting the “Big C” once more. I have cried silently in my room because I hurt for my children who would have to experience this once more. I have spent hours in self-reflection, I have prayed, I have vegetated in my bed staring at the TV, and I have merely existed at moments. I have called my parents almost daily since the diagnosis. Some of our conversations are upbeat and others are emotional and tearful. I have dived into my faith which has always been an undeniable part of being. Right now, I feel very unpredictable and vulnerable. Each day is a new emotion, but I am learning not to fight it; rather, feel it, try to understand it, and then move forward.
I am currently at a crossroads because I feel I need to be strong for my friends and loved ones. In my heart and mind I know that I can handle whatever is thrown at me, but I want and feel I need to protect everyone else from hurt and worry. That is exactly where I went wrong through my first cancer diagnosis. I held a lot within because I did not want to appear weak. I was of the mindset that if I was emotionally and physically strong, I had a better chance of surviving. I wanted to spare my children and parents from seeing me fall apart, from seeing the real hurt within, or perhaps losing my life altogether. It ultimately caught up with me roughly three years post recovery. In a nutshell, I had to seek counseling due to all that pain and fear I held in and suppressed that could not longer be contained. Those raw emotions were seeping out and affecting my daily life.
I have cancer and I can handle this. But I am going to handle it by listening to my heart and responding to my emotions as to how I see fit. I am not going to act fearless or strong. I am going to be strong in my own way. I am going to cry when I want to cry. I am going to be angry when I am ticked off for having to deal with all the medical treatment. I am going to be spontaneous when I feel the need to take hold of the moment and “live.” I am going to ask for help when I need it either emotionally or physically. I am going to love me with all my battle wounds and scars. And most importantly, I am a going to live honestly and authentically in my truth.