Wednesday, October 9, 2019

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Of course, it's personal this year.
And to be honest, I've never noticed it in the past.
I didn't know anyone who'd had breast cancer, so it didn't really touch me.

Coincidentally, Oct 1, (the day that ushered in Breast Cancer Awareness Month) was also the day that I went to the cancer clinic for the first time. Thus far in this journey I've been looked after by Breast People. But their work is done. So I've been moved over to a different set of specialists in a different building with different equipment.

I am pretty comfortable at the Jimmy Pattison (Surgical Centre). I know my way around, and nothing is too scary. But the cancer clinic is a whole new bowling game. I go by myself, then text my kids from Clinic D at the end of the long hallway. "Shit feels real today." Even though I've been living with this diagnosis for exactly two months, the results from my September surgery have me thinking mostly happy, I'm OK, thoughts. But on Oct 1? In that waiting room? With all the cancer posters and cancer materials, surrounded by pairs of people, (one of whom has cancer), I am overwhelmed.

I spend half an hour filling out forms. Medical, cancer, psychological forms.

My history. And my feelings. What emotions am I struggling with? What are my biggest worries? How is my family handling it all? On a scale of 1 -10, how depressed am I? How anxious am I? And so on.

I am ushered into a private examining room, and an oncologist comes in to chat with me. It's another lady doctor. Which is lovely. I've only had male doctors my whole life and I've been totally fine with that. But for this breasty cancery thingy? I've only been felt up by professional women and it's been good.

Her first words to me are, "I'm the doctor who determines which drugs you should be on. I'll tell you straight up, you won't be needing chemo." She says other words as well, but I don't hear them. I am just saying over and over again, in my head, "Thank you God." This is probably why they suggest you bring someone with you to appointments. To be attentive.

She explains things about my particular cancer... and how it feeds on estrogen.
And how my tumor was at the very beginning edge of Stage One. (Meaning it was caught VERY VERY early. YAY for feeling it myself and having mammograms every year.)

So I'll just take a minute right here, right now, and YELL AT YOU IN ALL CAPS:

Anyway, back to the estrogen.
Mine needs to be blocked so that any rogue cancer cells (likely none floating around, but just in case ...) can't attach themselves to it and grow into a Pokemon.

So I'll be on a drug therapy for five years.
And she goes over all the side effects. Those that are typical and those that are rare.
I don't like any of them.

She does a physical exam and notes the divot of tissue removed from my left breast.
"Hmmm. That's quite a bit of tissue loss. How do you feel about yourself?"

"Uh, well. I haven't observed myself lying on back like this. When I'm upright, and they're inside a push-up bra, it's not that noticeable."

"Ok. But if you want to talk to someone..."

"To be honest, in the past 20 years there's been a grand total of 4 of us seeing these girls. You, me, my doctor and the surgeon. I don't expect that to change anytime soon. I think I'm OK."

She arranges for me to meet with the cancer clinic's pharmacist the following day and gives me a requisition for more blood work, also to be done the following day. An appointment is made for me to meet with a radiologist (in a few weeks) to set up the radiation treatments, and another appointment to meet with a physiotherapist about my arm movement. And then someone from the Breast Cancer research centre comes in to talk to me about allowing them access to my already-removed tissue so they can continue researching.

Know what?
It was a lot to process.
And my heart is heavy even tho my brain is glad.

I have THE BEST POSSIBLE results from the surgery. I'm having the best possible treatment plan available. Whoo Hoo. YAY me. Thank you Jesus. Etc.

B U T ...
According to my cancer card, 32,000 people have been diagnosed with cancer this year in Surrey. And I bet most of them have way more to deal with than I do. And I feel like a fake. As I walk out of that centre, past all those people, I am embarrassed with my very good fortune.

The swirling emotions are exhausting.
Plus I hadn't slept the night before. At all.

Which is rare for me. Typically insomnia isn't an issue.
But that night before that appointment was a long one.

I get back to my mom's place around noon and go straight to bed.
Because I am so done with the thinking.

My over-riding emotion SHOULD have been glee and gratefulness. But those happy feelings were being shoved aside because of embarrassment ("yikes, I've made a big deal about nothing. This is nothing. I just had a little lump removed. I shouldn't have said anything") and shame (I am a fake. This isn't really cancer. Those other people in the clinic have the real disease. Their lives have been turned upside down. Mine has been inconvenienced for a couple weeks").

After sleeping for a few hours, I went to one of my (seemingly endless supply of) happy places.
The seawall. With a friend.
To walk.

And catch Pokemon.

It was magical.

There was a guy making bubbles.

And God was making a sunset.

And a neon sign was making me think.

And some pirates were making sparks on their shady boat.

Nothing like fresh air to make you breathe deeply.
I am still embarrassed and ashamed and so very sorry for people who met with their cancer doctors on October 1 and told they DO have to have chemo, or more surgery, or they have to get their affairs in order.

I can't bear to think about it.
How did I get so lucky?
How is this so easy for me?

I get back home and go online to download Breast Cancer Awareness images to post to my social media accounts. I am lucky because of early detection. I found that lump and had it looked at immediately. I have regular mammograms. And they detected 'suspicious cells', so I was alert to the possibility. So, if I am going to be embarrassed by my good fortune, the least I can do is encourage others to be vigilant too.

Trouble is, once you start snooping around on the internet, you see and read things.
And you know how, say, you get involved in a car accident, and you handle the whole incident like a pro, sharing info, calling 911 to get an ambulance for the other driver who caused the accident and has sore arms, making sure all 8 kids in the back of your van are OK, and then, HOURS later you break down because HOLY CRAP THAT COULD'VE BEEN HORRIFIC?

Yeah, this (reading breast cancer stories/seeing the photos of breast-less chests) was like that (HOLY CRAP THIS COULD'VE BEEN SO MUCH WORSE). I could barely breathe.

I didn't sleep much better that night.

In the morning I go back to the cancer clinic to meet with the pharmacist about my medication. I am taken into a small windowless room, to a table with 4 chairs.

"Do you have anyone with you? They're welcome to join us. Sometimes this is all hard to process..."

I've got my notebook and pen, plus all the sheets of info about this drug, already with me. I am informed.

"No, just me. I'll be fine."

She goes over all the things. And I'm now VERY WELL informed.
And not much of a fan.

I get three months worth of lil white pills and head over to the blood place to get a million vials of life juice drawn. And it's only then. THEN. With my head turned away from the nurse, THEN, with the needle in my arm and 2 of 12 vials done, THEN when I'm holding on with my last bit of strength, that Sarah McLoughlin's song, In the Arms of an Angel, comes on. And I stop being brave. I just let the tears overflow.

"Oh! Are you OK?"

My head is bowed. My hair is covering most of my face. And I'm turned away from her. BUT SHE KNEW. Those nurses are sneaky.

"Yeah. This song, man."

"Oh, OK then."

And then I drove over to work.
My first day back.

I had 1605 emails and a couple dozen friends in the building waiting for me.
It was harder than I anticipated.

I met a friend in Fort Langley in the evening to walk and talk and eat at Wendell's outside on the patio and it felt like I was in Europe because I have a very strong imagination.

And on Thursday I went back to work. FOR A WHOLE DAY.
For eight hours I needed to be alert and think and not nap.

And afterwards I walked from Olympic Village to Granville Island and back again (10,369 steps) with a friend because I need to exhaust myself. And I need to not be fat. And we had many words to say. And the evening weather was mild and wonderful.

Back to work on Friday.
And this is like, it?
I'm right back to my old self?
Working all day. Hanging out with friends every evening?
Like nothing happened?
I'm the same old me, with a few scars?
What was that all about?
I still think the same thoughts. Still work the same job. Still pray about the same things. Still bugged by the same issues. Still long for the same fantasies. Still live in the same place. Still ... me? Me who can't live her left arm very well. And has a tender arm pit. And can't seem to get into bed before midnight?

Shouldn't I be a different person?
Or maybe not. I didn't 'really' have cancer. I had a fake version of it.
Or something.

I had dinner with a friend on Friday night. She'd made me a chicken/turkey pot pie. And then we visited while she made cinnamon buns. And just before I left? She played for me.

Pro tip: if you're building a friendship circle, be sure to add a baking musician to your group.

Thus far I hadn't taken a pill.
If the side-effects were going to mess with my body, like just the thought of them was messing with my head, I decided I'd give my body the weekend to get used to them. So Friday night, at midnight, I took my first bit of pharmaceutical therapy .

I woke up about eleventy million times during the night, but fell into a deep sleep around 9 am.
I operate on India's time zone.

I do my laundry and go to church in the evening, obsessively feeling my legs for blood clots, ready to head to emergency if one appears. I drive out to the lake afterwards, looking forward to blogging and image editing. Sadly I'd forgotten my power cord so only have about two hours of power.  So I connect my external DVD player to my adapter and plug it into my laptop which is joined via another adapter to my extra (large) monitor with plans to watch one of my British DVD's. BUT NOTHING WORKS. I trouble-shoot, unplug, then replug in everything, turn everything off, then back on again, search online for support, remove/uninstall the drivers and apps then re-install them all. I can't get anything to work.

At midnight I give up, have a bath, take another cancer-preventing, hot-flash-inducing pill and snuggle into bed with my Kindle to read book #15 in the Penny Louise series waiting to catch on fire and for a blood clot to form.

I fall asleep around 5 am.

Seriously. What. Is. This. Nonsense?
Am I ever going sleep like a normal person?

On my way back to Surrey I stop at Nando's for a salad. With lemon-herb chicken. And read my Brene Brown book about 'belonging' and 'having courage to stand alone'. And at 8 :13 pm, I'm walking around the neighbourhood with Heather, being brave by wandering through the park where two drug dealers were shot just a month ago.

Just before I go to bed, I poke around online and see that there was a huge city-wide Breast Cancer walk earlier that day. I didn't walk. I didn't even know about it. I didn't try to raise funds. I didn't wear pink. I didn't support this in any way.

I suck at this.
x 1000

I download a Canadian infographic and the stats make me feel things. AGAIN.
I bounce back and forth from forgetting that I have a thing, to being overwhelmed by all the scary things that happen to other women who got the same diagnosis.

In 2016: 25,700 new cases of breast cancer, and 4,900 women DIED from it.

Women are DYING from this cancer and I'm worried about blood clots, hair loss, extreme internal temperatures and radioactive skin.
I can't even feel grateful because I feel so guilty.

Why am I so lucky?
Early detection?
Superior breast cancer procedures, equipment and funding in BC?
Boatloads of love and support?
Praying friends and family?
God has more things for me experience in this lifetime?

Please, please, please look after your boobs.
Feel, check, touch, hold them. If anything seems strange, go talk to your doc. YOU ARE NOT WASTING HIS TIME.
And book a mammogram today. Yeah, it's a bit of a squeeze. But it only lasts a few seconds. YOU CAN DO THIS.

Wear pink on Wed Oct 25. 
It's a thing.
Take a pic of you wearing a pink thing and make it your profile pic on Facebook.
Because this is a thing.

Three things to be thankful for:

1. Five days and no blood clot.
2. I own a pink top.
3. I got to pick up Clint and Sean from the airport on Monday night. (Returning from their one week work trip to Thailand). I love doing airport runs for my kids.
4. I get to take Drew and Dani to the airport on Sunday. (Off to Cali to be with their friends in Palm Springs.)
5. Max gets to travel this fall too. (Probs Hawaii. I'm so happy for him.)
6. I found out it WASN'T me; it was the external DVD player. After just 6 months it's stopped working. Which is annoying on one hand, but also a bit of relief to know that it wasn't something that I should've been able to fix/figure out.
7. Spectacular cloudy sunsets this week.
8. Friends who're keeping in touch/loving me.
9. A mom who has let me sleep in her basement for six years.
10. God has a plan for my life. And it's a good one.

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