When I wrote about being diagnosed with Stage 0 Breast Cancer, I received beautiful support and lots of questions. Stage “0” was new for many. Is it really cancer? Yes. Does it spread? It grows, but is localized and doesn’t spread to other part of the body. Couldn’t you feel it? Nope, not detected on physical exam. There are other questions, too.
How do you feel?
When someone asks, “How do you feel?” I try to be honest, candid, but also socially appropriate. Not everyone is comfortable hearing the naked truth, I get that. I do wish we lived in a society where we spoke as openly about mental and emotional health as we do physical health. It saddens me that I feel conditioned in saying “My boobie is a bit sore from all the poking and prodding” is more welcome than “I’m feeling sad, anxious and angry.”
Also, is it “boobie” or “booby”? A text thread revealed this is a word I say but don’t often write. I guess spell check is telling me it’s booby. Maybe it’s because my name is Kerri with an “i” and not a “y” that I thought it was boobie.
Physical health impacts mental and emotional health
The truth is, I am having lots of feelings. I just don’t see a way around this one. Medical diagnoses and treatment plans impact our lives in many ways. I’ve missed lots of work time and not just the day of my surgery and a day for recovery. Add on the scheduling of appointments – so many appointments. MRIs, biopsy, MRI for Savi Scout placement, COVID testing for each procedure, pregnancy testing, blood work. And that’s just for the surgery.
So, yep, I’m feeling fatigued. And I haven’t even started radiation yet. Oh, God, radiation, that brings up more fear – will I blister and burn like my Mom did? Will they really get the margin that didn’t come back clean?
Radiation fun fact of the day – it’s not just one mark they make, it’s a series of tattoos. Yes, they’re small – “We know you don’t want to see this every day as a permanent reminder.” Which I really appreciate. Because walking around for a week pre-surgery with the Sharpie “X” on my breast was definitely odd. I mean, I appreciate them making it easier for the surgeon, but three medical professionals were involved placing a radar device in my body to ensure they found the exact spot, and now we mark it like a treasure map?
Do I feel “lucky”? Not so much.
Yes to all the things – I’m grateful we caught this early, that I live in an area where I have access to care, that I am resourced to pay my deductibles. I’m most grateful that my genetic testing came back clean – with my Mom and Grandmother both having breast cancer, I’m hoping this is something I don’t pass to my daughter.
I’m grateful my prognosis is excellent and survival rates for Stage 0 patients are high.
I appreciate others have people they love impacted by breast cancer. I, too, saw the struggle my Mom had with her diagnosis and treatment. And, I deeply appreciate others have lost loved ones to this disease. So, yes, I am grateful in many ways.
But when I’m told I’m lucky? It kind of feels tough. Because I don’t feel lucky.
I didn’t feel lucky when I was having an allergic reaction to the MRI contrast. I felt scared I was going to pass out and my throat constrict even further.
I didn’t feel lucky when the Anesthesiologist Resident asked me, “What are we doing to you today?” I felt excluded from my care plan and wanted to ask him to reframe the question, “What procedure are you here for today?”
I didn’t feel lucky saying goodbye to my husband as I was wheeled into surgery. I felt riddled with grief and sadness for all the times my son, who had many surgeries, had to say goodbye to us prior to surgery. It made my heart hurt. A lot.
I didn’t feel lucky laying on the table in the OR, listening to the Medical Students discussing their next rotation. I felt disempowered, wanting to tell them their focus should be on the patient in front of them. I felt frustrated that I was on oxygen at the time and couldn’t rip my mask off to tell them this.
I didn’t feel lucky when my throat hurt for three days after being intubated. I felt sore.
I didn’t feel lucky when I was icing my breast to help with swelling. I felt pain.
I didn’t feel lucky when I was waiting for my pathology report. I felt anxious the margins wouldn’t be clean and I would need additional surgery.
I didn’t feel lucky when my pathology report came in, seeing my margins are not perfect. I felt validated in my prior concern and worried anything left behind would grow.
I didn’t feel lucky learning my “part time job” of radiation will be every day for four weeks. I felt fatigue.
I didn’t feel lucky learning I’ll need hormone therapy for 5-10 years. I felt resentment.
So when I’m told how lucky I am? I kind of feel angry. Again, I know I’m fortunate in many ways. And yet, it’s complex.
It’s ok to be real.
We tend to hold those who smile through adversity up on a pedestal. Look how strong she is! But at what cost? Shouldn’t our care plan include treating the whole patient – not just the physical?
So I’ll craft my own emotional care plan. I’ll be honest and candid with those I trust. I’ll invite in vulnerability when I feel capable of holding the response and wash off what doesn’t land as my truth. I’ll write, move my body, eat what I’m craving and rest when I’m tired. I’ll work as I am able and ask for support when I need it. I’ll ask my near and dears to hold me accountable to this.
It’s taken me a long time to realize self-care is more than a lavender bubble bath. And for that, I am grateful.