This April will be the one year anniversary of my nightmare. In April of 2013 I found a lump in my breast. It would later be confirmed as cancer. So began almost a year of being poked and prodded. Biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and mental healthcare followed. The year was mentally and physically exhausting. The cure was the stuff that we usually don’t think about too hard since there is no way of fully understanding the horribleness of the disease or what it entails. Not unless you go through it.
When you learn you have cancer you are given a lot of things. You are given an avalanche of advice from your healthcare professionals. You are given choices on how to further deal with your diagnosis and various treatment options. You get to see professional after professional in many healthcare settings. It seems like a lot of ‘getting’ when in fact the moment you ‘get’ the diagnosis is the moment you start to ‘give’. You immediately give up knowing your place in this world. Stripped of confidence. Stripped of your security.
The reality of it all starts slowly. It begins with the ultrasounds, mammograms, and biopsies. You find yourself relying on all these strangers for medical diagnosis and treatment. They hold your world in their hands. God bless them, they quite often have the answers you need, but you will never know what is about to happen before they do.
Surgery strips you of feeling human. You feel carved up and examined in places never meant to see the light of day. You are sent back home with drains hanging out of your body – like some kind of science fiction character. There are strangers that come into your home to monitor that hardware until you get the permission to have it removed. And, when chemotherapy is on the horizon, the original hardware is replaced by a better mousetrap; new hardware that directs all that helpful poison straight to your heart.
Chemotherapy treatment is particularly shattering as you now find yourself stripped of your hair. Your eyebrows and your eyelashes go away. You are stripped of your food comforts. Those guilty pleasures you treat yourself to are now replaced with healthy options. All healthy, all the time. Date nights with wine and cheese are no longer. In my case, chemotherapy affected my ability to eat sweets. So I was forced to give up my after-dinner nosh of dessert too.
You give up your dignity completely when, because of pain or chemotherapy (or both), you must allow your partner do things for you and with you that you would have never even considered before. Embarrassed but weak, you give yourself up to the help, no matter how degrading the process is may seem. This is part of the fight, weakness becomes the high card to beat, and you must accept it. The changes that have been made to every single part of your life become quite heavy. Emotionally draining, I was one of those where the psychological effects from the chemotherapy were incredibly challenging. ‘Did I take my pills? Am I really awake? How did I get home from the clinic?’ I lost my independence and I was frightened.
Then, at the moment I felt the lowest I have ever been in my life, I realized something spectacular: although cancer made me give up so very much, unless I let it, cancer could not take away the most important thing – my spirit. Suddenly, I felt that I did have some control. That I was doing the right things to stay alive and I did indeed have power over that. Cancer demands that you to bow to it. But believe me when I tell you this: although I have had to bow, I would not, WILL NOT break. My journey and my treatments have done many things to my body, but I started taking back what cancer tried so hard to take away from me. I, with unequivocal and ferocious might, chose to take back my life.
Right now, having almost completed most of my treatments, I look forward to the rebuilding. I look forward to growing my hair back, sharing a bottle of Veuve Cliquot with my close friends, and not feeling so much like a Borg anymore. I will be treating myself to very un-environmentally-friendly two-hour showers on a regular basis. I look forward to a celebratory trip abroad, to riding my bike like a crazy fiend through Gilkinson Flats. But mostly, I look forward to watching my family grow, and being there to see members of my ‘pack’ have families of their own.
Never forget that when all seems lost, your spirit is your greatest weapon. Cancer knows this and it works very hard to take that from you. You just can’t let it. Just don’t let it. Remember what is yours and fight. Never ‘give’ up.