When you decide to rid yourself of all your numbing vices, reality IS a bitch. Need I elaborate? The whole point of numbing one’s self is to escape reality, in particular, the pain of it. Cancer or not, life can be incredibly painful and you have to feel it at some point. All the numbing agents in the world can’t make it go away. Well, I guess they can for a while, otherwise we wouldn’t do them, but in the end they only make everything worse. Then you find moments of clarity when the question arises, “WTF, how did I get here?” Like whole blocks of time were erased from your life. But they weren’t. You just weren’t paying enough attention. You were numb.
It’s true, you simply have to move through the pain. At some point you have to stop, FEEL IT and move through it. It really is the only way. It’s certainly a process though–Not a 24-hour turn-around type task.
I’ve been seeing a counselor to help me sort through all of this. She is also a breast cancer survivor. The social worker at Texas Oncology was able to get me in to see her through the Flatwater Foundation (http://flatwaterfoundation.org/). My counselor said I’ve had so much going on for so long that I haven’t had time to grieve any of it. I’ve literally had one major crisis to handle after another, back-to-back, for the past five years. And these aren’t like, “hey I just broke up with my boyfriend” type crises, I wish. These are “I have to think about removing organs from my body or I might die” type crises. Serious life and death situations back-to-back for 5 years.
In August 2009, my stepmother passed away from advanced melanoma. About seven or eight months before she died, around January/February 2009, I was diagnosed with a very rare, pancreatic cyst. My father also needed a lot of assistance during this time with my stepmother’s illness and passing. Then in the fall of 2009, I also assisted my father in his battle with her four daughters over his life estate in the house. This was all very stressful and I was way too in the middle of things, a place I really didn’t want to be. However, at that time I felt I had to help my father.
Upon being diagnosed with the pancreatic cyst, I began meeting with specialists and surgeons and was having tons of testing and blood work done. Two years of trying to characterize the cyst, this entailed a number of endoscopic procedures and biopsies. Then came the decision to do pancreatic surgery and finding a specialized surgeon for that (I ended up going to Houston). In the middle of all of this I finally did the BRCA testing, which came back positive for a BRCA1 mutation.
Once you’re deemed a BRCA mutant, you are automatically placed in the cancer pool and they start watching you like a hawk as it’s only a matter of time in the medical community’s mind before you get it. I started seeing a medical oncologist regularly. One of the top in Austin. Then started the serious breast screening, the first being a breast MRI (it would switch between that and a diagnostic mammogram every six months). With the first breast MRI came a huge scare from my medical oncologist and breast surgeon that they’d found not one spot, but four in my right breast. At that time, they all turned out to be false positives, but you can’t imagine what the stress of not knowing and waiting for results does to a person over the space of a week or two. They nearly called off my scheduled, pancreatic surgery in place of possible cancer treatment for the breast.
2009 and 2010 were a virtual maze of dr. appts, tests, research and decision making. My pancreatic surgeon also presented me with the option of removing my ovaries at the time of having the pancreatic surgery. That alone took a good while of serious contemplation, research, decision-making, consulting with all sorts of medical professionals (including finding a gynecological oncologist surgeon for the procedure), talking with other women with mutations, going to conferences regarding BRCA mutations, tons more research, making pros and cons lists, getting advice from friends, digging deep and “going to the mountain” so to speak, etc. etc. I was only 36 at this time.
After finding out my breasts were okay but still possible ticking time bombs, I then had to make the decision to follow through with the distal pancreatectomy with splenectomy and possible bilateral oophorectomy (mind you, the pancreatic surgery alone is deemed very dangerous. I was told by several doctors and general surgeons that they are told in medical school to stay away from the pancreas. My gastroenterologist basically scared the crap out of me for two years, always with a line like, “you’re young, you’ll probably live through it.”).
November 2, 2010, surgery day, this went fine initially. And then about a week or so after started the massive complications–almost 6 months worth. I came close to dying several times during this period. You can’t imagine how brutal this was. Now I’m considered a Type 1 diabetic and I have a major, complex abdominal hernia and gruesome scar that still need to be repaired. By the end of 2011, I started scouting various surgeons for the hernia repair and preventive, plastic surgery for my breasts. My biggest issue being my weight. All the surgeons wanted me to lose a significant amount before going ahead with the surgery. Best results are at ideal/goal weight. I’ll tell you now; this is easier said than done, having battled weight issues since my early teens.
Then in 2012, I had to make the decision to make a job transition. Not something I wanted at the time, but felt pressured to make. This was huge in itself as I’d been working for my previous firm for 12 and half years and could have easily settled in and retired from there, but I was a little restless regardless and my firm started downsizing so I sought work elsewhere. Right after starting in my position with my new firm, I traveled to Boston for a friend’s wedding and got into a car accident. Although no one was injured, this in itself turned into a months long, stressful and chaotic situation for my other friend and me as we battled with the rental car company, other driver and insurance companies.
Also within this time, around March 2013, my father had massive, congestive heart failure and was in the hospital and a nursery facility for 6-8 weeks and then needed assistance after returning home. This brings us to the spring of 2013 and my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent lumpectomy, 5 months of chemo and double mastectomies, from which I’ve only been recovering since January of this year, 2014.
In February of this year my father fell, fractured his skull and suffered severe bleeding in his brain. He has spent weeks in the hospital and now doing rehab at a nursing facility. My brother and I have been sorting through and dealing with his finances and personal needs. All of which my father has made more difficult for everyone around him–Never thinking ahead, but letting things fell apart and leaving us to pick up the pieces.
In the midst of all of this I’ve personally struggled financially, was failing in the performance of my new job and let all the ordinary maintenance of relationships, home and life fall by the wayside.
Now my counselor says that since some of these burdens have been lifted from me, my brain, heart and body have made way for some sort of extreme grieving process, of which I’ve only started. It’s very hard and feels like a lot of emotional baggage. Very saddening and it’s hard to pull out of a depressed state. I veered off the road at some point and am now lost in the woods. I am focusing on trying to maintain my new eating plan, daily exercise and I’m back to taking my daily supplements. However, I currently still feel like I’m mired neck deep in negative, sad, angry and bitter feelings and thoughts. Almost like I can’t see straight–Just plain screwed up. I’m trying to find my way out of this darkness as I don’t want these feelings to stay. I have to find a way of accepting and moving forward. It’s a bitch to say the least!
All this time I’ve been stuck in hyperdrive, just trying to survive and make it through things. It’s only when we slow down that we are able to assess the damage. The loss of what I anticipated life to look like. The loss or delay of anticipated family and happiness. My counselor says these things are still possible. It takes getting past believing it’s all fubar. Transformation has its setbacks.