Breast cancer survivor, Lisa Bonchek Adams, blogs about life-changing events including a cancer diagnosis, the sudden death of a family member, and having a child with medical challenges. She combines medical, psychological, and sociological viewpoints to these and other topics. You can read this post and follow her at LisaBAdams.com.
Sunday will be the four year anniversary of the day I had breast reconstruction surgery after cancer. My tissue expanders were removed once chemotherapy was over and my silicone implants were put in. Last week I had my annual visit to my plastic/reconstructive surgeon and received the all-clear to now have a visit every two years. It's always gratifying when the time in between visits gets longer; I remember when I was there at least once a week during the reconstruction process.
'Did you know it's been four years since your surgery?' my surgeon asked. Immediately he chuckled, 'Of course you know that,' he said, realizing my mental calendar was certainly more precise than his' of course I marked the days off in my head.
Whenever I sit in a waiting room I am instantly transported to that place and time. I sit and watch patients walking in and walking out. I can tell by hearing what the time interval until their next appointment what stage of treatment they are in.
I sit in the chair, the same one I did four years ago. It's the same chair, but I am not the same person. My body is not the same. There is continuity in that chair. There is a story it tells me. I wrote this piece to the next person who sits in that chair.
I Think So Too
That chair you're sitting in?
I've sat in it too.
In waiting rooms. Chemo rooms. Prep rooms. For tests. Surgeries. Procedures. Inpatient. Outpatient. Emergency visits. Routine visits. Urgent visits. To see generalists. Specialists. Surgeons. Alone. With friends. With family members. As a new patient. Established patient. Good news. Bad news. I've left with new scars. Prescriptions. Appointments. Words of wisdom. Theories. Guesses. Opinions. Statistics. Charts. Plans. Tests. Words of assurance. More bloodwork. Nothing new. Nothing gained. Nothing but a bill.
That feeling you're having?
I've had it too.
Shock. Disbelief. Denial. Grief. Anger. Frustration. Numbness. Sadness. Resignation. Confusion. Consternation. Curiosity. Determination. Dread. Anxiety. Guilt. Regret. Loss. Pain. Emptiness. Embarrassment. Shame. Loneliness.
That day you're dreading?
I've dreaded it too.
The first time you speak the words, 'I have cancer.' The first time you hear 'Mommy has cancer.' The day you wear a pink shirt instead of a white shirt. Anniversary day. Chemo day. Surgery day. Scan day. Decision day. Baldness day. The day the options run out.
Those reactions you're getting?
I've had them too.
Stares. Questions. Pity. Blank looks. Insensitivity. Jaw-dropping comments.
Those side effects you dread?
I've dreaded them too.
Nausea. Vomiting. Pain. Broken bones. Weakened heart. Baldness. Hair loss. Everywhere. Unrelenting runny nose. Fatigue. Depression. Hot flashes. Insomnia. Night sweats. Migraines. Loss of appetite. Loss of libido. Loss of breasts. Phantom pain. Infection. Fluid accumulation. Bone pain. Neuropathy. Numbness. Joint pain. Taste changes. Weight gain. Weight loss. Some of them happen. Some don't. Eventually, though? You name it. It changes. Temporarily anyway.
That embarrassment you're feeling?
I've felt it too.
Buying a swimsuit. Getting a tight-fitting shirt stuck on my body in the dressing room. Having a child say 'You don't have any eyebrows, do you?' Wearing a scarf. Day after day. Wondering about wearing a wig because it's windy outside and it might not stay on.
That fear you're suppressing?
I've squelched it too.
Will this kill me? How bad is chemo going to be? How am I going to manage 3 kids and get through it? Will my cancer come back and take me away from my life? Will it make the quality of life I have left so bad I won't want to be here anymore? Is this pain in my back a recurrence? Do I need to call a doctor? If it comes back would I do any more chemo or is this as much fight as I've got in me? What is worse: the disease or the treatment?
That day you're yearning for?
I've celebrated it too.
'Your counts are good' day. 'Your x-ray is clear' day. 'Now you can go longer between appointments' day. 'See you in a year'day. First-sign-of-hair day. First-day-without-covering-your-head day. First taste of food day. First Monday chemo-isn't-in-the-calendar day. Expanders-out, implants-in day. First walk-without-being-tired day. First game-of-catch-with-the-kids day. First day out for lunch with friends day. First haircut day. 'Hey, I went a whole day without thinking about cancer' day. Someone asked me how I'm doing, I said 'fine' and I meant it' day.
That hope you have?
I have it too:
Don't you think that would be amazing?
I think so too.