"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Knowledge is power; knowledge is fear

When I first got diagnosed with breast cancer, the first few days I couldn't even allow myself to google "breast cancer" because I was petrified of what I might find.  I wanted to know what I was dealing with, but I was paralyzed by fear of knowing my reality.  After a few days of google abstinence, I gave in and started learning about my disease.  With every website I opened or article I read, I panicked and looked for hope.  I found good things and bad things.  Things that made me believe I would be OK followed by things that made me think this disease would take me at a young age. 

After five weeks of obsessive reading and googling all about my diagnosis, I am saying "enough"!  I feel like I have learned so much which has been helpful in making the right decisions for me, but in addition I have learned so much that has planted panic and fear in my mind and soul.  I needed to learn about the pathology reports, my diagnosis, the treatment, surgeries and most of all my prognosis.  All of that information was a "must" for me as I have been faced with such a long journey with so many decisions to make that will effect the rest of my life.  Not only do I have to make the decisions, but I have to live with them for the rest of my life too and be OK with that.  It's a lot of pressure for sure!

The knowledge of these things gave me the power to come to conclusions and finalize my treatment path.  I feel at peace with my decisions and know I am doing all I can.  I don't think I will look back with regret given my situation and the choices I had before me.  Let's face it, when you have cancer, none of the choices are appealing, right?  Who wants major body altering surgery?  Who wants to go through radiation or chemotherapy?  No one does, but as patients we have to choose these things if we choose life.  These are HARD choices that no one wants to make ever in their lifetime. 

The knowledge also gave me fear.  I turned to breast cancer message boards for information, emotional support and encouragement from others that have gone through what I am going through.  This helped.  The words of encouragement and hope came to me at times when I felt like no one knew what to say or truly understood what I was feeling.  These kind strangers were supportive and loving in a way that touched me more than I can explain.  Somehow it made me feel not so alone in this. 

The fear that came with the message boards and chats were the horror stories.  While many people told their good stories, there were so many others that went on and on about pain, dissatisfaction with surgery results, unhappiness with reconstruction, bad doctors and more.  These are the things that gave me fear and panic!  As I spent more time reading and reading, my fear and anxiety raised.  I would find some messages in there that gave me peace, but more often than not, the messages made me feel worse the more I read.  People talk about how horrible the post operative pain was or how horrible the tissue expanders are and such and I started building those thoughts in my own head.  I think finally realized that I need to go to these boards for emotional support and my past obsession with scouring the boards for information has to stop.  I was so stressed this morning I just dreaded it!

This morning though, something really changed my anxiety about the reconstructive surgery.  My plastic surgeon's nurse practitioner called me to review a few questions I had.  She was so kind, patient and encouraging it was like speaking to an angel.  She answered my page long list of questions and took at least 30 minutes to speak with me.  She reassured me of how incredible my surgeon is and let me know that he did her sister's reconstruction three years ago.  Somehow after I hung up with Kim, I just felt like a big weight had been lifted.  I have complete faith in my surgeon.  He has been doing reconstruction for almost 20 years and he spends 90% of his time doing reconstruction for mastectomy patients.  He works for a National Cancer Institute that is ranked 12th in the nation for cancer treatment.  While I realize not every surgery goes perfectly and there are chances things will not always go as planned, I have faith in him. 

I guess I have come to realize that knowledge is a double edged sword.  Knowledge can bring power but it can also bring fear.  There is such a fine line between the two and it is hard to know where to draw the line.  I guess for me, I am done losing myself in breast cancer message boards and obsessively reading about other people's experiences.  I am not the average breast cancer patient.  I am a young, healthy, strong minded person with an assertive attitude.  I am the kind of person that is up for a good physical challenge and am in great physical shape.  If I can teach aerobics again at 7 weeks postpartum after almost three months of bed rest prior to that, I can have a good recovery from this and good results, right?  I can do this.  Today, I believe that. 

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