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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Getting Over it is Not That Easy

I was talking to my friend that just finished treatment for breast cancer a few weeks ago and she said something that got me thinking.  She said "I did treatment and now I am just suppose to move on like nothing happened?"  I can totally relate to what she meant.  Moving on after hearing the words "you have cancer" is NOT that easy. 

What most people don't realize is that breast cancer leaves major emotional damage.  Your life is never the same after you find out you have a non-curable, deadly disease.  For a long time thoughts of my breast cancer were a huge part of my day.  I could not simply forget what I went through.  When I got dressed in the morning, I could see the scars.  When I went to lunch with friends, I could not eat the hormone infested foods.  When I went to the grocery store and was offered a sample of something that contained hormones, I could not try it.  When I go to the gym and see women in the locker room with "normal" breasts, it reminded me I would never have "normal breasts" again.  When I get up in the morning, I take the anxiety medicine I need to have since my diagnosis along with my tamoxifen which will hopefully help prevent recurrence.  When I answer my phone, it is one of my many doctor offices calling to confirm one of my many appointments. I could go on and on about all of the many daily reminders of breast cancer...there are so many. 

Despite these things, I have tried very hard to "move on" with my life and live it.  I don't sit around and think about breast cancer all the time like when I was first diagnosed, but I do have my own independent thoughts of breast cancer throughout the day that are not triggered by the things I mentioned above.  It is just something you can't escape. Even though there are so many daily reminders, I am doing OK. 

What most people don't realize is that there are lingering issues from breast cancer that don't allow some patients to simply "move on" with their life.  The reason they can't just "move on" is because they are still living it every single day.  There are some things that you just can't "get over" from this disease.

I am very fortunate that I did my treatment and reconstruction surgery and did not have any real challenges.  I healed well.  What's hard for me is talking to my friends that were not so lucky.  I have friends that started this journey over three years ago with me and they are still in the middle of it all.  They have had lingering problems that prevent them from "moving on".

One of my dear friends had a horrible plastic surgeon.  He totally botched up her reconstruction surgery.  She then had to find a new surgeon and start all over again.  When she did her second reconstruction, her body didn't heal easily.  She got infections and it took a long time to recover.  While she loves her new breasts, she wanted to look more normal and decided to get nipple surgery.  That caused problems and she got infected and had to have additional work done.  Since her diagnosis she also had to have a hysterectomy among some personal challenges in her life.  She started this journey with me over three years ago, and she is STILL in the middle of it.  Emotionally, she is exhausted.  I would be too.  My heart aches for her.  It's not fair.  She needs her life back.  She still continues forward, simply doing what she needs to do to get through this.  At times in her life, people that don't "get it" make insensitive comments, acting like she is doing this because she wants to.  How horrible.  NO ONE wants to do this!  It sucks!  She is merely doing what she has to do to get through this.  It has been a long, exhausting and draining battle for her.  She wants her life back.  From the outside, you would never know.  She looks amazing.  This is what is going on inside though.  This is the reality of breast cancer.

I have another friend.  She was diagnosed over seven years ago.  She had bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.  Her surgeon also left her with uneven, horrible new breasts.  After years of suffering with these, she opted to work with a new surgeon to fix things.  This time her body rejected the implant and would not heal.  She has had 4-5 surgeries since November (yes, less than a year!!!).  She finally had to go with a different type of reconstruction (a flap) and had healing issues with that.  She just had an additional surgery a few weeks ago.  It has been over 7 years of this crap she has had to endure.  Breast cancer sucks!

I have two other friends that are dealing with the lasting effects of chemo.  Their doctors neglected to tell them that the taxotere chemotherapy can cause permanent hair loss.  Both friends suffer with hair so thin you can see their scalp and bald spots.  One friend use to be a runway model in her younger days.  She had beautiful hair and her doctor assured her that her hair would be beautiful again after chemo.  She has suffered emotional trauma because of the hair loss.  It is a constant reminder.  She has to cover her bald spot every morning with topix.  She has to disguise the bald areas.  Her hair has to stay short because it will no longer grow longer than an inch in areas.  She is devastated.  How can you just "move on" when there is no hope of ever having hair again???  She has to live with this for the rest of her life.  She is angry.  Others around her don't seem to understand why she just can't "move on" or "get over it".  Could you???  She had asked her medical oncologist about using cold caps before chemo but they would not let her. They assured her she would have hair again but she doesn't.  She has been dealing with this for almost three years now.  She will deal with it for the rest of her life too. 

There are so many women that have tried to "move on" after treatment, but sometimes it's just not possible because you are still living it every single day.  In addition to living through the surgeries or permanent hair loss, you still have all the reminders I deal with on a daily basis. How does one live in that world and "get over it"???  I wish I knew. 

As I always say, "breast cancer is the gift that just keeps on giving".  It's so true.  While I am fortunate my world is a bit brighter than some of my friends, I continue to be a support to them and be there for them through the dark times.  I don't expect them to "move on" or to "get over it".  This is still very existent in their world.  They need the support of friends that "get it" and will just listen.  Breast cancer has given me wonderful friends that I would never have met if I were not diagnosed.  For that I am thankful. I cherish those friends and hold them close to my heart.  I will continue to support them and be there for them.  We are forever bonded.