Sunday, June 8, 2014

Now What? Coping With the Aftershocks of Breast Cancer

Some days, I'm so damn happy,  I feel like Mary Poppins with Pop Rocks in my undies. Other days, I feel like a morose and apathetic teenager, slouched over my desk in detention hall.  Such is the emotional roller coaster of the "Now What?" after breast cancer.

My doctors have told me to move forward, live my life, and stop worrying. I have a 90% chance of never having a recurrence. Pretty darn good odds. Cause for celebration. Rah. Rah.

Then why do I feel so unsettled and stuck? If I had a band, it would be called "No Direction". I feel sad, forgetful, foggy, and sometimes I just don't care about anything.  I'm not curled up into a ball with the covers over my head and the shades drawn. No, I am very high functioning and to the outside world and many family and friends, I am just fine.  The funny part is that I'm doing everything humanly possible to help me to feel good. I exercise at least 5 days/week. I take yoga classes. I eat well. I say no to things that serve no purpose to me, and I say yes to the things that do. One would think that all of this tender loving self care would have a positive influence on my psyche but not so much. Imagine if I didn't do all those wonderful things? Yikes!

I have been told that all of my feelings are perfectly normal. Some have compared these post breast cancer feelings to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Like war veterans, we have flashbacks too. We hear of a friend being diagnosed or we reach a special "Cancerversary". It all comes flooding back and we relive everything like it's happening to us again.  That feeling of constantly being under a terrorist attack is hard to break from and for me, the first sign is my throat starts to close up. Then the downward spiral begins, again.
I suppose I could keep these private feelings private. However, I find that when I put it out into the universe, I feel better for releasing it. I also know that at least one other person on this earth also feels the same way. So, I'm willing to take this risk. I realize it's a vulnerable place to be; you knowing my innermost feelings. It's like reading my diary.  If it helps you or someone you know, then I'm willing to share. There's nothing worse than feeling alone with your feelings. It's like standing on an island by yourself but you must know, you are not alone if you are feeling the way I do.

Every day I find myself asking this same question. What. Just. Happened? It's still very hard to wrap my brain around so many events and bodily changes in an 11 month period. Did it really happen? How could I have had cancer? Doesn't cancer happen to other people? You'd think by now, it would feel real, but no. It's all so very weird!

People have joked to me about finally getting the "boobs I've always wanted". While it may sound like a cute and funny thing to say, these really AREN'T the boobs I've always wanted. Breasts should have feeling in them. These don't. Breasts shouldn't feel like they are "attached to you". These do.  I finally realized after my last surgery that I am stuck with these forever, unless of course, I decide to have them removed, which isn't an option for me right now. 

Looking at this very changed body every day is hard. Some days it's OK but others?  I'm very sad that this is the way it has to be. I know I made the right choice to save my life and have no regrets. But it's still hard. And yes, I'm still grateful. (Why do I feel like I need to keep saying that? Isn't it kind of obvious that I'm grateful?)  But I'm allowed to be sad about what will never come back.

After trying to sort everything out in my own head for too long and only making things much worse (that's what anxiety does. It completely spirals out of control if you don't stop it!), I finally took the leap and went to see a counselor last week.  She told me that she sees women who've had breast cancer and never sought therapy until 5-10 years after their bc journey. She said they have a much harder time understanding why they feel so emotionally horrid and don't even connect the dots back to their breast cancer.  Wow. Imagine holding it in for years and years?

I'm glad I took the leap to counseling. My friend told me that the strongest people seek help, so I guess I am strong.  

I am certainly not ashamed of it and I encourage anyone who is struggling with anything in their life, not just a disease, to seek help for it. No one should live a life in pain and silence. And thank you Jesus, I found a therapist who uses the "F" word on occasion. Phew...

One more thing from my therapist. As we talked about the new breasts and trying to adjust to the loss of the old ones, she said, "It sounds like you need to welcome the new ones into your body and accept them as a part of you", (of course, I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember shit anymore!).  I never really thought of it like that and now, going forward, that is on my "to do" list every day: Try to accept things now as they are and learn to love the new and strange parts of me, along with the old and strange parts of me.

I know it's going to take time and thankfully, time is on my side now. In my next blog, I will delve a little deeper into rolling out the welcome mat for my new breasts. Stay tuned!


Rosy said...

I still believe you are one of the strongest people I know. Glad you found a counselor to help. Sometimes you just need someone to point you in the right direction.hang in there.

MilwaukeeTeach said...

Your post is right on. I hate these stupid fucking dumb fake boobs. Nobody is allowed to touch them. If I can't "feel" them neither can you. And every time I forget something (which is all the time, every day) I blame it on fucking cancer. I wasn't this bad before last year. My double mastectomy was May 2013. Chemo thru Oct 2013. What a whirlwind of a year. I don't feel like me. I don't even know who I am. I'm no where close to the old me. It's just so strange. Thank you for expressing yourself.

Becky's Big Bytes said...

Wow! Thank you both for commenting!!
Rosy, you are so right!
Now, Milwaukee Teach, you made my night. I'm so sorry you are having a hard time. I finished chemo in Sept 2013, had the double in Oct 2013. My memory was getting better, but now it's just worse and it scares me sometimes. It's like dementia!! I am glad I wrote this blog post as many women feel like this and no one knows about it. We can't hold it in. I'm trying to like my breasts but it's not easy!!! xoxox