The reality of life with breast cancer for many women includes ongoing fears, emotional and physical strains, and an appreciation for health and living beyond any appreciation anyone without cancer may be able to fathom.
To most people breast cancer has become pretty pink ribbons, walking or “racing” for a cure, and even has been equated to getting the flu. It seems so common that almost everyone has a member in their family or a close friend, neighbor, or coworker who has breast cancer. Yet the way it affects the life of the individual is far from cavalier.
One does not get breast cancer, treat it (like the flu), and then carry on as if it was just a common occurrence. Yes, we try to forget the “emotional rollercoaster” and devastating physical changes that we are put through and try to carry on with our “new normal” but for many this is short-lived or difficult as new issues continue to present themselves.
When something new arises it is looked upon as another “bump in the road”. But the emotional toll that finding a new lump, experiencing an abnormal pain, receiving poor blood work results, or having one more “out of the ordinary” symptom begin is excruciatingly difficult to handle. It is almost impossible for your mind to not jump to the thought of “it’s back” at every one of these “bumps” along the way.
Cancer patients can be told to stay positive, that everything is good, and even that they are “cured” by different professionals and they hope and pray that this is the case. However the reality is that there is a chance of reoccurrence and whether that chance is big or small (depending a great deal on the type, size, involvement, aggressiveness, and treatment of the cancer) it becomes its own little cancer thought eating away at the back of your mind.
We put a smile on our faces, we change in positive ways (at least I hope most women do), we develop a lust for life and an empathy for others. There is a bond, a sisterhood, that none of us wanted but most of us now would never want to live without. But the reality of what happened is not entirely gone. Time may make the memories cloudy, may push back further in our minds the thought and fear that it could happen again, but for many the fear remains as we continue to face new challenges that arise from the very treatments that were given to help save us.
I personally appreciate most of the many (31 to be exact) doctors who have consulted, worked with, and treated me over the course of the past three years. It has been anything but a fun rollercoaster ride, little bump in the road, or treat-and-be-cured experience for me. I have had over 30 tests (mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI’s, PET and CT scans, bone scans, echocardiograms, x-rays, etc.), been to 196 doctor appointments, had 6 surgeries (and 3 sets of horrible drains), been on numerous medications, and spent large amounts of money on medical bills. I have also spent countless hours doing research, exercising, juicing, and incorporating natural remedies (which have reversed my hearing loss, doubled my white blood cell counts, and possibly even reversed my menopause!) But at the end of the day I am just thankful to still be alive.
I have changed how I look at my health, how I treat my body, and how I view what is important in this very short span of a lifetime. My mantra has become “I am strong and I am healthy” and I try to remember this even when my body doesn’t feel strong or healthy. I know that life is a fatal disease and we will all die, I just want to hold off this outcome for as long as I can.
Breast cancer is becoming more of a chronic condition than an immediate death sentence as more and more women are living with the disease. My hope is that you may understand better the long-term implications and have empathy but also admiration for those that are “battling” and “fighting” even after the treatment has been done and for the lucky majority their hair has returned and they look like their “journey” has successfully ended. Hopefully they have come out stronger, they are returning to a good state of health, and this nightmare is over, and for those with whom it continues….my sincerest support, faith, and love goes out to you as I know your battles first hand.
Choosing healthy living over dying :)