Since my diagnosis, I've read a few memoirs and books of "inspiration" written by people who have had breast cancer...a few guidebooks, too. They fall just a little short of the What to Expect when You're Expecting to get your Breasts Removed in 2 Days book that I could use right now, but they are opening up new ideas for me.
I'm not going crazy with reading right now (leaving more of it to Bill) because I am afraid of worse things than a double mastectomy, drain tubes, port insertion, reconstruction, chemotherapy, sentinel node removal, and side effects. I don't really want to think about larger, worse ideas like recurrence because I think I should leave those ideas until I have gotten through the more immediate stuff. So because I have tried to stay away from anything that might talk about recurrence, I haven't read too much yet. I think I'll get to that when I get closer to chemo and will have to see people in worse situations than the one I am in right now.
These inspirational memoirs are a little helpful because there are some gory tidbits included (I need the gore for mental preparation) but they are just as annoying as they are helpful. One that I read tonight explained how there are steps to dealing with a cancer diagnosis, much like the DABDA concept I learned in our high school religion class, Death and Dying. The author talked about denial and how everyone (that was my problem, that she said everyone) with a cancer diagnosis must be in denial when they first find out. The woman with a cancer diagnosis continues to smile and go on with her daily activities because she is in denial.
Well, I don't think I am in denial, and I continue to smile. I always knew I was going to die sometime, and I even thought it might be a little early as there isn't a huge amount of longevity in my family. I still don't think it is going to be that early of a death for me, since this looks to be an early-stage cancer and there are such good treatment plans for it. But it comes as no surprise to me that people die and I might sometime. I am a little disappointed that I have a cancer diagnosis as I've associated cancer with suffering in the past, but what can I do about that? And lots of people get cancer, my grandparents died of cancer, so I'm not denying that I could have it either.
I have to say that all my weirdness and my animal-loving, vet assistant past is coming back to help me quite a bit here. I saw and assisted in plenty of surgeries, and saw the small animal veterinarians (with no special experience) removing giant tumors from dogs and cats - breast cancers included. I do feel lucky that a small animal vet is not removing my tumor or my breasts, but they did a great job of getting little animals through that surgery. So how much better must I get through mine, since I have human experts with years of experience and study behind their work? The dogs and cats most of the time did not have chemotherapy in these cases, but I will - so add another expert. The dogs and cats, with no chemo and more of a chop shop operation would often go on to live a few more years - which is quite a percentage of their lifetime. It's maybe not the best reasoning, but if I am more lucky, which I am since I am a human with good health care, I feel like I have an even better chance.
I also saw plenty of death and euthanasia...I helped the doctors find the veins, consoled the animals and their owners, wrapped up the little bodies. I've never felt I was much more important or much more advanced from any of God's creatures, and I feel like death is just a natural thing that comes hand in hand with living - for me as much as the deer that was hit by a car, or the cat who is suffering from kidney failure, or the dog with advanced cancer. First of all, I know that hearing that I have cancer is not hearing that I am dying soon, but secondly, even the thought of dying isn't something that makes me terribly afraid. I doubt I am in denial there, either.
(Anyway, it is easy for me to say this, because I know and have mentioned that the pain in dying is in leaving the people who are left behind, and the big burden falls on those who are left behind, anyway. More on the leaving some other day when I am feeling more morose...because I do have a feeling that those you love never leave you anyway, and that is a good posting when I need a pick me up if anything ever gets that extreme.)
I don't blame these writers for bawling their eyes out, crying and making scenes (they describe these scenes in their books quite vividly). I know it must be hard if you are confronting your own mortality for the first time. This just doesn't happen to be the first time I have grappled with my own mortality, or my own infallibility. I don't think it is possible to hold a living being in your arms as they pass on and to not consider your own life's end. I don't think it is possible to watch little bodies be anesthetized, cut open, sewn back together, wake up sleepy and goopy-eyed, wagging their little tails at you (usually just a tiny wag, but still) and not feel that there is something miraculous in medicine. I'm lucky I spent those years in that veterinary office. Those little tails are giving me hope that though I will probably be feeling goopy, yucky, and very sore in a few days, I'll still be able to wag my own little tail, just a teeny bit.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your evaluation of the generalizations made in such readings. Denial is a word too often used. I think one can have calm , peaceful awareness instead. Strength and determination and unselfish love of our children can overcome anything.

Anonymous said...

Hello dear Pam. I remember so vividly December 29, 1987. Although it was unusual to "board" a patient the night before surgery, they did with me in part because I was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. and my doctor thought it important to have me there
because I was single(?). So there I sat in a hospital bed the night before a dreaded surgery
when suddenly my hospital phone rang. I was surprised to discover your dad and three sleepy,
bewildered girls were my pre-op
visitors. My diagnosis had
changed from in-situ to
in-situ plus invasive. I was so scared to face this new unknown and
a huge part of me didn't want your dad and you kids dragged into my problem--especially after the losses that he and you had been through. But there you all were,and in spite of this awful thing I had to face, you brought a bright light into my room that night. Little did I
know then that I would ultimately
marry your dad and love him, you
girls and your families
as I do now. Pam, you
bring a bright light into
every room you enter! It will
be blindingly bright after this difficult journey. Love, n.