Three words you never want to hear.
“You have cancer”.
Somehow, what follows that, is what I will refer to as an “out of body” experience. It is almost like a whir of a fan, or a low pitched siren.
When I received my call after a lumpectomy due to breast atypia, (which is benign, 98% of the time), my surgeon said there were some malignant cells found in the biopsy.” I remember saying, “what does that mean?” at least four times. Finally, she said “you have breast cancer.” I still can remember the shock I felt.
Why did I not hear about cancer when I was growing up as I do in my current life?
Yes, it was referred to as the “C”- and mostly whispered. Is it because we have such advanced methods of early detection? Is it because it is no longer something to be ashamed of- a show of weakness that somehow if you were stronger you could have prevented this from happening?
Or is it that cancer is so rampant that few are spared of not knowing someone who has been afflicted by this horrible disease?
After the initial shock, most of us go into automatic and go through the process of doing what we have to do- try and get cured.
As I think about it, I wonder if I ever fully acknowledged that I had breast cancer. My then husband, (although I was separated), told my children that I was being dramatic and didn’t really have cancer. With that being said, my daughter was constantly angry at me for going to sleep before the usual late hours you can generally catch me awake, reading or watching some inane movie. I was constantly tired due to my treatment. My general sleep time was somewhere around 8. Other than that, I did not alter my routine in any way.
I did not talk about it, act differently or discontinue playing tennis. I just let my co-pilot take over- and it did.
After it was over, I contacted a therapist who specialized in treating women with breast cancer. She was wonderful, until a year later when she got diagnosed herself with breast cancer and had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. She recovered, I returned, and 6 months later, had a reoccurrence. She retired.
At each 6 month check up, the nerves reappear, but as time goes on, you do become more and more confident that your health has remained intact.
I have just passed 7 years as a survivor of breast cancer.
I think the most difficult case for me, was when a 45 year old woman came to me, diagnosed with breast cancer. Coincidentally, she was being treated at the same hospital as me and using the same surgeon. She was petrified. Her husband and 2 daughters were extremely supportive, but she feared the return of cancer everyday. She had surgery, treatment, and years of well visits, but, she could never get over the fear of becoming sick again. This was especially trying for me, as this remains a fear of most every cancer patient. After years of therapy and well visits, she has tried to focus on the day, but is still plagued by her fear of the disease returning.
Recently, I treated a 55 year old woman whose husband had passed away 2 years ago from lung cancer. She went through a year of ups and downs, laughter and tears, and eventually the finality of the end of her marriage and loss of her husband and father of her children. She tried to be strong for her 2 college age children, and took over the business they ran jointly. Although difficult, the distraction of working, plus a strong family and friend support system, she moved on. She began dating, (nothing really panning out), but started to live again. Things were on the mend.
Today I received a call from her letting me know that something in her lung was detected in an X-ray and needed to be looked at further. After a pet scan today, although most likely benign, a mass was discovered. She will be operated on next week for a removal of the mass and partial lung. She will be hospitalized for 5-7 days and then followed by a 6 month recovery.
Erica, 59 year old woman, went for a routine mammography yesterday. A mass was detected so they proceeded with a fine needle aspiration (they insert a needle into the mass and withdraw fluid for pathology). Today, her news was positive. She was told she has a benign adenoma, and needs no treatment.
So, today was a day where there were lots of reminders to enjoy the day, cherish the moment, and never judge- because you NEVER know what battle someone is fighting. Life may not be fair, but remember that you have the power to make it good.
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