Breast Cancer? No Thank You
I was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over a year ago. I was 37 years old and the mother of 8, 5 and 1 year olds. I never had a knot or the knowing suspicion that something was wrong. In fact, I've never felt better.
When I finished breastfeeding my last baby, I decided to do some long overdue exercise. My doctor suggested meeting with a breast specialist to monitor me for a strong family history of breast cancer. I did genetic testing and was thrilled when I found out I was negative for anything that could be tested. The specialist suggested doing an MRI and mammogram every year. I did the first MRI and then my world collapsed.
My surgeon called me two days before Halloween. A biopsy confirmed that I did have cancer, but it wasn't invasive - or so we thought. The area was too large to have a lumpectomy so I had to do a mastectomy and it was highly recommended that I do both sides. I thought that if I could just get through this surgery I would never think about it again. I was scared of it because it meant I couldn't pick up or hold my baby for six weeks. Even when I think of that part today, I cry.
Courtesy Megan Carusona
I had the operation on December 10, 2019. Two days later, my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in the hospital. Even though we had three children and a life together, I realized the importance of having a partner. He was there for me to help me shower, change drains and bandages, and hold my hand. He loved me when it was very difficult to love myself.
The very good news was that my lymph nodes were clear. I had to wait a little longer for the final pathology. My surgeon finally called me when I was getting a pedicure. She said the cancer was actually in both breasts and I was technically stage 1 because it escaped from the milk ducts. I was now a candidate for chemotherapy. I hung up and sat back in the nail salon to fight the urge to burst into tears. That call is what I think of every time I go to this nail salon. I often wonder if this association will ever go away.
After meeting with a couple of oncologists who all agreed that four rounds of chemotherapy would be in my best interests, I started freaking out about my hair. I was obsessed with it. The idea of looking sick was more than I could handle. It sounds silly to say you care so much about your hair, but I did. I still do. I decided to save my hair by cold capping, an insanely expensive process that my insurance didn't cover. You wear a freezing helmet on your head on chemo days. The entire process took around seven hours. My hair got very thin, but I didn't really lose a ton until the chemotherapy was over. By then we were deep in the pandemic and no one had ever seen me. I could pick up my kids at school and go to my second grader's basketball games and look like me. It was so important.
Courtesy Megan Carusona
While chemo itself wasn't a picnic, the real struggle for me was mental. I started counting down the days to my last treatment. I hung a dry blotting board on my bathroom mirror and wrote a quote from Robert Frost: "The only way out is through." The depression was overwhelming. I started taking antidepressants, which helped numb myself. For the days after chemotherapy, I lay in bed and couldn't imagine a future in which things would be normal. I was so tight My children visited me in my bed and snuggled with me. You have guided me through the absolute darkest days of my life.
The chemotherapy ended in late March. My kids came home from school because of COVID. I had problems. Whose life was that? What happened to me and where do I go from here? These are questions that still haunt me at night, but it is no longer every second of every day. It's getting easier.
I decided to cut my hair into a short pixie in July. The hair that was left after chemotherapy was in such dire condition that I just wanted to start over. My hair is growing and I can't wait to get it up in a ponytail. Mark my words: I will never have short hair again.
Courtesy Megan Carusona
Some days it's really hard to see the person looking at me in the mirror. My breasts are numb and I have no nipples. I miss my old flaccid ones who fed three babies at all hours of the night. The medication I'll have to take for the next 5-10 years will bring me through menopause for the time being. I'm 38, but sometimes it's hard to feel like it. Doctors say I will most likely go through menopause twice.
I also struggle with guilt. I know how lucky I am. So many women have had so much worse. I know I should be grateful. I have three healthy children and a wonderful, loving husband. Why is it so hard to be grateful some days?
I still happen to cry in the shower or when I'm alone in the car. Most recently I collapsed to a technician in my gynecologist's office. She asked me if there had been any changes in the past year. I couldn't find words to just answer the question. How can I explain that I'm not really me anymore? I have this strange body, these angry feelings, a story I don't want.
It's hard to meet new people. My hair is awkward. My eyebrows are thin. My eyelashes are sparse. I want to scream, "It's just not me!" I want you to see me as I remember myself.
Courtesy Megan Carusona
The past year, although sometimes brutal, has also shown me how much love and friendliness I am surrounded. Friends, neighbors and family went out of their way to check on me, deliver food, and drive my children. My children's teachers sent me dinners every night after my surgery.
The best part is that people didn't send me pink ribbons and other breast cancer paraphernalia. We didn't say goodbye to the Tatas party. Everyone has to do what's best for them, but I was so sad about everything. Nothing was funny to me and the people who loved me got it. My friends took me out shopping and drinking and it was perfect. I think the big plus of this year is that the kindness of others really gets you through these really tough and crappy times. Hope I can pay it up one day
When I was first diagnosed and until recently, I stayed up all night researching worst-case scenarios. I'm not exaggerating when I say I've flipped the pages of every horribly depressing Facebook group. I know I am making progress because I can proudly report that I no longer do it. I know I'll be fine I'll put the pieces back together as best I can.
Sometimes it helps me to remember that this is a short chapter in what will hopefully be a very long and healthy book. Like everyone else, I'm writing this shitty show down for a year until 2020. No thanks.
See the original article on ScaryMommy.com
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