Six months ago, I walked into MD Anderson alone (because of COVID) to have a malignant tumor cut out of my right breast.
Six months ago.
There are days it feels like I just finished but most of the time it feels more like years.
I wanted to write to mark the milestone.
I haven’t been back in to MD Anderson since early May.
My follow up appointments come in September and October. I’ll have new imaging to confirm all is clear and will continue on that twice a year schedule until they tell me I’m allowed to go back to annual appointments.
I’m taking Tamoxifen and will be on some sort of estrogen blocking drug for five years. My tumor was estrogen positive so these meds help to limit recurrence.
Before we left for Bar Harbor I thought it had caused blood clots, a possible side effect, so I sat in a couple of ERs. Finally, I got in to see my primary doctor, and it wasn’t blood clots but just bad leg cramps. Another side effect. The oncologist allowed me a three week break from the medicine, but now I’ve resumed. I’m still having the cramps but they are manageable.
Besides the tiny white pill, there are other side effects.
My right breast (this is yucky but the unvarnished truth) itches all the time. I’m assuming it is all that scar tissue healing but it drives me insane. And you can’t exactly walk around scratching your side boob.
Bras don’t fit quite right. I just bought three new ones and it’s better, but I’d rather be braless. That is usually frowned upon in Corporate America though. Actually, it’s frowned upon anywhere in American for a mom in her 40s.
The most painful side effect is from the radiation. I’ve lost some range of motion in my right shoulder. It hurts to lay on my right side. I have a hard time getting some tops on and off.
My friend and I have started working out together again in the mornings (5:15 – yawn!). I’ve noticed that it feels like my right shoulder and chest muscles are shredding as I work out. But I’m hopeful the pain will lessen with workouts. Maybe this new work out regime will not only help me lose the pandemic/cancer pounds, but also really improve my strength and range of motion on the right side. I take responsibility for having let it go this long without working it more.
Besides all this physical stuff, there is another less tangible side effect.
Overall, DURING the cancer, I was pragmatic. I try to be efficient. Action oriented. Craft a to do list and then cross things off.
So I did that with cancer. Talk to these people. Get these doctors. Calendar these items.
KNOCK. IT. OUT.
I even had people say, kindly and supportively, if anyone can kick cancer’s butt, it’s you.
We all know that’s not true. Cancer does not care if you are efficient or action oriented. It is no respecter of age or gender or disposition. (Sadly, much like COVID.)
Yet, I DID ALL THE THINGS.
Except. I don’t know that I ever processed it. I’m not sure I grieved.
There are places emotions have leaked out, but not so much in the cancer space.
Then I was asked to share my story to a cancer support group. The two women who run the group chatted with me over Zoom and asked me to share my story with them. So I started walking through what happened. And I just started crying.
I had no control over it.
It even caught me off guard.
I remember saying, through tears, as I shared, I guess this is all still really fresh.
So I’m looking back at that time and figuring out if there’s some emotional work I need to be doing too. If the physical work is necessary, and overdue, isn’t the mental and emotional?
The absolute best side effect of cancer has been helping others with their diagnosis. Three weeks to the day after my last radiation appointment, I was able to connect with three women who received their first diagnosis. I had a coffee. A conference call. Made a cancer bag like others did for me. I feel so honored to be able to walk with others through this valley.
But instead of just jumping in with both feet to help, which my little Enneagram 3 Wing 2 does on autopilot, I need to process some things as well. If I’m actually going to be of any help to others struggling, I need to be healthy. And honest about what cancer meant in my life and my family’s lives. Honest about what it means for our future.
It’s six months today.
I am incredibly grateful for my outcome.
Overwhelmed by the people who surrounded us.
Indebted to a Savior and Heavenly Father who held me through it all.
And I’m hopeful. For what’s next.