Diagnosis. Surgery. Treatment. Recovery. Anniversaries. Where does it end?
You have cancer. Words I never thought I would hear. On October 5, 2012, my world changed. One day I was healthy and the next day I had cancer. Breast cancer was not in my family until that little lump turned up one summer. One in eight, that was me. That is me. Once I processed that, I was in the system – the medical system. Doctors, surgeons, plastic surgeons, chemotherapy oncologists, radiotherapy oncologists, social workers, and all the technicians who performed various scans on parts of my body. My medical team, whoever thinks they will have a medical team at 42 years old.
Mastectomy with reconstruction using an IGAP flap procedure. The interior gluteal artery perforator (IGAP) uses the tissue from the bottom of your buttocks near the crease. Yes, they use the tissue from your ass and reconstruct a breast. Most have the DIEP procedure, deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) artery flap, this is when the fat and skin are removed from the lower belly. I did not have enough usable belly fat, but I had lots of gluteal tissue.
If you are not a cancer patient or have never been given the diagnosis that you have cancer, you may say well you get a boob job and a tummy tuck – how lucky. For someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is not a cosmetic procedure that you choose to have so that you have a great tummy and a slightly visible scar from hip to hip.
It is a lifesaving surgery because you have cancer cells growing in your breast. It is not a boob job; you are having your breast removed so that it does not end up killing you. These words do not come from a person diagnosed with cancer.
Once surgery is complete, depending on lymph node involvement and the pathology results, treatment may be prescribed. Treatment can involve chemotherapy, radiotherapy, a combination of both, and possibly hormone therapy or adjuvant therapy. Treatment can be very specific based on the type of breast cancer you have, hormone positive, estrogen or progesterone, or both. Her 2 positive, or triple negative cancers. Specific is good, which means it is targeted therapy. It is a lot to digest and wrap your head around. All of this takes months to go through.
Then there is recovery, once all if this is done, recovery should be smooth sailing, right? Well, not so much. There is the constant threat of recurrence that seems to stay top of mind for some time. Every ache and pain is a worry, is it cancer? I have a backache, is it in my spine? I have a headache, has it metastasized to my brain? My throat hurts, it must be in my lymph nodes. These feelings diminish, but never completely go away. Recovery is different for everyone, just because you are looking great does not mean you are doing well. The emotional and physical toll cancer takes on a person is debilitating. I have been out of treatment since 2013 and I am still in recovery.
Cancer-versary, what date do you pick if you do? Diagnosed October 5, 2012. The cancer was removed on November 14, 2012. Treatment ended on July 19, 2013. For me, it is the date the cancer was removed from my body, so November 14, 2012, is my date. This year it will be 11 years cancer-free. October is a hard month because I was diagnosed during breast cancer awareness month and there is pink everywhere. Hard to forget that month. Mostly it makes me angry because breast cancer has turned into big business. I suppose if you get past the pinkwashing, the message is good, be aware of your body and any changes. Check your breasts often.
My point here, this is your story. Every story is different because every diagnosis and treatment plan is different. How a person reacts is different, not right, or wrong, different. It is your experience, and no one can tell you how to get through it. People can say the wrong thing, like “Oh you got the good kind of cancer”, or “My aunt had cancer, but she died”. Not helpful in any way, at all. They do not mean to be hurtful or flippant, they just do not know what to say. Educate them if you can. Let them know that just listening is fine, no comment is required.
However, you will get through it. It does not have to be courageous or brave, it can just be. Just be.