Remembering the Positives as a Breast Cancer Patient
More than once in the going-on five years since I finished treatment, I’ve found myself in a group of fellow breast cancer survivors where the talk has turned to recurrence. Some have indeed been down the road again; thankfully, most of us haven’t. Collectively, we all breathe a huge sigh of relief when the annual mammogram comes and goes without a callback; when the bone scan is clean, and that ache in your back turns out to be a pulled muscle. But we are also continually on guard, alert to every twinge and headache, each bout of nausea or unexplained pain in the belly. We call it “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Before I had cancer, it never crossed my mind that I WOULD have cancer–ever. Sure, it’s something you think about occasionally, like getting in a car accident, or breaking your arm diving off a dock. But it’s a fantasy; a “not me, somebody else” passing thought. Till suddenly it IS you, and the fantasy becomes reality.
From then on, it’s hard to NOT think about having cancer. A friend told me, long ago, that the day would come when the first thing I thought about in the morning wasn’t cancer; and then the day would come when I didn’t think about it at all. Mentally, that probably would have happened; I’m not one who dwells on misfortune, chewing it over like a dog with a bone. But the physical fallout is still there: the sore feet, tingling chest, painful shoulder, burning eyes. Each morning I wake up and think, “Oh, yeah. A new breast. Chemo. Lymphedema. Got it. Good morning, world!” It doesn’t particularly bother me; but neither can I forget it. Just recently, however, while cleaning a closet I came across a big bag of ace bandages, the ones I used to faithfully wrap my lymphedema-swollen arm in every day. “Used to” being the key words; I haven’t had a lymphedema flareup in probably 2 years. And rather than save them “just in case,” I threw them away. I realized I’d been thinking “glass half empty.” I was planning for an unwanted eventuality, rather than a desired one. How backwards is that?
You might ask me, well, shouldn’t you be ready for anything? Yes, of course; ready as I can be, making sure I’m making good choices about diet, exercising, and building up my “emotional bank account.” But to have a specific plan for a cancer recurrence? “Next time I do chemo, I’m getting a port.” Or ,“If I do radiation again, I’m definitely asking for an early-morning time slot.” Instead, I think, “Cancer was quite the experience; I’m glad I went through it, and very glad I won’t have to go through it again!” When I look in the mirror in the morning, I see my beautifully curly “chemo hair,” not my lopsided chest.
I recently had a discussion with my 20-year-old son about things to plan for when traveling abroad. You know, stuff like making a copy of your passport and putting it somewhere safe. He said to me, “Mom, think how much time you spend worrying about what might happen, and then it never does. You could spend your whole life worrying for no reason, when you could have spent it enjoying yourself. If something bad happens, deal with it when it happens. Don’t plan for it ahead of time.” And, while clearly he’s got that typical 20-year-old “the world is my oyster” outlook, he may just be right. What’s your chance of recurrence? 20 percent? Do you think, “WOW, I have a 1 in 5 chance of recurrence, that’s bad!” Or do you think, “Great, I have a 4 in 5 chance of being cancer-free the rest of my life. That’s great!” Which one of those attitudes do you think serves you better? And which one do YOU have? Think about it.
Published On: August 31, 2006