Why I Won’t Survive Cancer

Why I Am Not A Cancer Survivor

The musings expressed here are strictly those of a woman making her way through breast cancer and are based solely on her personal beliefs and experience. They are not intended to sway or convince anyone of anything other than to honor-with-action what is right for them.

 

Okay. Now, that’s out of the way. Picture this.

You’re standing in a hallway. The light is dim. There are two doors. One says Survivor. The other, Thriver. That’s it. No other door. No third option. Which do you walk through? And on what do you base that decision?

Those presenting me with the standard medical model don’t see the hallway. They don’t see the two doors. As a matter of fact, a few of them don’t even see me. When they look at me, they see cancer, a breast that is gone, and a pathology report that says cancer cells may be left behind. And they see their particular medical offering of what might constitute a cure.

Some of these specialists don’t like the questions I ask or that I ask them at every turn. They don’t understand that I am not questioning their expertise. They don’t understand that I am gathering information critical to my peace of mind – a peace of mind that necessitates I am part of the equation in this medical maze of treatments. (After navigating the insurance maze, I might add.)

Am I sounding frustrated? Well, ride with it because I am. And, at times, I am also dismayed, shocked, aghast; disappointed with the “one size fits all” approach I am being offered after a mastectomy that showed no cancer in the lymph nodes taken or in the blood.

I have chosen my door. Thriver. Because thriving is something I can do now.

I don’t want to survive. I don’t want to wait 5 years, or 7 years, or 10 years to be pronounced cured of cancer. I know myself well enough to know that I won’t do well with a finish line way out there. And, if I follow through on the treatment offered me, I may very well be dragging myself – prostrate – across that finish line. Read more

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Grief. Bucket Lists. Legacies.

Bernadettes Bucket List

I suppose that’s natural, considering that the revolving door called cancer caught me in its spin before leaving the hospital where Ray’s last battle was fought, that I find myself thinking about bucket lists these days.

Honestly, Ray was the bucket list master in our marriage. All I had to do was ride on the coattails of his. Their content so often captured my interest that they easily found their way onto our mutual list. If you like reading my messy musings, you can thank him for that. Were it not for his giving me a copy of The Artist’s Way, I would not be here today. (His bucket list included our creative spirits playing together.)

Not that I am blasé about this gift called life or this planet called earth or any creative endeavor inspired by our Creator, but close friends will tell you that – though I enjoy each day – a Bernadette who casts far into the future with her personal wishes is a rare sighting.

But making decisions on cancer treatment does funny things to one’s perspective. This mastectomy-stand-in for my breast brings a lot to surface about life-cuts that speak to life-noun, living-verb conversions.

For the first time in my life, I want to come up with a list all my own but am a bit stumped when it comes to getting jazzed about world-stuff – like parachuting or bungee jumping or kissing the Blarney Stone. Okay, wouldn’t mind the Blarney Stone thing – as that is in the land of my ancestors – but I would not be restless on my deathbed not having done that.

So, I guess that’s my starting point. What would leave me restless on my deathbed? I know. A morbid place to begin but, hey, it leads to an interesting question and maybe points to my challenge in making bucket lists. I might be looking in the wrong place for what fuels me. Read more

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Eenie, meenie, miney moe. Pathology report, here we go. Anatomy of a decision.

Eeinie, meenie, miney moe. Pathology report, here we go. Surviving breast cancer.

 

“Without adjuvant treatment local regional progression, distant spread and death are risks.”

What would you do?

My breast surgeon was expecting to find a 3.5 cm tumor – but found a 4.8 cm tumor instead. Pathology later uncovered an additional 2 cm tumor – hidden in the dense breast tissue that she removed. No indication in any of the many imaging tests prepared us for either surprise.

Sentinel lymph node report, clear of cancer. Nine additional lymph nodes clear of cancer. Blood also clear of cancer.

My surgeon said I’d made the right call to go for the complete mastectomy with no nipple sparing as the tumor was irregular in shape and attached to my nipple. (Imaging tests had indicated that I was a candidate for a lumpectomy with radiation. Hmmm.)

Good news so far, right? Always nice when I make a good decision and God knows this was not an easy one. (See Kiss My Breast Good-bye.)

It appears, however, that my life and death, decision-making muscle is being put to the test once again. Seems I have no clean margins. Or, in doctor-speak, margins of the tissue removed from my breast test positive for cancer.

So, though the cancer party-crasher stayed local and never left the house, it played to the edges of the walls that contained it. Doctors don’t like dirty walls. I get that. Read more

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Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye.

Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye.

I find myself on the merging ramp to a mastectomy and wishing to yield, for just a moment, before this breast becomes a blurred memory in the traffic flow of life.

She is the part I must release to protect the whole but she will not go without notice or appreciation for what she held space.

There is a body of experience in this sweet breast of mine. She and her sister were late bloomers. No doubt, I got that premature training bra because my mother was tired of fielding questions that always started with a whiny “When???”

As intimate partners go, both breasts have been first class beyond their champagne-glass classification. But she is the one that held space over my heart. For that I grieve her loss. I would love to kiss her for all that we’ve gone through together – but she is not that large nor I that agile.

Sound strange?

Our bodies are living, breathing temples that hold space for a fusion of body, mind and spirit – from the most elemental level to the most sublimely sacred that life has to offer. And each part speaks to aspects of experience that leave imprints – clues – as to how we maneuver through and integrate events from the significant to the mundane.

From the time she first popped onto the scene, this sweet gal of mine protected my heart from, as well as expressed it to, inexperienced curiosity seekers and seasoned explorers until she found the one who gave her no need to shield and every reason to expand into a union of body, heart and spirit. Read more

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When grief answers first … wait.

When Grief Answers First

When grief answers first, it isn’t pretty. And, sometimes, it’s raucous and self-involved. At least that’s my experience with it. Maybe I am more messy than most – though I suspect not. I suspect that what I am giving voice to here will not seem strange – or sacrilegious to the preciousness of life – if you have spent intimate time with grief.

Singular grief sucks. Multiple grief sucks. Overlapping grief sucks. I’ve done them all. When that gut-punch, double over, drop-to-your-knees moment hits, it is hard to imagine that there is anything beyond the pain.

When I found out I had breast cancer – just months after Ray took his last breath – grief spoke first. “Well, here’s your ticket out of all this pain. Your work here is done. It’s been a good run.”

When losing someone or something you love becomes a reality, it throws off the order. Ray’s run with a cancer that ended in death turned my days – and my morning prayer time – upside down. The pain felt in his absence left me with a desire for connection at any cost. Even if it meant I spoke to Ray first – and God second. Something I never did while he was alive.

My healing hierarchy fell out of balance while cancer cells feasted on estrogen without supervision – or should I say without “super vision.” When the small lump grew and ate away breast mass, I witnessed what the physical demonstration of grief must look like in a part of my body designed to nurture life as well as receive pleasure. Read more

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