Two years ago, a deadly EF-4 tornado hit the town I grew up in leaving behind a path of destruction many miles long. After the area was entirely rebuilt, a local television station interviewed a woman who had lost her home and everything in it. She said that although it was nice to have a new home, the devastation left by the tornado would always be with her.
Today, after my daily radiation treatment, I went to Dillard’s Department Store. I had not been in Dillard’s since a week before my Breast Cancer diagnosis which was 9 months ago. Just walking around the store, I felt a deep sense of sadness. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then on the drive home, I returned the call of my oldest friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. She inquired how radiation was going. In relaying part of what I was experiencing, she stopped me and said, “Well, it is better than the alternative.” Immediately this wave of emotion hit me. I began to tell her that her comment made me feel upset and angry, and I knew she could take my telling her so. She didn’t mean to upset me. But I really didn’t know why I was feeling that way.
Although the major part of all of my active treatments – Mastectomy, Chemotherapy and Radiation – are now coming to a close, I am left with many challenges. The loss of a breast and the looming thought of reconstructive surgery is always on your mind. Lymphedema is in my left arm which needs daily attention with limited physical activities with that arm unless you wrap it with uncomfortable wrappings and tape or a compression sleeve. I have heart damage and subsequent medication due to Chemotherapy and Herceptin, and lung problems with a chronic cough. Then there are the food allergies to wheat, dairy, and soy which I am reminded of at every meal and the comlexities it involves, thank you Chemo. Now there is the permanent damage done to my skin because of Radiation which I will have to be constantly vigilant the rest of my life. The bone and joint pain that plagues me now is also a leftover from Chemo. There is the wondering if I will ever be able to take my miracle drug Herceptin again, and praying my heart heals so I can. And the biggest deal is the daily concern about recurrence and metastases of Breast Cancer. That is never far from your thoughts. Ask any Breast Cancer survivor. And these are just the physical issues. And thank you cancer, there are changed relationships, relationships that are over, and new relationships that need fostering. And there is the financial loss of Breast Cancer – loss of income, increased insurance premiums, and the payment of back deductibles.
Now I understand why I felt so upset walking through the department store. The last time I was there, I had none of these issues to deal with and my soul remembers feeling free from these concerns. And I also get why I felt so angry at my friend when she said it was better than the alternative. On your weakest emotional days, which are few, you are not quite sure to be brutally honest. On most days you are thrilled to be alive no matter what you have to manage.
After reflecting upon the comments of the woman from the tornado, I certainly understand just a little more what she was feeling. Although I will always be grateful to make it through Breast Cancer treatment alive, the devastation will always be with me.