I have read the two most difficult days during Breast Cancer are the day of diagnosis and the day treatment ends. I’ve received many emails from women who have now completed Cancer Treatment, but they were not prepared for the myriad of emotions they are now experiencing. For some they are just finished with treatment, and others are as far as 5 years out. Several have asked me to write about it.
A post on a women’s breast cancer discussion website caught my eye this morning. It was for Stage III Breast Cancer patients and was entitled, “I Feel Like I am Living to Prepare to Die.” Immediately, many Breast Cancer Survivors chimed in saying they knew exactly what the poster meant and understood. The reason so many of us understand that statement is this:
When you are diagnosed with cancer that requires long-term treatment, it is like you go away to a desert island. Your medical team is there and some treasured family and friends who have chosen to be there with you. There are no palm trees or tropical drinks on this island. It is like no where you have ever been. Everything else ceases to be important, and your focus is on one thing which is GET RID OF ALL CANCER. This island becomes your home as terrifying and horrible as it is. It is a land of great suffering, emotional torment, as well as tremendous loneliness and isolation. But you are being healed as you go through the process, or so you hope.
One day a rescue boat arrives and the boat captain points your way and tells you it is time to leave this island. He delivers you back to where you came from, but you get there and everything is different. Your physical home looks the same, but everything surrounding it has changed. It now feels alien to you.
In a flash, you remember those Lifetime movies you watched and condemned where the Amnesia Person tried to put his life back together and the Kidnapping Victim felt a connection to her kidnappers. What you didn’t understand while you were watching those movies, suddenly makes more sense.
Many days you are euphoric that you have escaped the island and survived. You feel simultaneously chosen and sad because many do not make it off the island. The following day you feel subdued because nothing is the same as it was. It is difficult to find your way.
Then there is that pesky boat captain. He is always appearing telling you that it is time to go back for a visit to the island. Your emotions see saw because when you return to the island, the medical team is constantly looking for what they said has been removed from your body. They feel, examine, scan, tell you “let’s keep an eye on that one” and send you off the island for a few more weeks or months until the boat captain appears on the horizon once again.
You make every attempt to go back to the way life was, but that doesn’t seem to work any more. Social events now become unfamiliar as some people avoid you because of their uncomfortable feelings. The confidence you once had has waned as you deal with the reality of missing or replaced breasts, your hair and lack thereof, and the lingering side effects from life on the island. Sometimes you feel like a stranger living in your changed body.
But the good news is, you start to find a new way. You wake up and thank God for another day of life which you took for granted before the Big C. You have these rebirth moments when you remember the best parts of your old life as you ponder the dreams of your new life. And you try to merge those thoughts together. It feels like you are standing on a bridge looking back at the old while looking ahead pondering the possibilities of the new.
And from a practical standpoint, I do try to keep my closets cleaner, just in case! I don’t procrastinate on doing things like I used to, and instinctively, I know what is important and what isn’t. Those are great gifts! I will let you know more about what I learn as time goes by!