No matter how many ways the cancer card is turned, regardless of how I look at its face, being dealt it at this stage in my life is a devastating reality.
I can eat my way back to strength, take salt baths, take light, regular exercise and rest a lot, which is essentially in the hope of assisting all the aggressive treatments of cancer. But it doesn’t change the reality of having had cancer, something which is inevitably leaving its stamp on my whole being.
The questions lingering on my mind are,
“What did I do wrong?”
“What if I had eaten more healthily?”
“What if I had breast-fed each child for longer?”
“What if I had chosen a less stressful life path (worked part-time instead of full-time or even continued on with my extended maternity leave)?”
“What if I had been more of a purist in terms of food (organic versus conventional agriculture), cosmetics (always reading the label to ensure they had zero parabens and whatever else is deemed harmful nowadays), packaging (the use of plastic versus paper)?”
Would I have avoided getting cancer?
There’s the genetic predisposition explanation, which remains unexplored for now but as that journey, separate in itself, unfolds, I intend to write about it in the future.
The feelings associated with having got cancer at my age are surprising me. There’s guilt precisely at not having opted for the purer route. There’s inferiority when looking at other women my age who haven’t been struck. “She won’t get breast cancer because she’s too health conscious or because she exercises so much.” And this brings a feeling of impurity. My body has become diseased, the exact reason for which I am unsure about, and there is a certain sense of failure, above all a bodily failure.
Doctor Arantxa Moreno, the first professional to consult me on breast cancer, said,
“Have confidence in your own body.”
Now I comprehend why she said that. Somehow I think she is aware of how sick people can lose spirit, lose hope, lose confidence and lose vitality, all the qualities absolutely necessary to invest in the long road to recovery from cancer.
Because always at the end of that route exists the possibilities of getting fully better, partially recovering but suffering debilitating consequences, experiencing reoccurrence or not recovering at all.
I am hopeful of a full recovery. I have confidence in my body as I feed it with fortifying foods and drinks everyday. I am gentle with it too, recognizing when I need to just sit or lie down and do nothing or have a long restful sleep. I also believe modern medicine is so advanced that breast cancer, when found early enough, as mine was, can be cured.
I am fortunate enough so far not to suffer any uncomfortable consequences of the mastectomy such as lymphedema in my arm or muscular imbalance in my neck and back often caused by a unilateral breast removal.
However there still remains a small chance that this breast cancer will come back, either in the same place, in the other breast or will metastasize to a distant location like the bones or the stomach or liver (most likely metastatic sites of breast cancer). If the doctor isn’t willing to give you a guesstimate of your cancer-free survival rate, there are an abundance of tools on the Internet (http://www.predict.nhs.uk/predict.html).
It sounds morbid but I’m definitely a person who likes to know the facts. That way I can confront the reality and deal with it in my own way.
But actually I don’t really need a life expectancy predictor from the Internet with its cold statistics. The harsh reality of cancer is revealed to me at every hospital visit. For the most part, there are relatively healthy people like me, I would say, arriving with their mothers or daughters, husbands or wives, doing what must be done to get on with life. Hopefully these represent the 70 to 90% of “cancer-free survivors” in the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.
It’s also impossible to avoid seeing the very sick people. The other 10% who possibly will not survive the disease. The emaciated woman, wheeled in regularly in a wheelchair by her elderly parents, who one day I was appalled to see being wheeled in by her husband with her four-year old son, perhaps, holding her hand. And the forty-four year old woman, who I met at the beginning of my journey, who has been battling breast cancer, since she got married, eleven years ago. Her prognosis then was good but it still came back after two years. She now has metastatic cancer in her bones and liver and her last hope is to take part in drug trials.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
So although I’ve not finished this journey to recovery, I’ve already got a glimpse at the possibility of cancer reoccurrence and where that can lead to. I believe there are therapies to help deal with the fear and anxiety caused by this possibility. I must admit, I was in a panic about it for quite a while.
But I’ve relaxed about it all, thankfully. I’ve had the opportunity to properly confront and contemplate my own mortality, which ironically has dissipated the fear associated with that. I now more fully comprehend and believe my life is in the hands of another entity, God, my Creator and
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
The mysteriousness of suffering on earth is beyond my comprehension but having faith in the path God has paved for me and accepting that cancer is a part of it has made me more aware of the simple joys of life. My quest now is to slow way down and learn to appreciate and enjoy them more, but not by my own force and energy as I have always endeavoured to do in the past. I am learning (and faltering at every post so far) to let my Creator flow through me and direct the show that is my life.
And perhaps, I ponder, that is just a small part of the plan.