There are a few things I want to get off my chest. Oh fuck, that’s hilarious. I really really didn’t mean that. But you have to admit its apt. Its this October pink thing. The breast cancer awareness thing. I have supported it resolutely every October and every year get involved. And this year I will too. Not by buying completely inappropriate products with a pink ribbon on them and most definitley not purely for the fund raising, well that that even gets where it is intended, but more for the solidarity. I see hope and comradeship and comfort for those who need the support a group brings. I see the opportunity for some to share their love and admiration for those they know who are doing it tough. I see how those who feel hopeless in the face of it, feel they are doing something. I see its beauty in the huge strength it gives those going through breast cancer knowing they’re not alone. And I know the money raised does so much good. So much of the pink effort is about awareness and early detection of breast cancer and I get that. There is hope. It becomes about saving your breast and not losing your life. And that we can face. Save the tatas. Most of the money raised is allocated to research into early breast cancer. And by that I mean anything other than metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer that has spread to other organs in the body. Everyone who dies from breast cancer dies from metastatic breast cancer. It is stage 4. There is no stage 5. When I was first diagnosed I was non invasive stage 0, but with a high grade tumour. Then following my recurrences ended up invasive stage 3. An aggressive little bugger. The cancer had broken out of my breast and was on the move but hopefully we got it all before it settled anywhere. Before it metastisized. We live in hope. The reality is that 30%, yup I’m using stats, of early stage cancers will become stage 4. Will metastisize. And all breast cancer deaths occur becasue of metastasis. In fact most with stage 4 die within 24 months of diagnosis..
‘Despite these stark realities, the popular breast cancer fundraising movements give on average only 2% of their research funds to researching metastasis. Instead, their primary focus is on prevention, which does nothing to help those already diagnosed, and early detection, which does not impact those facing the ultimate death sentence of stage 4 breast cancer. And while only 6% – 10% of initial breast cancer diagnoses are metastatic, 30% of patients diagnosed with earlier stage breast cancer will eventually develop stage 4 breast cancer and die.This does not need to happen. Many metastasis researchers believe that metastatic breast cancer could become a chronic, rather than terminal, disease, if only there were more money to do the research necessary to develop effective treatments’. These are the words of Metavivor. An organisation driving this worldwide.
So when you support any of the cancer fund raising initiatives, ask how much is being allocated to metastatic breast cancer. Or donate to Metavivor. I reckon by now we all know about breast cancer. To the point its almost become wallpaper. We are desensitised by its proliferation. I reckon most of us are over the pink. Or maybe thats just me. We all know about early detection being key. So don’t be a dick get tested. And insist on an ultrasound. But irrespective 30% will still die. And thats not pretty and that’s not pink. Discussions need to change. Things need to change. And selfishly I’m hoping it might happen in my lifetime.
I was googling, I mean researching, breast reconstruction options, pros and cons, longevity of autologous reconstructions sans implants etcetera etcetera as you do and did a double take at the word amputation. Holy shit. I just had my second breast amputated. Fuck, that sounds so much worse than removed. And no doubt I felt the same 13 years ago, but I forgot. I was liking the dealability of removed. Funny how we frame things to make them more palatable. More doable. And why not? Whatever it takes, just so long as you know you can only lie to yourself for so long. Anyway, my right breast has now been removed. I miss my nipple more than I miss my breast. Weird feeling nothing. But at least now I won’t have a single nipple stand anymore. But the complete lack of feeling is a tad disconcerting. I thought I would like the symmetry of nothingness. No doubt I will get used to it. Its been two weeks since my amputation, couldn’t resist, and I am recovering well. I have been extremely well behaved and not done too much at all. I also haven’t looked too closely at myself because it looks like shit. Sorry to my stylish Canadian plastic surgeon, and he is, but it does. I know its only phase 1, but whats with this wad of tissue sitting under my armpit? And that ain’t vanity, because I do know how much worse it all could be, so I am so very grateful to be at this stage in this phase of my cancer story, its just fucking uncomfortable. What is this though? If not vanity. A need to fit in? To feel whole? Why am I reconstructing my breasts. Why do I feel I need these false mounds on my chest to feel normal. They’re not normal. They’re also not me. Actually they are if we whip out and don’t add any implants, they’re just my back on my front. Which is all kinds of fucked up that I love it. Nothing is ever as it seems. And you all know I’ve always wanted to be flat chested, so why not now? Why am I putting myself through this hell again, being butchered again, so I can feel like a woman? I don’t need false breasts to feel like a woman. What even is a woman? Did I just say that? Get a grip Cawood. Anyhoo. My breasts don’t make me, no more than my hair made me. And I need them less than I did, to feel like me. Its called growing up I think. Fuck, Lianne couldn’t you have had this epiphany two weeks ago, before they slashed into your lat muscle to recreate part of a breast? So I’m sitting here with what they call a “shark bite” cut, evidence of where part of my right lat muscle was cut and flipped under my arm to form a breast mound, with back skin filling the hole where my nipple and areola were. They also inserted a tissue expander as I’ll need an implant too as phase 2. So next step is to remove the tissue expander and insert an implant, and then recreate a nipple. Phase 3. I remembered I had forgotten to ask my stylish Canadian plastic surgeon how. In keeping with my going with the flow stance. Me very consciously walking my talk. My control really hasn’t altered any outcome thus far, soooo. Anyhow, apparently he manipulates the back skin, that I currently have on this weird swollen breast like mound into a nipple like shape, so no more harvesting of tissue from elsewhere. Unlike last time. How lucky am I. Seriously despite my tone I am. I really am and if nothing else I’m going for some semblance of symmetry here and i love symmetry. The doc is happy with me post surgery, was a bit of fluid build up, the scar is puckered, i am fucking swollen, but hey you’re doing so well, he said. And I am. Did I also mention pathology was all clear.
Don’t you hate how when you reach a place, a decision, mindfully and finally peacefully, it suddenly gains its own momentum? Mocks you for ever thinking it was on your terms. To back up a bit I last shared 4 months or so ago after a previous hiatus and promised I hadn’t been hiding. And I hadn’t. Really. I’d just gone in. But these last 4 months I’ve been consciously out, busy filling my life with normality. I realise now I’ve also been waiting. But less consciously. Waiting to feel strong enough to give my kind cancer surgeon the nod to cut away my remaining breast. And an equally kind plastic surgeon the nod to try his best to recreate some semblance of feminine normality from nothing. Nothing. Everything has to go. Breast tissue, skin, nipple. Everything. I’ve been waiting to feel peaceful about deciding to deal with the what ifs rather than the what is for the first time in this fucked up recurring reality. And I’ve been waiting to feel peaceful about doing what I know I must. The irony is not lost on me that my first cancer surgeon 13 years ago advised me if she were me she would have removed everything. To not live in fear of recurrence. Although she admitted she’d never been faced with that decision. You never know how you’ll be until its you. And I hope it never is. So I chose to deal with what was. What is. And have continued to. And I have no regret. I refuse to be led by fear. To live in fear. Who knows how different I would have been had I done something I was not ready to do. Or felt was not necessary to do. I have never been overtreated. We’ve just done what is reasonable based on what we were presented with. The fact that my cancer isn’t reasonable and that I insist on being a one percenter, noone could have predicted. It could have been different. It also could have been worse. So now my waiting is over. I have peacefully come to the place of readiness both physically after the toll of last year and mentally, to move forward. To do what is reasonable. And now necessary. So I went to see the plastic surgeon my kind and committed cancer surgeon recommended, and he was lovely. On the same day I had a bone scan. An ongoing follow up to see if there is any metastases in my bones. You really don’t want that. And thank fuck there isnt any. It seems that aborted chemo did its bit. I also had another CT scan and damn if those pesky lymph nodes in my right breast that bothered the radiologists last time, are still bothering them. Not my reasonable doctors so much. So nor me. But. Once we open you up to remove your breast, we can check them out with pathology and do what is necessary says my reasonable doctor. So the momentum has started gathering. Its becoming a little more urgent. And it seems the plastic surgeon is in huge demand, which I suppose is a good thing (therein lies another conversation altogether). It seems my surgery is somewhat complex, go figure, due to previous treatment and surgeries, so my cancer surgeon wants to work with someone well versed in autologous reconstructions. The only time my cancer surgeon, my plastic surgeon (don’t you love the ownership) and the anaethetist they like to work with are available together in the forseeable not too distant future is the 5 September. Not distant enough. Much sooner than I had planned. I’ve got stuff on. Fuck. So much for mindfully and peacefully. Shit now needs to get done.
Anyhoo. I thought I might share this next phase too. Not just because it helps me, but it seems there are those who think a mastectomy is a boob job. Best I tell them otherwise.
I think I’ve been hiding. Well not really hiding but maybe licking my wounds so to speak. Reflecting. And not aloud. Trying to get my head around last year. As in, what the fuck was that? Building strength and in particular replenishing those inner reserves so I can keep on keeping on. I realised in January there were just none left. In fact I never even realised it. B did. And my friends. Who wanted to know where I had gone. And not only physically. But my presence had gone quiet. And they were worried about me. Its well documented how consciously fighting, dealing with your reality, treating it, makes you feel like you are doing something positive. Something conscious. Something noble to help yourself heal. And unconscious too, by being present in the everyday and just willing your best self to show up at each and every shitty little moment. And sharing with you all, made sure the best person was there, with the presence of you. Truth be told, I wasn’t worried about me, in fact I was that caught up in my inner being, I never even realised how far in I had gone. I think its called regrouping. So, its been a year and a month since my life as I knew it turned out to be a big fat lie. Well part of it. And I hate lies. Despite my thinking otherwise I’m only now truly accepting of it all. Not of the lie, but of the big beautiful truth. The truth of how blessed we all are. How blessed I am. How life is about suffering and illness and beauty and ugliness and lies and truth and fucked up ness and exquisiteness and what makes us unique is not how fabulous our lives are but how we don’t let the fabulousness or lack thereof define us but rather teach us, and help us find a new way of being. That isn’t rooted in ignorance, because as much as we think it is, ignorance ain’t bliss. We are all scared to know because then we can’t hide. I knew I couldn’t be guaranteed of being cancer free, but I chose to believe I was, to hold onto the words I wanted to hold onto, whilst deep down I knew this would always be my story. And whilst I said it, I never accepted it. So, now I really do know, and I’m living my life knowingly. Accepting that life and it’s difficulties are not battles to be won or lost because how then do we excuse ourselves if we lose no matter how hard we fought? Did we not fight hard enough? Were we not worthy of surviving? Bull crap. We are all worthy, we all just have a different story. And mine is no worse or better than yours, its just mine. And I’m going to live it the best way I can, because only I can. Fuck cancer, fuck everything that is shit in the world, and the best way to do it is to reframe it into our own unique stories that make us grow up and be grateful for every little moment. I hate the always positive shite as you know, I think I’m too much of a realist, although sometimes I don’t want to hear sad stories, because it breaks me inside a little more each time. And no, its not called denial its called acceptance. Stuff exists I can’t fix. Stuff exists I abhor. Platitudes piss me off. But truth and love and being present. Being honest. Being there. Just showing up and sharing the suckiness that life is sometimes, is what matters. It really just is what it is.
So, what is my current reality? I remain NED. I see my oncologist and my cancer surgeon every three months interchangeably. I’m still not mad about her but hey she’s good. I continue on my meds for the foreseeable future. I have surgery ahead of me to remove my right breast in totality. I need to schedule that because as with anything we are the ones who decide. No one else. And I will do it. I’m just liking being me for a bit. Stuff will be dealt with. And that’s so not hiding.
So I went and saw my oncologist last week for another lets see how things are going visit. I’m liking her a tad less every visit. It’s that emotionally unavailable bit. And I get it. But I just need her to see me. Me. Not a cancer patient. Anyhooo I am trundling along, my bloodwork was good, my fatigue is lessening, I’m starting to make peace with and accept the side effects of the Aromasin. It just becomes your new normal. I have changed my mood stabilising meds, see what I did there, and psychobitch seems to be making fewer appearances, although my family might disagree. I am delaying decisions re future treatment until next year. 2016 has done enough. I am finally getting at fifty that life is a series of commas. There are no full stops. And especially with cancer. It is not over. It never was over. I will never be able to say with certainty I am cancer free. So what am I you ask? I am officially in remission, which is defined as ‘a temporary diminution of the severity of disease or pain’. Yay me. No seriously. It’s as good as it gets. There is no evidence of disease. For now. I am feeling more like me than I have in a very long time, psychobitch and my inabilty to remember anything vaguely important aside. But there is the reality of the ‘for now’. And all that does is remind me, and you I fucking hope, that it is all bloody temporary, the good and the bad. It will all pass. So celebrate every little good and seek it out, see it, and deal with the bad with as much grace and dignity as you can muster, because it is just a comma. Not a period. Period.
That’s what Kate said I was yesterday. And the funny or not so funny thing is, I was. And I am. In fact I am completely unplayable. I also always have been. A bit. It’s what makes you love or hate me. I have always ignited quickly. And often irrationally. And I can be a real bitch. But I had learnt to breathe a bit. But all this fucking around with my hormones has just sent me off the charts. It was already happening before this last recurrence due to Femara, my previous aromatase inhibitor, and my ‘mood stabilising’ meds no longer being effective. But now with all the new crap we have serious lift off. I react to everything with absolute venom and anger. There is no momentary recognition, ok this is annoying but really nothing to react to, there is just simply ape shit fucking hell hath no fury like a woman on Aromasin angry. The thing that really pisses me off though is not that I’m not given some slack for not being me. Or for being the worst version of me. Nor even that I have to humiliate myself by constantly saying, seriously guys cut me some slack here, I mean cancer. Even I’m bored by that. And the eye rolls indicate so are they. As we all are. The thing that actually pisses me off is that we are even having to be in this space. I have to be on this medication. It makes me impossible. Okay, more impossible. And I know I’m being impossible. But knowing doesn’t change a damn thing, psychobitch cares less. Then I think maybe you can stop doing what you’re doing that makes me become psychobitch even if it doesn’t seem fair. Because fuck it, none of this seems fair. But why should you. And who knows whats going to set me off. So I feel squarely fucked. I have to be on these meds. I knew the side effects were going to be beyond challenging. I never really thought they would create a chasm between me and those nearest to me. They are prescribed to give me more time before the next recurrrence and to reduce the risk of new cancer. And I like time. But if we all end up hating each other, is the time worth it. And then there’s all the other shit rattling around in my brain. Psychobitch feeds off that shit. Anyhow before you all wonder if you need to call for help, I’ve recognised I need to. I need to dump all my anger, grief, disappointment, stress, insecurity, unworthiness, uncertainty on someone. Someone who doesn’t love me and really couldn’t give a fuck what I say or do or think or believe. It won’t help me not be psychobitch, I need more meds for that. But it might make her a tad more tolerable. In the meantime, you have been warned. Psychobitch coming through.
I witnessed an outpouring of emotion in B this week that reminded me how it is so not all about me. Before you comment I really do know it’s not. But we make it about ourselves to protect everyone. And ourselves. If I’m coping or seen to be coping then they can cope too. It never ever is only about us but the one thing I know for sure, cancer, facing one’s mortality head on again and again and again, is a truly lonely reality. One that can’t be shared in its entirety. Not even with those who love you. Sometimes especially not even with those who love you. Not even with those who’ve been there and are still here. Because it’s just so bloody unique. We are. The circumstances are. Your realities are. You are. There is noone, as much as they wish to be there, with you in your head. Which for me is where the battle is won and lost. Your acceptance and willingness and determination to do battle is alone. You dig deep alone. And you hold yourself together. Because you must. Because if you start to cry, you fear you will never stop. I did what I must and do what I have to to carry on. But the depth of despair in those who can’t show you how deeply it hurts and how damaged they are at having to witness you suffer is beyond comprehension. By you not showing your vulnerability because you just can’t, doesn’t allow them to show theirs, which is just immense. To hold someone up, while helping them hold themselves up, by not sharing their real fear, so you can’t share yours is all kinds of fucked up. But all kinds of necessary. For some. Certainly for me. But sometimes the brave face we wear and force on others is so very unfair because whilst it is about us and our survival, it is about so much more. And yet I do still believe, be there in whatever form your loved one needs and when the time is right, let your guard down and show them your truth. Acceptance is a battle well and truly fought alone but within the safety of your presence one gets there a little less scarred. Pun intended.