Breast Cancer Patient Lisa's Story

Breast cancer. Two scary words. Particularly when they are told by your Doctor in a sentence that begins with "You Have". I literally fell to my knees. It is the most agonizing, painful, soul-crushing experience to be told that, basically, you might die. You Might Die. There really are no words that can fully describe it. None. What I did not know at that time, was that in so many ways, both big and small, that this diagnosis would bring more to my life than it took away. It would give me the chance to live. Not die. But to live. Really Live. To mend old wounds. To bring the family together in ways I previously thought unimaginable, to strengthen the bonds of friendships, both old and new, and to see beauty where there was once ugliness, in everything and everyone.

Of course this sounds insane, particularly when you are freshly diagnosed. It sounds freaking nuts. It does. I know it does, but it is so true. Trust me. When I was diagnosed I felt very much alone. I couldn't relate to anyone. Everyone was healthy and I was this sick, diseased person. I had so many loving, caring, wonderful people around me, yet I still felt alone and so scared. Alone and going into a battle with an unknown enemy that has invaded my body, and I have no idea how much it took of me, how much of me it killed already. It is ugly, this disease. This is the part you don't see when you look at the little pink ribbon. That is until you take a peek underneath. And then the truth is revealed. It takes courage to look at it. It does, because it can happen to any one of us. Who's next? Who's next?

Well, I was next apparently. And it sucked. I was thrown into cancer land, and all this cancer terminology is thrown was thrown at me overnight. I'm supposed to become an expert on lumpectomies, clean margins, Stage I, II and III, necrosis. What the hell is necrosis? What does clean margins mean? What the hell is sentinel-node dissection? And do I really want to know? This sucks. Breast Cancer sucks. I didn't want to know what all this stuff meant. I just wanted to live my life. To go on as usual. But, no, not me, I couldn't. I was Cancer Queen now, and I wanted to run away, I didn't want to face the searing truth of what had happened to me. I knew nothing about my enemy, this invading monster-disease that snuck up on me, so quietly, undetected. So I did research. A lot of research. I still didn't know the damage it had done, how much of me it had destroyed. Because they couldn't get clean margins (clean-cancer-free tissue around the tumor) and there was necrosis (dead tissue) during the lumpectomy. I was filled with fear, but I used this as my fuel. This fuel allowed me to become an expert on all of it. I couldn't get away from the net. I was completely obsessed with gathering as much information as I possibly could. My fingers couldn't type fast enough, the pages took too long to download. Hurry! Hurry! Why is this page taking so long? The more information I received, I thought, the more armed I'd be, and thus, my chances would increase of beating this evil disease. If I knew my enemy well enough, I reasoned, I could beat the hell out of it and win. I was so desperate and so scared. But that was my fuel. I'd never been so vulnerable in my entire life.

Once I got through the gut wrenching agony of being diagnosed (and miracle of miracles, I amazingly did), past the tears that felt like they would never stop (they did, they only come back when I feel an ache or pain, and then I go into ohmygod-it's-cancer-mode. What's this bump? Is it a pimple? Or is it….? Ohmygod! But that's another book), and past the information-control-freak-phase, I went into army-sergeant mode. I threw on those fatigues and I was ready for battle, girl! Trust me when I tell you, that when faced with an enemy whose soul purpose is to kill you, you will do whatever it takes to live. Your innate survival instinct gets activated. And it is strong! Who knew? I surely didn't. But you do what it takes. It's black and white. Your mission becomes very clear. You map out your plan of defense, and you ready yourself for the ultimate battle. Even if you feel like you can't. Even if you feel like you just don't have the strength, you do. We all do. We are a lot stronger that we think we are. This is true. We just don't know it until we are tested. I know this because I was this soft little easy-going cream-puff before this happened. Not anymore, sister.

Part of the plan was to have my breast removed. Taken off. Severed. I never thought in a million trillion years that I would be saying those words, typing them, being in this situation. But here I was. Now what? What would become? A disfigured monster? Would I still be a woman or just half now? Would my husband still want to look at me or would he now turn away in disgust? Should I keep my breast and do holistic treatments and pray for the best? Should I just sip some exotic tea and eat broccoli and blueberries and make it go away with sheer will and positive affirmations? I don't know about you, but this just sounded a lot better to me than hacking my boob off and being bald. The unfortunate part of that plan was that it doesn't work. I'd done enough research to know my survival rate wouldn't be very high with that option. I knew it. And as much as they drive me nuts, I did want to see my kids grow up. I also knew (thanks to my info-freak-phase) that my chances of survival would increase greatly if they took my breast. I knew the chemo would give me even more insurance that I would live through this.

So I made the decision. I did it. It was done. There was no going back. My life would be forever altered. My body forever changed. We scheduled the surgery. There's no going back now. I was able to do this, because I found strength in me that I never would have known existed had I not been diagnosed. I was strong and armed and full of anger-driven fuel. It kept me going, even in my weakest days, it kept me going.

The actual process of having the mastectomy was painful, both physically and psychologically. But I survived it. I have to say it was pretty freaky to look at myself in the mirror without a breast. There were draining tubes and bandages, and I had a great sense of loss, but I also had a strong sense that I could survive, that I had won a small victory in some way. More importantly, it showed me what I was made of. It showed me that I was strong. That I was a fighter. That I had courage. And I never really knew that before.

I went into chemo shortly after my surgery. It felt surreal. I was having chemotherapy. I was scared. They took me into this room, where there are a bunch of lay-z-boy chairs with little TV's hooked to them and IV paraphernalia and tubes all over the place. Could I just turn around and leave now? Happy, chipper little nurses who don't have cancer and are sickeningly healthy are chatting away with fellow co-workers as they prep my arm for the I.V., prepping and chatting like it's no big deal that they are administering poison in me, through my veins, killing a part of me while saving me at the same time. It was insane. I envied these nurses, I wanted to be free like they were, I wanted to be healthy like them. I wanted to laugh with them. I wondered whether I ever would again. I wanted to so bad. I went through three and a half months of chemo, week after week. I endured the pain of the needles, the anti-nausea medicine that made you feel like a zombie, the wacko-freak nurse who would get a pissed off when you asked for a new nurse because she blew out all your good veins for the last time, the nausea, the bone aches, the hell that had engulfed my existence. And the hair. The hair. It started to fall out, so I had my husband shave my head slick-bald. I was a cone-head. I got painfully thin. It wasn't pretty. But I didn't let it get me down. Just because I was in a war didn't mean I couldn't look good! So I wore funky scarves and big earrings and long, billowy skirts. These things helped me remind myself that, though I had lost my breast and hair, I was still a girl. I was still feminine. Who needs a boob anyway when you have a cool hand-made scarf on your head made from vintage fabric?! But what kept me going, what kept me walking through those hospital doors week after week for treatments was that I knew there was hope at the end of this hellacious tunnel. I knew it and I kept going. And towards the end of those three and half months, as my hair started to grow back, I started to feel good again. I started to feel alive again. It was as though each little hair was a symbol. A symbol of life. I was alive! I didn't die! I was alive and I was coming back, one tiny hair at a time.

So I beat that ugly enemy down with happy thoughts and happy scarves and I was ready to have reconstruction. I get to have new perky boobs now! Yay for me! Happy days are here again! The first of my surgeries began with the placement of a tissue expander (it's basically an implant that gets filled over time with saline fluid via a needle injected in your chest) As barbaric as it sounds, I found the process to be very encouraging. I was coming back to life. I felt my femininity slowly being restored.

After my final surgery, after the final implants were in, I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, yes, I may have a few tiny battle wounds, but they are gradually going away. They are leaving me now, just as this nightmare is leaving me, so that I can make room for the new person that has emerged. The stronger person. One that maybe one day can help others along their journey. The coolest part of all? I can now smile and laugh and chat away just like those chirper little nurses in the chemo room that I envied not so long ago!