A lumpectomy is considered ambulatory surgery these days, so I came home around 6:30 PM on the day I had surgery. I was put into an “oh-so-sexy” floral surgical bra/tube top after surgery and had to keep it on with the bandages for three days before I could take the bandages off and shower. After that, I would have to wear that tube top 24/7 for a few weeks, until I had a cotton, no-wire bra approved by the surgeon (TMI for some of you, but this was a HUGE deal for me because I like the girls held high in an underwire bra!).
So, the third day after surgery came along, and I went into the bathroom to take a shower. I was at the sink washing my face when it happened: I started crying. Sobbing. Uncontrollably. I just couldn’t stop crying- so I opened the door and called for my husband. He came in and I said, “ I can’t stop crying. I don’t know why.” He just held me and comforted me until I could go on washing my face. Then, it was time to take the tube top and bandages off. My mother came in for that, because, well- we all need our mommies at times like this! I sat on the toilet and before we could undo the Velcro…I started sobbing uncontrollably again. My whole self was releasing all of the fear and anxiety that I had been holding in. I was surrendering to my feelings, and in that moment- I was opening myself to profound healing- mentally, emotionally, as well as physically.
As I found out more information from the surgeon in the next few weeks, I was filled with MORE fear, happiness, etc.- but I was always, and still am- filled with gratitude. Opening myself to healing let me see things in a new light. Sure, I would get pissed off, sad, scared or angry, but I was now able to let these feelings go and look at my situation as a rare opportunity for healing that others aren’t lucky enough to have. My cancer was caught before it spread to any lymph nodes. My surgeon was able to get clear surgical margins and I was alive with a great prognosis. Of course, at this point, I still didn’t know if I was going straight to radiation treatments or having chemotherapy first…
About three weeks after surgery (and after my mother & I visited with a genetic counselor to be tested for an entire panel of things, including the brca 1 and brca 2 genes, which I tested negative for all) I got an unexpected phone call. It was the Radiation Oncologist, who I had met about a week earlier. There was no real reason for her to call because I was still healing from surgery, but it turns out that any doctor from your “treatment team” can call to deliver results. The results were from the Oncotype Dx test- the genetic testing that gets done on the tumor to assess recurrence risk. This test lets the doctors know IF chemotherapy would be beneficial to the patient or not. This test is scored from 0 to a potential 100 and basically, a score above an 18 depending on the nature of the tumor, can indicate that the benefits of chemotherapy outweigh the risks. My score: 45. Shit.
I’m not sure if I slept that night. I had it all figured out in my mind that I would have surgery, heal, have radiation- and be done. Chemotherapy was my biggest fear. It meant that there was NO hiding the fact that I was a cancer patient- not to my friends, not to anyone- not to MYSELF. I didn’t want to look sick. I didn’t want to lose my hair. I didn’t want to lose my identity. A week after this phone call I met with the oncologist, to go over treatment options for chemo, and everything involved with beginning chemo and getting through the treatments. Sigh, there’s A LOT involved! After showing me all of the potential chemo options, we chose what would be the best choice for me. Age, current health, pathology of the tumor, risk of recurrence- all factors in choosing the right treatment protocol. Instead of having to choose the features of a car- you know- cloth or leather seats, alloy or standard wheels, keyless entry, length of the lease, etc. – I was choosing Adriamycin, Cytoxin, and Taxol, or Cyclophosphamide, Methotrexate and Fluorouracil. I went with the black cloth seats- I mean- the Adriamycin, Cytoxin and Taxol. For my circumstances, it was the best choice of treatment. In the few weeks I had to come to terms with all of this, and to prepare, I talked. I told people that I had to start chemo. I said that I would lose my hair. For me, putting it out there made it easier for me to handle. Friends who had been through it sent me photos of their bald heads while they were going through chemo, and a good friend took me to get a pre-chemo haircut. It was a good way to lose a little hair right off the bat without feeling bad, and also when the time came for my hair to come out, I already had a head start- and it was done on my terms. I also had a port inserted under the skin on my chest, so that I could get chemo treatments without killing my veins. I was going to get through this!
When I was first diagnosed a lot of people, as well as advice on the breast cancer websites, said that it’s okay to be angry, scared, to cry, etc. They were right- it IS okay because no one should deny or minimalize their feelings to make it seem like they are “strong” or “brave” for the sake of others. Strong and Brave are popular words to describe cancer patients- and in a lot of instances, they are good words. Going through treatment is tough- and to get through it, you have to be strong and brave- but you also need to be REAL, and by that I mean that you need to fully acknowledge EVERY emotion you feel, allow yourself to feel it, and then know when it’s time to let it go, and move forward for your greatest good. And that’s what I mean when I titled this blog post in order to heal you must surrender. You must surrender yourself to the feelings, and let yourself truly live in them, and then surrender them to the universe, knowing that you are meant to use those feelings as a vehicle for moving forward in your healing process.
Whether you’re a cancer patient or not, a great book to look into is:
Cancer Vixen: A True Story- by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
It’s a great look into someone’s real life, and how she decided to fight back against breast cancer.