By Lora Harvey
As all the air left my lungs, time stood still on June 15, 2017. And I seemingly forgot how to breathe. Only when my respiratory system took over again did I inhale.In that split second, my life began dismantling. Microscopic cracks at first, but those compound and quickly become unnegotiable divides.
I was never the girl that was gonna get breast cancer. I was already diabetic; another ailment would be a cruel joke. But here I am.
According to some test taken at some point along the way, I had an 11% risk of developing breast cancer over the course of my lifetime. LIFETIME. Neither BRCA1 nor BRCA2 genes exist in my body. Cancer is such a fucking bastard.
My mind, unable to comprehend the new normal, laser-focused on one thing at a time:
Accept I was going to lose all my hair.
Break my own heart as I watch 10” at a time be cut off in rubber-banded chunks.
Get through this chemo treatment.
Take anti-nausea meds and get my ass to work.
Try to sympathize as my then-husband laments our newly non-existent sex life.
Try not to think about cancer.
Rinse and repeat.
This went on four excruciating months. Throw in a hospital stay for neutropenia. Sprinkle in some name-calling, slamming doors and silent treatments. Toss with yeast and bacterial infections. Then coat with intense loneliness.
Because there is loneliness in being strong. In not asking for help. In living with an understanding and supportive partner to the outside world, but selfish and derogatory behind closed doors.
Chemotherapy was soon coming to an end and it was time to visit surgeons. I wanted a double mastectomy. Every time I looked at my left breast I felt betrayed. How was I to know this wouldn’t happen again? How could I possibly overcome a second round? Would my resolve be as strong? Just take them both and be done with it.
But the existence of my breasts didn’t matter. The reoccurrence likelihood of my HER2+ cancer was the same in either scenario.
So I kept my breasts. And I wonder every day.
A single parent again, scarred and discolored skin from radiation, short and spiky hair from regrowth…..the woman in the mirror is not the woman from one year ago.
I compartmentalize my feelings and I know it comes with unhealthy ramifications. Sometimes my anger slithers out and bites the wrong person. Random songs on the radio cause a sharp pain in my chest and a catch in my throat. Immersing myself in work or a 30-minute sitcom with equal intensity so my mind doesn’t wander to the “what-if” and the “I wish”.
Cancer will not define me so compartmentalization suits my life. I am grateful there are treatments for my type of cancer. I hear and read of horrific stories and I am grateful for my own. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t trauma. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t heartache, rage, sorrow and resignation. That pink ribbon you see? Turn it over. That’s where you’ll find the ugly. The lurid. The ghastly and grotesque. There is no pretty breast cancer.
I am learning my power and my strength grows each day. When I am weak and tears well up, I know tomorrow presents a new opportunity to rise as the warrior I have become.
“I am not my body. And you, my dear friends, are not yours.” Janine Shepherd