So…….yeah. I have breast cancer. I’ve been putting off writing an actual blog post about it. Hi. My name is Kristina. I have breast cancer. It seems so awkward. Not as awkward as running into people you know who ask you “How’s life treating you?” Or talking to men who do everything they can possibly do to make sure you know that they are not looking at your rack while breast cancer talk is going on. But still awkward.
It’s also difficult to write about this because I am so numb. My wall of denial is built five cement blocks thick. I know that’s a good thing right now. My body is protecting me from being overwhelmed. But I’ve been numb since January. It’s not a fun place to exist.
I had my biopsy done two Thursdays ago. I’m not even going to tell you about the amount of medication it took to put me in a state where I wasn’t going to hyper-ventilate and pass out. My husband & Mom were amazed I was still coherent, but then again my husband goes into a semi-coma if he takes a Benedryl.
The nurse took more mammogram pictures. I think my boob has had more pictures taken of it than Paris Hilton’s commando crotch. Getting this biopsy done was very strange. It’s like a massage table except it’s a lot more uncomfortable, and your boobs go through the hole, and they clamp it down so it can’t move. I had asked earlier and gotten permission to listen to my ipod while this all went down. I hope it delights my friend, Genie, that I now have a biopsy mix. My husband thinks it all kinds of messed up that “Girlfriend in a Coma” by the Smiths is on there, but The Smiths always put me in a good mood.
The first needle hurt a little, but the rest didn’t. At one point I felt pain, so more local anesthetic was used. Thankfully, the horse tranquilizers I took kept my anxiety of having large needles rummaging around in my breast to a manageable level. I have two pretty sizable slits cut into my skin, so I’ve had to keep them well bandaged. For a while I had to make sure to go in for a left sided hug so as not to smash Colleen (this is my boob that has cancer. Deirdre is so far ok). My boob has finally healed to the point where it doesn’t look like a mentally addled vampire bit me. My husband says it now just looks like a kitten gnawed on me for a little bit.
I was told I’d get my results on Friday between 4-5pm. Marcus and I went over to my parents to wait for the news. At one point my mom insisted I take a Xanax. I’m not going to lie to you. In my heart, I already knew it was cancer. I think that after the year my husband and I have had that being all optimistic wasn’t very realistic. I got the call and heard the “Kristina, I’m really sorry to tell you this….” and looked over at Marcus and my Mom and mouthed “I have cancer”. Marcus cried. My mom cried. I was numb. I listened to the information and passed the phone over to my Mom. Then I went into the kitchen and poured myself some bourbon. I did not cry.
My dad had taken my little sister, Ally, out for a drive. Ally’s syndrome tends to make her ask a million questions when she’s anxious. Both my parents understood that I was not ready for a “Sissy – are you going to die?” barrage. My mom called my dad and his initial reply was “God damn it”. Then Ally started in on the questions with him, and he snapped at her because he was so upset and scared. He apologized to Ally and told her that he was just very worried about me. Ally’s reply? “Daddy – me too! I’m worried sick about Sissy”.
They came home. We all hugged. It felt surreal. 23 years ago, Ally was born prematurely and in fetal distress. She was in the neonatal intensive care unit and was very unresponsive. When our jackass of a priest wouldn’t come and baptize her, people from a local church reached out to us and came and prayed around her. I remember the moment like it’s a movie in my head. I was 16 and holding hands in prayer around my sister’s incubator unit. I remember saying in my head “God – you know what? I think you’re full of shit. I think you don’t exist and this is all bullshit. If you actually do, you better do something right the fuck now”. This going to sound so Pat Robertsonish (but without the blaming it on the gays part), but I felt a sense of peace. On Easter Sunday, my little sister stayed awake for two hours, got to put on an adorable dress and interacted with us. I still get tears when I think about it. It’s why I believe when I don’t want to. It’s why I’m willing to wrestle with my faith.
I think it’s pretty fucked up that 23 years later, I found out I had cancer on “Good” Friday.
I have two areas of cancer. One is an actual tumor that has grown outside the duct. It appears to be slow growing. The other area is a large area of precancerous cells that all need to be removed. There’s a lot more specific information that is a haze to me. I glanced through my pathology report, but luckily I have my mom (retired nurse who has had two episodes of breast cancer), Marcus and friends who can explain these things to me when I’m ready to face the facts. I should be in the TNCare state insurance system soon. I’m glad this is the one time that sexism works for me, but I’m furious that people with other kinds of cancer aren’t covered. I’ve got an appointment set up with a surgeon. I’ve got an MRI to schedule along with some other tests. I know what oncologist I’ll be going to.
I really want to cry about this – full-on, snotty ugly crying. I can’t. I can only get teary and choked up. This has only happened a few times. First when I realized that Mira, my comfort cat, wouldn’t be here to snuggle with me and help me through this. I cried again on April Fools Day because that was the day when Marcus and I were going to start trying to have a baby. This mammogram was supposed to be a check-mark on a checklist. I get a bit weepy in church. And I’m crying right now because I’m thinking about April.
I’m going to give you some tips about what not to do to someone who’s been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. A lot of these things can be examples of things not to say to people who have just lost a loved one.
Please don’t tell me I’m lucky because my cancer is in an early stage or because right now it’s not anticipated that I’ll have to go through chemotherapy. I do not feel blessed or grateful for that. I’m relieved, but there is never anything lucky about cancer scares or cancer.
Please don’t tell me how cancer is going to make me stronger, or make me learn so much about myself or will end up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I will stare at you, say “Bless your heart” and walk away. Other women who have had cancer will overhear you saying this and come up to me and say “Please just ignore that bullshit”. And if I’m feeling really bitchy, I might just throw out a “Cancer – it’s just the gift that keeps on giving”.
Please don’t assume that my cancerland experience or feelings about it are the same as yours. If you got through it with your faith never wavering, good for you. If you sustained yourself through the experience by imagining yourself as a cancer ass-kicking machine and that worked for you, I’m really glad it brought you comfort. If pink ribbons made you feel better, rock on. I want to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that how you got through it is what you needed to do, and I’m so glad it helped. It’s just probably not going to be my way I deal with it.
Here’s how I feel: right now, I’m not interested in being a warrior against cancer. I’m not interested in being inspirational with my positive attitude. I’m not interested in kicking cancer’s ass. I’m not interested in being a survivor or fighting my cancer. This bothers me because it implies that the people who didn’t make it didn’t fight hard enough. Our friend, April, fought it to the end. She was brave and courageous and fought it. She didn’t die because she didn’t fight hard enough. She died because cancer is a heartless, ruthless bastard.
Quote from a post I wrote about her:
In this country, we love our David and Goliath stories. We love to hear about people overcoming all odds, fighting through every obstacle in their path. But sometimes we need to be reminded that no matter how hard we try or how hard we fight, we can’t win. We don’t always get our fairy tale endings – no matter how much we want them. We want to hear the Chicken Soup for the Soul version of cancer, and we tend to forget that life is rarely that black or white. No one fought harder than April and her family, and no one deserved a happy ending more than them. This is a real story with an ending that no one wanted, but it’s the ending that we got.
Another tip, please don’t insinuate that I don’t know how to eat healthy or live a healthy life. I’ve been eating organic from our family garden since I was born. I belong to a CSA that is organic, and I bet I eat a shit ton more vegetables than you do. I do yoga on a regular basis. Up until recently, I’ve been what I call a cynical optimist. I will blow sunshine up your ass, but I’m completely willing to make fun of it while I’m in the process. I don’t think my diet, my amount of exercise, my lack of optimism caused my cancer. I want to make it clear that I realize that many of you who have said these things meant them with the best of intentions. Thank you for caring. I also understand that it makes you feel safer – that if you follow the rules, it won’t happen to you. But it’s not helpful to me. I found out from a friend about a man who runs and is a vegan. He’s suffering from stomach cancer. Granted – there are things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. But you know what? You still might get cancer. It’s an asshole.
I also am not interested in anecdotal stories about the way a friend of a friend was cured of cancer. I’m thrilled that your friend cured her cancer when she sacrificed a woodchuck under the solstice moon while burning sage and dancing naked around a drum circle. I’m glad your sister’s hairstylist’s niece cured her cancer because she went on a macrobiotic diet and took up sky-diving. I’m going to make my medical and scientific friends happy with this statement: Correlation is not causation. If something helped you, and you can tell me about it in a non-judgmental manner, let me know. But also know that I may not take your advice.
You know how I’m going to get through this? Here’s how: Long hugs from friends. My loved ones telling me they love me. Knowing that people of many different faiths and creeds are praying, sending me good juju or lighting candles for me. Thank you. Colleen says thank you too. I’m going to get through this by swallowing my pride and letting people help me. I’m really awful at this, but I’m going to really try hard to knock it off. I’m going to get through this because of the people who give me hugs and say things like “I am so sorry. This sucks”. I’m going to get through this because I have friends who are honest enough to tell me that they don’t know what to say. I’m going to get through this because my mom and dad love me so much that it makes me cry. I’m going to get through this because I’m married to a man who will do everything he can to help me and support me. I’m going to get through this with my cancer fighting manatee. Flowers from the best friends that a girl could ask for. I’m going to get through this because there are two options, I do or I don’t. I do.
To my credit, I do plan to bring a lot of offensive jokes to the table. I’m already telling Marcus I can’t do things around the house because I have cancer. I like to think that my tasteless jokes will be my contribution to fighting cancer. I want to make cancer feel very insecure and bullied. I want to hurt cancer’s feelings. Every time I say the word twatwaffle, I want cancer to feel like it can’t sit at the cool kid’s table.
And because I want to make sure to offend as many people as possible before I’m too depressed or exhausted to give it my all, here you go:
- I’m a hipster Komen loather. I loathed Komen before loathing Komen was cool.
- If I wear pink, it will only be fuschia & it has nothing to do with my boobs. I just look FABULOUS in that color.
- I want nothing to do with a save the Ta-Tas or Save the boobies campaign. I’m more of a save the whole woman, not just her tits kind of person.
Thank you all for the prayers, the love, the encouragement. It’s meant so much to me. You guys are an amazing blend of snark, compassion, and love. I couldn’t ask for better blog commenters.
Today, I got a card from a woman from the church we just joined. I love this church. As I read this card, I got weepy. Then, I got to the end. It said “Fight like a Girl”. You know what? I’m going to get through this. It will suck, but I’ll press on. And when times get tough? I’ll fight like a girl.
To end this post – I will say that I got a lump in my throat when I made ‘cancer’ a category on my blog. I want people to easily find these posts in the hope that whatever ramblings I’ve posted might help them or at least make them smile. But I hated adding it.