Seven years ago my life changed. Seven. I don’t remember the exact date. Thankfully. I didn’t even realize that my seven year marker had arrived until I sat down to start writing this series. It makes the writing of this series even more significant to me. I don’t believe in coincidences. I find it meaningful and magical that I have decided to start this series now; seven years after the event that reshape my life occurred. Seven is a magical number, at least in my reality. It seems like the perfect time to start a series that tells you my story.
It’s hard trying to figure out where to begin the story. Cancer has been woven into the tapestry of my life. It wasn’t one singular thing that brought it into being, but a perfect storm of events. People like to pretend like we don’t know what causes cancer, but that isn’t true. We have a damn good idea; we just don’t want to admit it. We let corporations and media confuse us because we find this life to be better than any we’ve ever known before. If we admit the causes then our whole world has to change and people are afraid of what this change means. I get ahead of myself. Seven years ago I didn’t understand any of this. Seven years ago, I was stuck.
I wasn’t just stuck, I was depressed although I didn’t know this and wouldn’t understand it for years. I had finished my degree and had a decent job. I was married; I owned a home, two cars, and a dog. We were trying to get pregnant. We had just returned from our first official vacation, we called it our honeymoon since we hadn’t taken one when we had married six years earlier. It was during this vacation that it became very clear that I was ill. We’d spend our days travelling, hiking, adventuring and at night I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I’d fall asleep as soon as we had settled into our hotel room which would be around 7 or 8 o’clock.
I had a lump in my breast. It had been there for a couple of years. Eighteen months earlier I had visited a doctor to have it checked out. They had done an ultrasound and found nothing of concern. At that time the lump in my breast wasn’t always noticeable and I had pains which according to my doctors weren’t a symptom of breast cancer (this has proven false for me). These two things along with the ultrasound led doctors to believe the lump wasn’t cancerous. I had been holding fast to these words for months, but deep inside I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t like a normal illness, the main symptom was a feeling of unease, but vacation had shined a spotlight on my physical state. Something was wrong.
A month later, two months after my 30th birthday, I would have my answer. I was driving home from work one night in mid-November when my doctor called me. It is one of a handful of memorable moments from over a decade of driving the same daily commute to work. She would tell me that the biopsy had come back positive for breast cancer. At that moment many new pathways opened before me even though I didn’t see them. At that moment I couldn’t see anything. My whole world had gone dim. I don’t know how I made it home that night. I hung up the phone with the doctor and called my husband. Everything in our lives was about to change. This one event would create waves that would capsize my life, our life. I was sobbing as I told him. I didn’t know how this could happen. I wouldn’t understand for quite a while. The next two years of my life would be spent getting through the treatments the doctors recommended.
I became a statistic on that day. It wouldn’t take long for me to feel that way. While all my experiences were as pleasant as they could be, meaning all the doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrative staff were kind, it was all a part of the routine. They saw people like me every day. Well, maybe not quite like me. I was a bit novel due to my age. Even though more and more women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, it is still not considered common. Our future choices will determine whether cancer becomes rarer or if the rates of disease continue to grow.
Upon finding the cancer my doctors would instill such urgency in me. Within a couple of weeks I was staged and a plan of treatment was determined. The cancer was hormone receptor positive. I didn’t have the gene mutation. This was good news. My cancer should be very treatable. They would treat me aggressively because of my age. I would frequently hear how younger woman had more aggressive breast cancer, however if one would have stopped and considered my history it would be clear that I didn’t fit this statistic. My cancer, it had been with me for a number of years before the doctors found it. From the beginning my cancer has been…friendly… and that feeling or view of it likely played a part in the behavior of my cancer. While I have been very afraid of it, my cancer hasn’t really hurt me. The treatments they prescribed hurt me greatly. In the end I would need to heal not just the cancer, but the damage from the treatments I had allowed them to do on me.
The urgency they exuded would lead me down the rabbit hole. I didn’t go looking for other options. Not then. I didn’t have time. At least that was how I felt. I couldn’t really think. I was in shock. I was navigating as best as I could, but it was from a place of fear. Cancer – is a big scary word in our society. The C word requires that action be taken immediately. I put my faith in the system. That’s what they encourage. They do a good job of providing you with a list of answers to questions that you may or may not have thought of asking. This act helps lull you into believing that this is the answer, this is the only option, and helps instill a sense of caregiving and nurturing. In my case I was too busy getting different tests done, visiting doctors for results, visiting other doctors to find out options to save my ovaries all while still reeling from the “YOU HAVE CANCER” pronouncement. You are so busy rushing from one appointment to the next and starting treatment that you don’t have a chance to ask yourself; Is this what I really want? Is this the best solution for me? Are there other answers out there?
I start to question the process later as I was undergoing treatments, but when my first major decisions were being made the only information available to me was that found in my doctor’s office. They didn’t recommend that I take any time to consider my options. It was like I was being sold a car or some other product. Truth be told, I was. I was sold standard treatment and I would begin it four days before Christmas 2010.
That story is for the next installment.