Today was a reality check. A brutal, devastating, unwanted reality check.
In the eight days since learning I have cancer, not once did I seriously entertain the idea that I might lose my breast. I’ve heard of mastectomies, of course. My grandmother had one. I’ve been added to a couple of Facebook groups and they’re discussed frequently, along with things like drainage and exhaustion and other unpleasantness.
Today I had my surgical consultation and realized that a mastectomy is a very real possibility.
The good news, and there is always good news, is that my particular cancer is one of the better ones. (It’s a sliding scale, obviously.) It’s estrogen and progesterone positive, which means those two hormones feed it, but it’s also HER-2 negative. That means it’s slower growing and there’s less chance of recurrence. That info came from the University of Google, as Dr. B. called it, but he confirmed what I’d learned is accurate.
I could get a lumpectomy, but that comes with radiation. No ifs, ands, or buts. There will be radiation if they take the mass out. That’s to make sure any remaining tiny little beasts are gone. Blasted right out of my body.
With a mastectomy, there is no radiation. There might be chemo. There might not. Either way, there can be no breast cancer if there’s no breast. Could there be other cancers, though?
I never considered, really considered, I might actually lose a part of my body.
The cancer seems real now. The threat seems real. Eight days ago it was a diagnosis. Today it’s a reality.
Eight days. A lifetime.
I told Dr. B. we’d changed our diet, brought my blood pressure down, lost ten pounds. We’re taking turmeric and drinking green tea. I asked him if there’s anything I can do – what can I do? He said keep doing what I’m doing, that (and I’m paraphrasing here) cancer feeds on fat. The less food I give it, the less it can grow. He also emphasized the mind-body connection, and that keeping a healthy and positive outlook is important. and I can’t tell you what a relief it was to hear him say that. I’m a do-er. I need to do something, even if that doing is simply telling myself over and over “I’m happy. I’m hopeful. I’m at peace.”
Tomorrow I meet with my oncologist for the first time and we’ll discuss these treatments, and hopefully others. This thing in my body will become even more real as we figure out how to get rid of it. I plan on being around for a very, very, very long time, so whatever treatment we choose needs to protect future me.
I’m almost afraid to share all of this because I’m not ready for unsolicited advice. I know it comes from a good place, but I am overwhelmed simply with the idea of cancer, with what is now the reality of cancer. I am hopeful. Oh yes, I am hopeful. I know there are several alternative treatment options. I know people who have used them to beat this beast. But, right now, the emotions I’m processing and the willpower to generate a holistic and hopeful mindset are taking a whole hell of a lot of my energy. I’m still learning what this is. And even though it is real – I do have cancer – I could lose my breast – my life will never be the same – it’s also unreal simply because I feel great. I feel strong. I feel better than I’ve ever felt. How in the world could there be something inside me that could kill me? The disconnect is too great, so I’m struggling with being gracious in the face of well-meaning “you shoulds”. Right now, I’m struggling with being.
But I will make dinner tonight (heavy on the garlic, because c hates garlic), and I will wake up tomorrow happy, like I almost always do. We will go for a walk through a tunnel of trees and nod “Good morning” to cyclists and runners and walkers. We’ll eat our oatmeal with Kefir and bananas and blueberries, and then I will go to the doctor and I will learn what I can do.