Christine Brown: Never Prepared
Before I share my story, I want to share this post that I found incredibly moving. I’ll refer to it later: https://herecomesthesun927.com/2016/11/14/dear-every-cancer-patient-i-ever-took-care-of-im-sorry-i-didnt-get-it/
My story may be a bit different than most – not that there is a “normal” cancer story. I was actually prepping for a preventative bilateral mastectomy (to prevent breast cancer for the nubes out there). I have spent a couple of years going through the genetic testing after I turned 40, primarily because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50 and then ovarian cancer when she was 55. She passed away at 58 – way too young – from ovarian cancer and I wanted to do my best to not follow in her path. I spent a lot of time, energy and money getting the more comprehensive genetic testing done and discovered I did indeed carry one of the genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Hard day, but alas! This was also good because I had caught it before it caught me … or so I thought. I immediately engaged in preparing for preventative surgery. I did all my research, booked all the appointments and was expecting to have it done in the fall of 2016, as per the schedule my general surgeon provided. My plastics doc (plastic surgery doctor) made me wait, and wait … wouldn’t book a consult with me. I was too low on the priority list because I wasn’t actually experiencing cancer. Yet.
So long story short, I finally got my consult with the plastics doc in early January of 2017, almost half a year after I was supposed to, and from there I was able to secure an appointment to undergo the surgery for March 3, 2017. I was nervous but also happy to be getting the process over with. Clearly you know where this story is going … I found a lump in my left breast myself a few weeks later. When I found it, I knew. It was a day I had kinda been expecting my entire adult life. It was scary and I can’t even begin to tell you how enraged I was that all my efforts to be proactive were going down the tube. This article hit the nail on the head with respect to hearing the news yourself. No one really understands what a kick in the gut that is unless you’ve experienced it directly. Even if you knew you were at risk. The actually shoe dropping is hard to describe but it is a full body, physical and emotional response.
Luckily, I guess, because I had done all the prep work, I already had a general surgeon and I was able to get the breast biopsied quickly. It was cancer – the aggressive kind. And the lumpectomy (which removes the lump but not the whole breast) didn’t actually get it all. It was bigger than they had initially thought. More aggressive than they thought it would be. I was angrier than I’ve ever been in my life. I have a daughter – she was only three at the time. I had just separated from my husband and he wasn’t the least bit compassionate or supportive. It was a hard time. I think only those who have had the experience can truly understand it. Which again is why the article hit me so hard.
All of what she describes, the scans, the treatment, the telling of people, resonates so strongly with me. I think my favourite part is her retelling of the response from people – the sad eyes and head tilt when you tell someone you have cancer (why do people tilt their heads? What is with that?) It’s like dropping a bomb on whatever other conversation you were having or hoping to have. Again, until you have experienced it you just don’t get it.
I think the only part missing for me, was that I had the additional hardship of single parenting a young child. All the kids books I special ordered to help open up the communication about breast cancer and treatment for my daughter described a family of four, two parents and a boy and girl, of course. When the mom underwent chemo, she got to rest in bed and for short periods while the kids played quietly and the dad did the heavy lifting around the house. Well – that was bullshit. I still took my daughter to her activities, though I had to bow out of participating like the other parents did during things like soccer and such. I went to school functions and did my best to make things “normal” for her. I even had to go to court, bald, sick, in the middle of chemo, because my ex (insert unmentionable words here) was battling over the financials in our divorce.
Luckily, I had so many amazing, wonderful, beautiful friends and family who supported me and took me to my appointments. They bought me groceries every week and cooked me food, so I could spend all my available energy parenting my daughter. They babysat when I was too sick and made her feel like things were going to be ok. They made me feel loved.
One of the things that made us both feel ok and cared for was Wellspring. I remember the first time I walked into Wellspring. It was after I had had my first chemo. I was already starting to lose my hair and I was feeling so vulnerable and fragile. I walked in and was welcomed so warmly as soon as I got there. I felt cradled and accepted. I cried for one of the first times. It became my sacred space. I knew I could go there and be accepted warmly when I was sick, bald, angry, sad or happy. I participating in many programs and I also participated in most of the family programs with my daughter. It normalized cancer for her to see others experiencing it and it removed a lot of fear. It was something we could share together in the journey. I am so glad to see how many more family programs are being offered.
I used to go to the women’s tea group at Wellspring. It was probably one of my best supports and I still miss it. It was a chance to share with others who are in it as well, to hear their stories and to be able to share the load together. I got a lot of anger off my chest, I swore a lot, and I felt loved and accepted, never judged. There are many many Wellspring programs that are near and dear to my heart. I meet many other “cancer friends” through these, many of whom I still keep in touch with.
I shared this article with many of them. Most told me it hit them hard too. Most cried when they read it. It validates us in a way we really haven’t been validated before.
I thank the nurse for sharing her experience, both before and after her own cancer experience. And I thank Wellspring and the people there for creating that beautiful sacred space for those of us who don’t have a lot of other joyous places to go.