Cancer moved in like an uninvited guest. She contaminated the space that gave nourishment and pleasure. She felt cozy enough to make herself at home and invade the pearl necklace of my lymph system. She's probably a raging bitch. But she was quiet in her assault. My body didn't alarm me of her presence. I felt her, I did. She knew she could trick me, and she did for a few months. She knew that I didn't know my breasts well enough to recognize her. Yet something wasn't right. She disguised herself as a clogged milk duct and that worked for a while. But someone greater and for me was at work. There was that nudging that something just wasn't right. And before she could do any more damage, we exposed her.
Part of me was shocked and part of me relieved. I don't like having cancer. It has catapulted me into a secret society of sorts. Nothing is quite the same. Life isn't normal. Whatever the hell that means anyway. When I see a sister in a scarf I wonder if she too has breast cancer, or maybe another kind. When I see a commercial about cancer, it dawns on me that "this is me." Seven months feels like a lifetime. I remember those days clearly but they also seem like a blur. We were instantly in survival mode. Thankfully the prognosis was clear: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. I would need all 3. I just figured everyone did. I learned a little more as the days and tests rolled on. She was of the aggressive type: triple negative. She had grown and was a big girl: 10-12 cm. And I was BRCA 2 positive. This means my chances for recurrence are much higher and I have increased chances of getting ovarian.
Everything snowballed. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe I thought it'd be simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple. In the beginning I didn't care about my breasts anymore. They were now my enemies. Which made me sad because I loved nursing my sweet Charis. That was taken from me. I was willing to say good-bye with no looking back. I had no idea how hard that would be. I didn't realize my fertility would be in question. Is is. I didn't think about my sexuality being an innocent bystander. It is. I didn't know my body image could get worse. It has.
There is deep sorrow and equally deep joys. She has not robbed me of my life. She cannot take away the delight that I get in being a mama. She cannot steal the intimacy that Adam and I get to experience. She cannot stop my family, friends and community from entering into this with us. She can't take what God is using to reveal, redeem and restore in our lives. "If God is for me, who can be against me?"
Physically it hasn't been that bad. And I feel a little bad saying that. I like to think I kicked chemo's ass. That poison coursed it's way through my veins and body to kill the cancer. But it didn't get to me like I thought it would. Thankfully I was never nauseous and had plenty of energy to work part time and take care of that sweet baby o' mine. Surgery wasn't as bad as I thought...thanks to prayers and drugs. The infection afterwards and the drains sucked, but they were so temporary. And now radiation isn't that bad. Fatigue is the major side effect of it all. But let's be honest, I haven't slept well since I was six months pregnant.
Emotionally, it's been hell. Even though that feels dramatic, it feels adequate. It's the quiet moments that fear or loneliness creep in. It's the not feeling feminine or beautiful. It's the possibilities and the unknowns. It's the places my mind goes. It's the disappointments. It's the fact that the small stuff doesn't go away, it just gets magnified. It's the reality that I may not be here to see my daughter grow up. It's hard. It's scary. It's sad. It's annoying. I don't cry as much as I probably want to. I don't "go there" all that much but I'm sure I "go there" more than the average person. I live in the tension of today and tomorrow. In the reality of trusting and hoping.
I'd be lying if I said it's all bad. It's not. There are riches upon riches already oozing from this experience. We are thankful. We are hopeful. We are being called to something greater than we could ever imagine or plan for ourselves and our family.
I appreciate when I can talk about my cancer and not talk about it. It's definitely a huge part of our lives right now. (duh) But it's not who we are. I'm reminded of it every day as I get dressed or shower or put lotion on my scar. I am learning how to be a woman without the things that are essential to being a woman: breasts, hormones, hair. Let's be honest, it's hard. Adam continues to remind me that I am beautiful and I am so thankful that God has given me a man who can see my beauty apart from my body. I am thankful for him. And I am thankful for our little lady. While life is hard at times it is also filled with a bunch of joy and sweet moments.