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Journey (Blog)

Staying Calm with Cancer

Photo: Gerrie Summers
Fighting With Feelings

A month before I had a second surgery to have lymph nodes removed, I had a nightmare in which I was talking to an angry, mean man about a form I had filled out. Apparently I had filled it out incorrectly. He was fussing with me and I blurted out something about being distracted because I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. He didn’t care. He continued to fuss with me and then without another word put a woman on the phone. I think she was better. I can’t remember the dream from here, except that I was taken away to someplace — to an operating room for surgery perhaps?

I woke up feeling anxious, with a nagging sense of dread. This feeling would come and go. I was trying to edit my thoughts, deleting all the morose and gloomy ones that were coming to my mind and replacing them with I am healthy. I’ll be fine. It didn’t help that in the evening, I was having a difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep because my mind was being flooded with negative thoughts. I’d wake up due to several notions and scenes playing out in my brain. Had it spread? Chemo. Radiation. Hair loss. Will my hair fall out? Will it come back one day?

I was about to see the surgeon about the pathology report. At this time he didn’t know whether the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. Furthermore the lab had found something on the right breast, and I would need to go in for a biopsy before the surgery, adding to the anxiety I was feeling. (Fortunately, whatever the ultrasound detected was nothing for concern.)

Still, I was relatively fine. In fact, at times I thought something was wrong with me. I hadn’t cried. I hadn’t cursed God. I might have said, “Why me?” But mostly I was just numb.

I Am Healthy. I’ll Be Fine.

During the break between surgeries, I had gone on with my usual routine. I went to an event where an intuitive (yes, really) shared an unsolicited comment that my body was healthy. Naturally thinking that she was a quack, I told her about the breast cancer diagnosis, but she didn’t back down. She insisted that she didn’t detect any illness in me. Since she had informed me that my late father was beside me and watching over me (and proved it in kind of freakish way that made me a believer)—who was I to debate her? The tumor had been removed. Later, the second surgery to remove tissue and lymph nodes showed that no further cancer was detected nor had it spread.

A little over two weeks after surgery, I paid a visit to my primary care physician and something dawned on me. I had been thinking something was wrong with me because I had been, for the most part, positive and not falling apart over the diagnosis of breast cancer. When my doctor asked me how I was feeling physically and emotionally, with an expression of concern, and I think, dismay sweeping across his face, I said “It might sound crazy, but I’m kind of calm about it.” He seemed relieved and admitted that he would have been “like this” indicating shaky hands. I gathered that he has had patients whose reactions weren’t as composed. I’ve known for a long time how emotions can negatively affect your health. I was taking the let’s-wait-and-see-how-this-goes approach.

I won’t lie, there were days after the surgery that I hated waking up. I would feel discomfort in the breast area and I was unable to look forward to the day. I felt like I had pins and needles in my arm. The underarm area was so numb, I couldn’t feel myself putting on deodorant and at times it felt like someone had a tight grip on my upper arm. There were very brief moments when I wondered why I should continue setting up lofty goals for the future, like those 15 or so novel ideas, and then I’d snap out of it.

As all of these uncomfortable sensations and pains worked toward bringing me down, calls to check up on me, a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a friend, comforting letters, cards and gestures, plus loving and caring messages on Facebook, would all work to bring my spirits back up.

Friends and family were amazed by how well I was taking this. I wasn’t acting, though. With just a few moments of woe, I was amazingly calm.

But that was not going to last.
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