I haven’t written in a while. It wasn’t intentional, I just didn’t have anything to say. At all. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what I thought about most things. Then, as I really started to want to post again, nothing was coming together. I think it’s the universe’s way of telling me that this post has to come first.
Let me back up. Last time I posted, I was explaining breast reconstruction. I was going into my exchange surgery and thinking that after that I would really be on the other side of this thing. NOPE. The exchange surgery was a little more intense than I expected. But it was the aftermath that was the worst.
All of a sudden, I was done. My surgeons both cleared me and didn’t need to see me for six months. I could do any and all physical activity I felt up to doing. “You’re normal now,” someone said at one of my appointments. Ha! Normal. What does that even mean anymore? I know they meant well and were trying to reflect that I had no restrictions but it didn’t sit well with me.
After being diagnosed with cancer, I don’t think I’ll ever feel normal again. My body literally betrayed me. I made this incredible, early catch and prevented a killer, that was growing INSIDE MY BODY, from going any further. All while there were ZERO SYMPTOMS. And now, I wasn’t going to see the doctor on a regular basis.
It’s weird, I used to be pretty squeamish before all of this happened to me. Now, when I watch Grey’s Anatomy, I find the sight of their OR soothing and comforting. I love going to the doctor. The idea of someone examining my body in great detail gives me great comfort. It reassures me that I am healthy. And if I’m not, they will find it and give me a course of action to become healthy, just like last time.
No one prepared me for the anxiety and depression that would come with finishing the medical side of this journey. Even before reconstruction, I started becoming obsessive about things. Everything felt beyond my control. My husband would ask if I wanted to invite such and such over to watch football tonight. NOPE. That would be very stressful, what would we feed them, what would I wear, would I be able to act normal? Plus it would take effort and I just didn’t feel like it. Some days I just wanted to mope.
I kept thinking it would pass, it was just a phase. I recognized it as a symptom of the trauma but thought I could work my way through it. Nothing was easy to think about. Except cancer. And the idea of it coming back. Or how different my body was now and forever.
The genetic mutation that I have is not super common. I have yet to come across another person with an ATM mutation and researchers are still digging into what exactly it means for me and others. We KNOW it increases the likelihood of breast cancer - we knew that when I tested positive for it in 2014. We know that it increases the likelihood of breast cancer, particularly at a young age. Researchers are also still determining whether there is an increased risk of other cancers. Ovarian has been studied but the results have not been conclusive.
Quite simply, it feels like the science has not caught up to me yet. My mind has run WILD. At one point, I KNEW I had ovarian cancer. And when you Google the symptoms of that, it’s basically symptoms every woman in the world has experienced at some point. Not to mention a woman who just had a significant portion of her body torn apart and rebuilt. Not helpful.
Finally, between the obsessing and the anxiety, I was able to see that this was not passing on its own and I emailed my OB-GYN, the doctor who set me up with genetic testing to begin this whole journey. She’s awesome. My email was quite frank (ex. “I am off the charts paranoid/terrified it's ovarian cancer.”). Her nurse called me within the afternoon and I had an appointment a couple days later.
After a full workup that confirmed I do NOT have ovarian cancer (obviously), my doc and I had a good talk. She told me that a lot of her cancer patients go through this same thing. And she isn’t wrong. In fact, one recent study suggests that four out of five cancer survivors suffer from anxiety and a similar number had depression a year after diagnosis. My own focus group yields the same results.
Thankfully, for me and for my husband’s career as a pharmacist, there are meds for that. I am now on a low dose of Lexapro to “take the edge off” and, thankfully, it’s working. I started it around the new year and for the past few months, I have excitedly made plans with friends and hosted people at our home. I can make long-term plans without crippling anxiety setting in and make it through weeks at a time without a complete meltdown. It’s like the fog has started to clear. I can experience things without going to the emotional extreme.
I share this not to make anyone feel badly for me but because people need to know that the journey cancer brings never really ends. Though I am put back together physically, for the most part, I am forever changed emotionally. It ebbs and flows. Some days I am incredibly sad when I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the body that’s there. Other says I feel superhuman for what I have conquered. When cancer strikes, particularly this early in life, it’s tough not to wonder, frequently, if and when it will return. Quieting the fears and managing the significant changes to my reality is a daily battle and I am pleased to report that, lately, I am winning it more days than I am losing it.
Thanks for all of the love and support. I look forward to writing MUCH more frequently now that this post is out of the way. It's meant a lot to hear that you've missed reading. xo