I have cancer. It just showed up one day without permission, and set up shop in my left breast. Then it hit the road via my lymph nodes, which is what cancer tends to do. Having cancer has been a huge learning experience for me, although I would have been happy to never know about any of it. I've read books and talked to people, in my efforts to be prepared. There are some things that I wish I would have known about cancer before I got it, but we all tend to ignore such things when they don't directly involve us. Until it happens to us. I wish that I had known a few bits of information before I was diagnosed.
1. There are lots of tests. And they're not the kind of tests you can study for. I've had several mammograms, plus sonograms, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans. And blood tests, lots of blood tests. For the last two months, I've been tested way more than I ever would have thought possible. I imagine that I'll have more tests once the chemo starts. And I cannot count the number of men who have seen my unclothed breasts
lately. They're doctors, and it's a simple examination, but I'm not used to whipping out a boob
upon request. Or having men I barely know fondle my breast looking for
the mass that is my cancer, or checking my sutures, or whatever. At least when I was
dating, I got dinner and a movie first.
2. There are lots of needles. If you have a needle
phobia, you will either get over it or you will die. Every time you
turn around, someone will be drawing your blood, injecting you with
something, starting an IV, etc. Because of the onslaught of needles,
your veins will start trying to hide, or they will simply collapse at
the most inopportune moments. Your arms will look horrible with all of
the bruising from people attempting to locate veins. If you end up with
a mediport in your chest, that's something entirely new. You will feel
a bit like a cyborg, with that little piece of plastic in you. But it
will take some of the pressure off your veins, so just get used to it. That's where they will stick the needles after that.
3. Get ready to glow. I have been injected with radioactive dyes, radioactive glucose, etc. I have been injected in my arm. I've been injected right in the breast(Are you wincing right now? Yeah. So did I.), so the dye would travel to the right lymph nodes. No super powers have emerged, much to my chagrin. And when you're radioactive, it completely screws up your day. You're not allowed to be around people. If you actually have a family, they have to stay ten to fifteen feet away from you, especially children. You can't be around pregnant women, either. I'm sure that if I went to the airport, some alarm would sound. Part of me really, really, really wants to test that theory. After all, I tripped the nuclear detector at the White House; I have a reputation to uphold.
4. You will have all the feels. All of them. Think of PMS and dial it up to 11. Emotions that I didn't even know existed have surfaced since my diagnosis. I'm terrified, sad, angry, and anxious simultaneously. Half the time I can't even begin a sentence with the word 'cancer' in it; my eyes tear up and my voice suddenly jumps into the upper octaves as I try to fight a sudden tendency to bawl. Even if I'm not discussing my diagnosis, random things will have me bursting into tears. It's downright embarrassing. The rest of the time, I just want to punch someone right in the face, for no other reason than I have cancer and they don't. It's not right, but the emotion is there.
5. Get used to waiting. And waiting. And then waiting some more. First there's the wait while all the tests are completed. Then there's the wait for the surgery. After the surgery there's another wait, so you can heal, and also so they can make sure that the cancer they removed did not expand into the surrounding tissue. If it did, you have more surgery. I opted for a lumpectomy, and after two surgeries, they still haven't cut all the cancer out of my breast. So even though I went the easiest route for me, I'm ending up with a mastectomy with reconstruction. Except I have to wait until after the chemo and the radiation for the reconstruction. And I have to wait until I've healed from the mastectomy to start chemo.
Maybe I'm supposed to learn patience from all this. God could have just sent me a memo.