Cancer Lesson #5: Everyone Reacts Differently

Cancer Lesson #5: Everyone reacts differently.

The doctor’s office called early on Friday, March 18 2011. She wanted to see me as soon as possible, early that morning if I could manage it.

Better to face bad news sooner rather than later, I thought, and agreed I’d come as soon as I got dressed. From the timing of the call and the urgency in the secretary’s voice, I knew my diagnosis was cancer. The only surprise was one of my lumps — sorry, masses — was nothing. The one I’d found was cancerous, and the third was an engaged lymph node (not good news).

I didn’t cry — not then and not much later — focusing instead on what would happen next.

It’s so weird to find out you have cancer, to learn that your body is harboring something that, if left unchecked, will kill you, especially when, like me, you have no symptoms. You feel as if you’ve slipped into an alternate reality, kind of like the suspension of disbelief you experience when watching a movie or reading a book.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and the analogy I keep coming back to is that of a train. You’re on this train, following the same track day after day, when click, you’re switched to a completely different route. All the other trains continue on the main line while you take a detour over some rough but scenic rails. Perhaps you’ll rejoin the fast track again, perhaps not. Nobody knows, but for now at least, this new track is your only way forward.

Everyone reacts differently, not only emotionally but physically too — this is a lesson I’ve learned again and again. The range of possible emotions is so wide — everything from anger to fear to outright disbelief. There is no one right way to feel.

I remember driving home thinking, “I should be crying. Why am I not crying?” but all I could think of was how I would have to ask someone else to captain my soccer team and where and when I could tell my family. I decided to tell my husband that night, but not my daughter. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the night before. That’s such a milestone. I couldn’t ruin it for her so quickly.

It was thoughts of her that brought the only tears to my eyes that day, when Dr. S suggested I be tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2. She recommended this course of action because I was “young” and one of my aunts also got breast cancer early, and then got it again thirty years later.

The idea that I might have passed on such a gene to my only child scared me more than anything else I might have to face.

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Cancer Lesson #53:Fighting Cancer Doesn’t Make You a Saint.

Cancer Lesson #53: Fighting cancer doesn’t make you a saint.

Or amazing.

Or brave.

Bravery involves a sacrifice to defend a principle or another person. Firefighters, police officers and soldiers exhibit this kind of courage every day.

Now that’s amazing.

But battling cancer is common sense, a clear case of self-defense. The only other option is to lie down and die – not a choice anyone in their right mind would pick.

In saying this, I’m not denigrating those who have fought this disease with fearlessness and grace (and I know there are many). And I’m not being falsely modest in confessing I wasn’t one of them. (No one who’s ever known me would accuse me of that virtue.)

I just couldn’t accept the credit others kept trying to foist on me for simply trying to stay alive when I knew they would do exactly the same if they ever – God forbid – are in this situation.

While no cancer treatment is a walk in the park, I was lucky mine wasn’t the walk through hell I expected. True, my body was scarred and weakened, but with physical therapy, I regained most of my strength and mobility. And – to my very great relief – chemo wasn’t the pukefest I dreaded.

Saint Kym?

I don’t think so.

 

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