For the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling blue. Tears seem to come from nowhere at random times with no understanding of their purpose. I mean, sure, I had a bilateral mastectomy six weeks ago, but I’m through the worst now.
So what the hell is going on?
And then yesterday, my sister Pamela called when I was feeling particularly blue. She asked what was wrong and I told her I didn’t know. I just seem to cry with no particular reason in mind. The conversation went like this:
Her: “You have a right to feel blue, or any other color you feel like being. Hell, you have the right to be angry, pissed off even, at the hand fate has dealt you. Nobody should have to be faced with a choice between losing their breasts and all the other stuff that goes along with it (like skin necrosis, fevers, intestinal issues, pulled ribs, pulled muscles, the pain of the drains, and just lots of pain in general), or risk losing their life. You had breast cancer, Sister. You’re a Survivor now.”
Me: “I don’t feel like a Survivor. I feel like a fraud. I mean, I didn’t even have ‘real’ cancer. I didn’t earn the right to call myself a Survivor.”
Her: “You had the same kind of cancer as Diane (our other sister). Carcinoma in Situ is cancer contained in the lobe or duct. It’s Non-Invasive breast cancer but it is cancer, and you ARE a Survivor. With the amount of cancer you had, you for sure saved your life by having this surgery. You need to allow yourself to grieve for what you’ve lost and what you’ve been through. Don’t try to busy the feelings away. Let them heal you.”
And so I cry, and still, I can’t help it, the feeling that I have no right to these feelings comes creeping back. And then the realization strikes like midnight. You see, a few weeks ago I learned that one of my sisters, due to complications from spinal surgery, will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, has a pacemaker to control her heartbeat, and will likely never hear the sound of her own voice again (commences crying). Her situation is permanent. Mine will be over in a few months when I have my final surgery.
And then I repeat Pamela’s words back to myself and I realize that, even though I am devastated and broken-hearted for my sister, I have the right to feel whatever I need to feel about my own situation. And so this time when I cry, I no longer feel like a fraud. I feel like a woman who has been through a long, hard journey but has found the courage to get through it (with the ever-present support of my husband, my sisters and my friends). I feel like a Survivor.
The very next day I went to Physical Therapy for the first time. In filling out the questionnaire, I was asked if I’ve ever had cancer and I checked the box with a Yes (and wrote “breast” next to it). When speaking to my therapist she asked what Stage my cancer was. I blinked a couple of times and said, “Zero. You see I had the kind of cancer that is considered non-invasive, so they call it Stage Zero.” The therapist smiles at me and says, “My mother had Stage Zero breast cancer a few years ago and she had a bilateral mastectomy, too. What a brave decision you made.”
And she’s right. It was brave, and I am strong, and I will honor my feelings and then I’ll let them go because I am a Survivor.
Repost from September 17, 2013.