One of the hardest things about being a breast cancer patient is, in my case, that I don’t feel sick.
Not at all.
I can’t even feel this tumor in my boob.
Not at all.
I can see it on all of the scans, just like everyone else can. But I don’t feel it. It makes accepting the needles in the nipple thing for my latest biopsy so emotionally difficult. (I’m so sorry, but there’s no easy way to write around that one. Besides, what’s a shared grimace between friends?) Makes me question if the cure inflicts more damage than the disease? Maybe so, since I don’t feel sick.
I’m going over my surgery instructions and check-in the other day. The girl on the phone sounds young, and serious. Slightly Evil Jake raises her head because that level of serious just won’t do.
“Okay, Mrs. Finch. I’m going to ask you about your medical history. Any heart problems?” (And she goes down a long list of related heart conditions.)
“Okay, problems with strokes?” (Again, a long list of related stroke issues.)
“Okay. That’s good. Anything with your digestive system? Ulcers, stomach problems or other things?”
“Great. Okay, any artificial devices in your body: implants, dentures, hearing aids or more?”
“Good. Any other health issues we should know about?”
“You mean besides my breast cancer? Nope. I’m perfectly healthy.”
“That’s a joke. It’s okay to laugh, Sweetie.”
“Oh, good,” she says. “I wasn’t sure…”
And as I try always to look on the bright side of things, one of my Besties texts me the other night and wants to know if I want her to bring me matzo ball soup, chicken cheese soup, beef vegetable soup, spinach sausage soup, or her piece de resistance, GUMBO (this Bestie hails from Louisiana and makes The. Best. Gumbo. EVER!)?
Well, I still harbor delusions of thinness, even with all of this crap going on.
“OMG, Woman! I want to lose weight, not gain!” I text her.
“Okay, then, minestrone,” she taps back.
I then share with her my new adapted favorite quote, based on my all-time favorite line from the Best Chick Flick In The World.
“Darling. I’m only one cancer treatment away from my goal weight.”
(Anybody guess the movie? Anyone? Bueller?)
Do you know that this Bestie has never SEEN this movie? Not acceptable. Our friendship will not survive this absence of Girl Knowledge.
We negotiate and I end up getting her to agree to visit while I’m laid up next week so we can watch this one together. Much better than sedentary calorie ingestion, at least as far as my scale is concerned. But I’ll probably still woof down some popcorn. With real butter.
But not all moments lately are lighthearted. Can someone please tell me why it is that people feel inclined to say stupid, cruel things rather than just say, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.”?
I don’t think these people mean to be mean. And mostly I’m not speaking about myself. Almost everyone I’ve encountered has been incredibly kind and considerate to our current conditions. But both Stephen and Samantha have had “friends” say a version of the following in the last week:
“I know someone who had that and they died.”
WTF? In what culture is that ever an acceptable form of verbal comfort?
On my end, I have had a couple of people look at me like I was already dead, my version of Jacob Marley standing before them, chains and bandages waving eerily. I find myself reassuring THEM that no, I’m not going to die from this, as long as I get treated as planned. And they still look at me like I’m a ghost. Sometimes I even catch them looking at my boobs like they just vanished before their eyes.
I just don’t get it. Yep, I have cancer. I’m still alive, and will be because I’m blessed to live in a time where medicine can remove all of this cancer from my being. Most days, I worry more about dying ironically in a car accident or bathroom fall and Stephen being left to decide on the epitaph for my tombstone:
“Her boobs couldn’t get the job done, so her car took over.”
A boob and a duck walk into a bar and the bartender says….
It is weird isn’t it! I felt the same way about not feeling sick, makes it harder to wrap your head around it all…well until the needle biopsy. I so clearly remember being shocked when my surgeon said, “congratulations on being cancer free.” Will be thinking of you and sending prayers especially on Monday. In the end it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had talked myself through in the “I can do this hard thing” middle of the night conversations. You’ve got this Jake!
Thank you MaryAnn! I know I do. Besides, I wouldn’t look good in chains and bandages.
OK already, so what did the bartender say? You can’t just leave us hanging. It’s not fair.
I’m not funny enough. I’m hoping someone will fill this in for me!
I am SO sorry you are going through this experience….but grateful for your willingness to shed light from the perspective of a ‘patient’. Thinking of you often…..
Thank you Dr. I am also praying for you and your parents. I am a caregiver as well and it is a difficult road you walk. They are very blessed!
I don’t consider those folk mean, just STOOPID!
Sorry, but I’m on your side. And I’m thinking loving, positive thoughts for you. 💕
Thank you Marcy!
Jake: I think most people aren’t sure what to say when they get such news and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. They are learning as they read your posts, and I include myself in the list, although I don’t remember ever using the “…and she died from it” response, but I probably did. You’re fortunate to have so many friends who have beaten this themselves and can share feelings and thoughts that only two people who have suffered the same things can do. We’re pulling for you. And I’m giving up my thought that most women don’t like references to their boobs, rather than their breasts.
Dear John, I can’t believe you would cap off a comment in that way ever! And I know we all spit out stupid sometimes. As to boobs over breasts, breasts sounds so clinical to me.
Hi Jake, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through” – really. It is hard to know what to say, because we all just wish it wasn’t true and could say the magic words that would make it all go away. Thank you for sharing your story – you are such a gifted writer! You are in our prayers every day. -Cindy Luis
Thank you Cindy! Whatever you say is great. Perfect. Couldn’t be better said. It’s just that rare person who manages to make it about themselves with their comments… Thank John for me also.
I know exactly what you mean about strange comments from people – when I was going through chemo, I can’t tell you how many people walked up to me and incredulously said, “But you look so good!” to which I replied, “Yeah, it just doesn’t seem right, does it?” They were better than the people who held me closely and then told me, with tears in their eyes, that they were praying for me. But I knew that all of them cared, and just weren’t very good at expressing it. Love your sense of humor – keep that and it will help you through much of this. My first thought on hearing I had cancer? Hmmm – I wonder if the Make-A-Wish Foundation could get me into Quilt Market?
Well, Make-A-Wish probably can’t, but WE could! In the meantime, thank you for sharing. I love the prayers. And like I said most people are amazing. I allow for that discomfort. Heck I’ve felt it to others as well. It’s the very small handful who just don’t know when to stop talking or gawking…Hugs to you Sarah!
Love your wonderful snarky sense of humor in all of this. Keep it up. Prayers for you go on.
My gran was diagnosed in 1965 with stage 4 cancer, in 1968 she was in Mexico City as part of the US Olympic team. In 1984 she was a coach at the Games in LA. She died in 1991. When she told me she was dying, I said something dumb like “so you’re finally gonna die from cancer” she said ” no I lived with cancer for 27 years, I’m dying because I’m old.” She was in her eighties.
It totally sucks, this uninvited guest. I send you warm support. So wonderful you’ll get it removed. Before mammograms how would you have ever found it before it was too late? Yea, Okay, not wonderful exactly, but better than the alternative.
What a wonderful granny you have! I am awed and humbled by her attitude. Thank you Rachel.
I feel like I am reading my own story here, in so many ways….you do such a wonderful job of capturing and expressing the feelings and emotions that go with this cancer thing–and even the jokes that not everyone knows what do do with! Thank you.