We cannot win if we refuse to fight –Beth Moore
I listened to these words from a Beth Moore study in April of 2011. I not only believed in them I acted upon them since at that time I was fighting for my life as I battled stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 24. I battled hard, I fought with every ounce of strength I had and by golly I did win the physical fight against that horrible cancer that invaded my body. I am physically free of the death grip cancer had on me but now what am I left with?
After I had finished 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatments, a double mastectomy surgery, and 30 radiation treatments I was suffering with severe pain for eleven months that could not be explained by any of my specialist doctors at Providence Cancer Partnership, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance or the medical team at University of Washington. On many appointments I felt passed around from department to department because I was their medical mystery patient that no one knew what to do with. It felt as if every drug was tried…at my expense no less, but nothing seemed to help the pain that never ceased and caused me to stay in bed more often than not. I was on many harsh drugs including a very dangerous drug that temporarily affected my heart function. I was told on more than one emergency room visit that if I continued this drug my heart would stop and I would die. Fear had had its hold on me like I had never known. In January I stood my ground and told all my doctors I wanted off ALL these drugs and after extreme opposition from each doctor I started to taper my dosage of each one. It turned out I was having an allergic intolerance reaction to a daily chemotherapy drug. After three days of not taking the drug called Tamoxifen my body started to feel something that I had not felt in years…comfort! No more pain in my hips, my knees, my back, my neck and also no more headaches or nausea! I had a new lease on life. Each day I have more energy and each day I feel like I am in my twenties and not like I’m in my nineties. I was now feeling physically better than I had ever felt in the last two years but something started to happen.
I have now realized that while I was fighting the physical war that was raging in my body, in order to cope, my brain locked away the emotions that I couldn’t deal with at the time. My brain started repressing mental pain, fear, depression as well as many disappointed goals and dreams. Picture a hurricane destroying everything in its path while you have locked yourself in a safe place to weather the storm…when the physical storm is over you venture out of your safe place and the reality of the destruction is finally upon you. I weathered the physical storm of cancer and now I’m venturing out to see what it really took from my life emotionally and physically. All I can think to call it is cancer’s aftermath.
My cancer aftermath began when I started having flashbacks. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 incurable breast cancer shortly after I had my reconstructive breast surgery. I have tried to be brave and not let anyone know about the fear and anxiety that was growing inside when I went to her first chemotherapy appointment. Only a year and a half earlier I had been in that same chemo chair, in the same building, on the same floor, in the same room, with the same nurses and receiving the exact same chemotherapy drugs. I would watch each drip of chemotherapy “poison” enter her I.V. and hate would rise from a very hurt and very dark place. Many times during treatments I kissed my mother’s cheek and told her I was going to the restroom just to escape the panic that was about to erupt in me…I would find a quiet place in a deserted hallway and cry tears of fear and guilt. Fear because I am so afraid that cancer could take my mother away from me and guilt because I am not strong enough to push through my own emotions and be there for my mother no matter at what cost. My body is afraid that going back to those cancer treatment rooms means that I will get sick again so to protect myself my mind and body revolt. Very quickly the memories of the chemotherapy side effects come rushing back. My mind panics and wants to run but where? My mouth begins to taste metallic and my stomach begins to sour. I have read plenty about these happenings and many doctors call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I can admit that I am hurting emotionally and that I have a reason for this anxiety but there is absolutely no way I’m leaving my mother to fend for herself at chemotherapy treatments or doctor appointments so the only thing I know how to do is to just get on my knees on days when I know I will need help and ask God for strength and peace…there is nothing else I can do.
After going through any traumatic experience people are not the same when they reach the other side. Most of my family and friends look at me and say I’m the same Sarah I was but I know the truth. Much was taken from me. Not just from my physical body but from my heart, my mind and my soul. My self-esteem hit rock bottom and still is not in a healthy place…it may seem like nothing has changed for those around me but I learned early on to wear a mask that hides the tears, disappointments and the ugliness that I feel inside and out. For many months I tried not to look into mirrors because I didn’t recognize who was staring back at me. Even now I don’t recognize the tired and weary eyes, bright pink scars and pale skin. Who is this woman who is staring into my eyes searching for something familiar?
Cancer stole part of my womanhood and it has been stripped away from me which makes me feel very self-conscious…did I just say that? What I am eloquently trying to say is I feel ugly. I hide myself in layers so people won’t see what I see…a woman who is desperately trying to find inner beauty that could maybe wash away some of the outer ugliness that I see and feel.
All I’ve ever wanted to do was be a bride, a wife and a mother. I was the fairytale bride who married her best friend who is in fact my prince charming and I am living out being the best wife I know how to be but I am struggling with the choices I have to become a mother. I have BRCA 2, a cancer gene that makes me have a predisposition to having breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My children will have a 50/50 chance of receiving this gene. I already had embryos when I found out about my gene but we have the knowledge now that those tiny embryos can be tested for this life threatening gene so in reality I do have the ability to stop this gene dead in its tracks and end with me but am I doing the right thing? Should I just not have children because they still could possibly have cancer by some freak accident? Do I just leave it up to fate? Or do we use the technology that God allowed us to create? The trials of having breast cancer personally as well as watching my mother go through it 3 times have been the hardest things I have ever had to do. Do I want to subject my children to this? Am I being selfish wanting to be a mother? I would never forgive myself if I could have done something to save my child’s life and I didn’t act when I could have.
My disposition in life has changed. I’m a glass half empty kind of girl now a days; as situations present themselves I immediately prepare for the worst case scenario in order to protect myself. It is dark and twisted I know but I’m trying to change. I guess I just constantly blame myself for everything. I understand I didn’t choose to have cancer and it isn’t my fault that it turned our lives upside down, but I blame myself for money troubles and for losing 2 years of our lives when we were supposed to be traveling to Russia, Paris, Africa and wherever the wind blew us. I feel like it is my entire fault for Kirk and me not to be able to have our children the regular way but instead putting ourselves in $10,000 of debt just to try to have our first child. Sometimes I cry at night thinking Kirk would have been so much better off without me, I’m so incredibly happy and grateful God gave us to each other but I love Kirk so much that I hate to have to see him hurt and struggle so much to make our dreams come true. I feel as if I am defective and a burden. We went to the fertility clinic this last month to see how the chemotherapy, medical scans, and other medications affected my fertility and the results were not great. In 2010 I had way above average levels of fertility and now in 2012 my levels are on the very low side. It was great that we chose to create embryos because they might be our only way of having children. We are just faced with the mile high wall that is in front of us: raising 10,000 to try for our first child and 4,000 to try for each of our other 3 children. God will provide I just know He will. He just has to.
Will I ever be able to live up to be the woman that I once was. Will I ever be the same? I am not whole anymore because of cancer and as life goes on I’m finding more and more that it is still taking. I pray in time I will become whole, find myself beautiful again and completely triumph over cancer physically and emotionally. God can renew and restore me please pray with me that He will have favor on us.