"Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?”
- U2 "One"
Early last month I was scheduled for my first six-month check-up with my oncologist after all active chemotherapy/adjuvant treatment ended (other than the stupid Tamoxifen I will continue to take for the next three years) and I won’t lie - my fear was palpable. If you looked at my face you could see the terror in my eyes just above my smile but I would never cop to it. Even the people closest to me knew I wasn't myself but they didn't know why.
When asked I would chirp out my standard "nothing" or my other go-to, "I'm just tired." The excuses always work and after seven years of saying them I can be quite convincing. No one wants to know the Fashionista is falling apart. I get up, get dressed, fix my hair and swipe on a little lipstick and go on with my life, every day. But there were too many sleepless nights to count, both before the tests and after. I would lay in bed worried about what might be lurking in my body, ready to announce itself as soon as that needle pierced my vein.
Was it better not to know? To just live my life and never find out? Or is it better to know and go through all the possible treatment options hoping to gain a few more weeks, months, or years? These are the thoughts that kept me up at night. Like a child that can't sleep because they fear monsters under the bed, I couldn't sleep because I too was afraid of the monsters…under my bra.
Now you're probably reading this and thinking, "She's been through this all before why is she freaking out now?" Well, I know way more than I did in 2007; I've now been intimate with this disease for seven years. I've watched it rear it's ugly head long after someone believed they survived. I've mourned the loss of my breasts, my lady plumbing, my hair, and I've mourned the loss of the beautiful sistahs that this disease stolen from my life but never from my soul. Between the years of 2007 and 2012 my one, go-to mindset to keep the mind-fuck of cancer in its place was always, "I feel fine - so I am fine" and that would usually be the only salve I needed, but you see, since treatment ended this past December, I haven't been feeling fine. My joints and muscles ache. I have this nagging pain in my lower back, sometimes on the right sometimes on the left, sometimes high up and sometimes much lower. I'm chronically fatigued. There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not Googling some ailment hoping that it's related to the Tamoxifen and those results are always inconclusive, some sites say yes and some say no.
I finally put on my big girl bra and marched my boobs into the doctor’s office and after they found a vein (JACKPOT!) and drew my blood I then began worrying what was lying in wait in those tubes. Now it's here in this place, my doctor’s office, I can be completely honest. I can be scared. I can ask the questions that shred my confidence and show my weaknesses. Here, I don’t have to be brave or strong for anyone. I can succumb to fear. My nurse knew I was nervous and although my doctor’s office subscribes to the edict of, "we'll only call if something is wrong" she promised to not only expedite the results but also promised to call the next day - regardless. I walked out of the office, drove to the train station and boarded the local train to NYC, which gave me a full 90 minutes to stew. The local train makes a stop at Newark Liberty airport and while we waited there I immediately thought of the word FEAR as defined by social media...
Fuck Everything And Run
And I nearly did, my legs twitching in anticipation, my hand grasping my purse to keep it close to my body as I thought about running through the sliding doors and onto the platform. I looked longingly at those planes idling, ready to fly away. But I didn't bail. I stayed on that train, played Jesus to the damn lepers in my head and got myself to the office, where I could focus on stuff other than my test results.
Forgetting Everything's All Right
I've previously referred to cancer as the scab I can't stop picking at. For as together as I appear inside a war wages on...because my life, like my counterfeit tits, is permanently altered. It sucks that there is no such thing as just a headache or just a cough for me, it's a possibility that something has gone horribly wrong. Cancer is a game changer and survivorship is fucking hard.
Face Everything And Recover
While I was obsessing on my blood work results I knew I was going to write this blog out but I didn't know the ending. But I do now - I am NED (No Evidence of Disease), which means, that for the next six months, until my next round of blood work, I can relax. I will continue to reassure myself that all my weird little aches and pains are normal (for me) and I will remind myself of how crazed I made myself and it all turned out okay this time around. I will remind myself of all the beautiful days ruined by worry and all the much needed sleep I lost. In time, I hope, I will regain my confidence and cancer will shrink in importance as I glance into the rearview mirror of my life.