The biggest change a diagnosis of breast cancer brings is the loss of feeling in control of your life, your body, your future.
All of a sudden we are casting about for ways to feel in control once again. Our fear, our anger, our confusion only compound our feelings of being out of control now that our body has let us down. We are being challenged to find the coping mechanisms that will get us through the anxiety of diagnostic tests to determine the size, location and possible spread of our breast cancer. We need the presence of mind to get through decisions about how we will forever view our breasts…mastectomy with or without reconstruction or lumpectomy with or without a form of reconstruction, done during the lumpectomy or after, to insure we will have a matched set.
If our breast cancer is such that we can choose to have a lumpectomy; what method do we choose for radiation? External beam with its standard 36 treatments or Mammosite accomplished in two treatments a day for one week? What are the pros and cons of each? Am I a candidate for Mammosite? Does my hospital offer it? Does my insurance cover it? What kind of a physical outcome can I expect from each of these procedures?
In addition to the treatment decisions that breast cancer brings there are the financial, the employment, and the personal decisions to be made, especially if there are young children to be considered.
Once breast cancer surgery is over and treatment begun, we are challenged to cope with pain and feeling ill from treatments in ways that most of us have never encountered before. Fatigue is our constant companion. Many of us lose our hair and have to learn to wear a wig so it doesn’t look like we are wearing a wig.
We cope with the middle of the night “What Ifs” when it seems that everyone is asleep but us; when our minds run tapes on a continuous feed loop covering the same content over and over until we get too exhausted to think and fall asleep.
Somehow we do it all; we get through and treatment is over. Now we need to find ways to live our lives having experienced the physical and emotional changes that breast cancer brought to our lives.
For those of us who had estrogen fed tumors, there’s the continued challenge of coping with years of the physical changes brought about by hormonal therapy: weight gain, hot flashes, mood swings, bone pain, sleep disturbances and, for some, hair thinning.
Most of us make the adjustment to the new us. Given the coping mechanisms we had to develop in order to get through active breast cancer treatment it is not surprising that we do. Many of us get on with our lives with a new sense of purpose. We reinvent ourselves focusing on strengths and talents we have always had but may not have focused on developing. We are different; not bad different, just different. We cherish time and guard how we spend it. We still work at looking our best, but we spend more time on doing things that make us feel our best.
We are no longer naive about our health. Sometimes the sense of vigilance that comes from living with a schedule of routine follow up visits to surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and the usual blood work and other tests leaves us yearning for the “Un Days”; the days when no one is examining us or asking the same questions asked so many times before . We hold our breath until we hear those words, “Your Fine.”
We learn to manage our fears because if we don’t there will be no quality of life, just a constant state of apprehension and that is not living. One day we realize that the things that used t upset us to the point of ruining our day or robbing us of a night’s sleep before our breast cancer don’t pack the same punch anymore. We’ve learned who is there for us and who isn’t. We know what matters to us and will always matter to us.
We coped and continue to cope with the changes that breast cancer brought into our lives with the support of other survivors, friends and family and for many, a faith in a power greater than ourselves. We are confident in our ability to care for ourselves proven by all we survived.
Do we regain that sense of being in control of our lives after breast cancer? I can only answer for myself. I have come to accept that I control how I care for myself both physically and emotionally. Beyond that I can only control how I react and cope with what happens to me, when it happens to me. That will have to be enough. Breast cancer has taught me that.