This essay was originally published on June 28, 2015.
When I think about temper tantrums, the first person who comes to mind is John McEnroe. The man had the most legendary temper in tennis, and since Wimbledon gets underway tomorrow, it seems fitting to use his image.
I’ve been looking at my Facebook posts for the past week or so, and I noticed I’ve become a bit of the curmudgeon I said I didn’t want to be. I haven’t engaged in any hurricane-force McEnroe-esqe rants – although I am always poised to use his signature line, “You cannot be serious!”, whenever the opportunity presents itself. No, I’ve been snide and snippy; I’m in some sort of perpetual snit, and I seem to have dug in my heels quite firmly.
First off, it’s coming up on that day – yes, the one year anniversary of the boob-lopping. As you can probably imagine, all manner of cancer-related thoughts are going through my head, and I can’t seem to stop them. When I close my eyes and try to sleep, I see the word “RECURRENCE” in big red letters. When I finally do fall asleep, I have strange dreams about people I haven’t seen in decades, and we somehow wind up in the most bizarre places. There’s a reason for this, I’m guessing: Effexor and I are not getting along very well, and I think the strange dreams are a side effect. As I’ve mentioned, Tamoxifen does not play well with SSRI antidepressants, and Effexor is the ONE drug that will let Tamoxifen do its job. I’m really in a pickle with this one. I don’t want to attempt to wean myself off anything right now – my body has been through enough lately – and my options are severely limited. Well, truthfully, there aren’t any.
Next, I am still in the midst of an imbroglio with my insurance carrier over the compression sleeve. I do have coverage – about one-tenth of what the device costs. That’s a no-go for me at the moment, since my income is nowhere near what it was before my diagnosis. My faithful patient advocate is still waging war on my behalf, but these supplies should be available to every woman without the hassle. Once you mess with the lymph nodes, swelling is inevitable; managing it can be akin to shoveling shit against the tide. We all know how much fun that is.
I got sick again last week; another bout with a flu-like bug, similar to what struck right after I finished radiation. Ironically, I had another cardiac ultrasound scheduled that I had to cancel. I have to have one every three months as part of the study. They could slather me in bacon grease, but I’m not coming into contact with any sonic probes unless I feel up to it. After last time, this is non-negotiable.
Mostly, I think I’m experiencing something similar to postpartum depression. I don’t want to say I have post-traumatic stress disorder, because I think the acronym for that has been co-opted too often, and sadly, the condition is losing credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I know PTSD is a real battle for so many, but I feel the term should not be used to describe the fallout from every tough life event we experience. Maybe “post-cancer depression” would work? Like the baby-blues, it inexplicably creeps up on you just when you’re starting to feel good again, and bounces you into one emotional tizzy after another – sort of like what our friend Mr. McEnroe used to do with tennis balls. Is this real? Is this documented? Have there been papers published about it in peer-reviewed medical journals? Yes to the first question; as for the others, I’ll get back to you.
My breast cancer sister and fellow writer friend told me she went through something similar one year after her diagnosis. She said she felt like she had to soldier on through her diagnosis, treatment, and reconstruction. After everything was completed, she crashed. It feels like the same thing is happening to me. I’ve been through the four stages of cancer: diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I didn’t quite believe in the “aftermath” portion of the experience, but here I am, smack in the middle of it. And, quite honestly, it sucks.
I said I wasn’t going to mourn the loss of my breasts. What I am mourning are the intangible losses you can only relate to if you’ve had cancer. Your life has been bisected into two parts: “before cancer”, and “after cancer”. You have no choice but to accept that. And like the four stages of grief, acceptance is always the toughest hurdle.