Before January 2, 2013, I used to think that cancer looked like a bald Make-A-Wish child in princess pajamas, tired after chemo, but ecstatic to soon be meeting Cinderella at Disney World.
Or I pictured some middle-aged woman weeping over the bathroom sink while she took pulls from a bottle of wine and shaved her head.
Losing hair had a lot to do with the imagery I associated with it, and most of what I’d been exposed to involved children or old people. St. Jude commercials and Lifetime movies.
Most people I encounter, who read my blog or get emailed updates from me, are shocked to see how healthy or “normal” I look. They don’t think that disease looks like this:
And neither did I.
In fact, when I found the lump, I was otherwise a healthy 23-year-old. I had aches and pains from the area, and some other weird symptoms, but it didn’t feel like… well, what I thought it would feel like. And once I got the diagnosis almost two years later, I made damned sure that I didn’t look like a sick person, because I never wanted to let myself feel like one.
I’ve learned that every “type” of cancer is effectively a different disease, with different treatment and different repercussions.
Because of my upcoming wedding, I’ve often said that I feel fortunate that “I don’t have to do chemo,” but really, the type of tumor I have (had?) is so rare, I don’t have a chemo option. This type of disease accounts for less than 1% of all breast diseases. It wouldn’t make sense to radiate me because there isn’t enough data to support whether it’s an effective treatment.
So it’s lucky that I keep my hair, that strangers don’t have to know, but it really scared me at first knowing that surgery was my only option (though some professionals believe that the “Slash, burn, and poison” method of cancer treatment needs some serious reevaluating, as not much has changed in several decades).
Surgery, chemo, or magical fairy dust, words like “malignant” and “cancer” will scare you, because they force you to face the possibility that yes, this could kill you. And you’ll have to tell the people you love that you’re about to go to war. You have to sit your parents down and tell them. You have to talk about your will with your fiancé.
And facing this grave possibility totally, absolutely, in your heart of hearts, hurts. For me, it hurt worse than the disease itself.
If you found my blog because you’re a 20-or-30-something with a malignant diagnosis, there are a lot of places to turn. You’re not what people think of when they think of cancer, but resources do exist for people like us. Here are a couple of my favorites:
This post cheered me up. A lot. You’re allowed to have fun.
This website has a lot of answers, too.
Something a dear friend told me: Forgive yourself for feeling shitty or dark or selfish or bitchy or whatever comes up.
And like I keep telling myself, this will be in your rearview sooner than you think.
Wishing you all health and happiness,