By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The last time I wrote something personal, I got fired.
Since then, the closest I’ve come to putting something personal on our local news website is when I used my dog Charlie’s photo as the art accompanying dog license reminders.
But I’m feeling like getting personal now. Cancer has a way of doing that to someone – at least to me.
I’m a sucker for the old “Law & Order” episodes. That may seem like an odd way to start this, but the other night Lt. Van Buren told the male detectives in her office that there are two types of women in the world – those who have had breast cancer and those who are afraid of getting it.
I have moved to the category that has it.
I know breast cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was. And I know that my chances of a great recovery are because of all the women who came before me.
It’s just that breast cancer spreads beyond the chest – and I’m not talking about the cancer cells themselves.
It’s that the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability and lack of control. It’s the middle of the night feeling – that doesn’t dare raise its head in the glare of daylight – that cancer is spreading like tentacles through my body. And no matter how close my husband holds me, it’s that unsettling feeling that something is festering inside me that has no purpose other than to harm me.
I initially joked around that I didn’t have cancer, just my boob has cancer. I didn’t even want to dignify it by using a more genteel term. We laugh at home when I use the “C” card to get out of taking out the trash or other household chores.
The worst is the waiting. My family has always tried to tell me that I am impatient – which of course I denied. But they are right. Every step forward seems to move so slowly. I’m accustomed to deadlines and making sure I meet them. But none of this is in my control. The mammogram then waiting for results, the biopsy then waiting for results, the MRI, meeting a surgeon, then waiting for the surgery. Then after the surgery – which is today – there will be more waiting for more results.
My family has been patient with my impatience. My husband listened calmly last week when I broke down over feeling helpless handling computer problems and cancer. My teenage daughter sneaks me chocolate and seems to realize that I find comfort in her hanging out with me even if I’m just watching another old “Law & Order.” And my daughter in Kansas calls more than the average five times a day, and is flying home with a binder of recipes to keep us all well nourished.
My surgeon showed us a chart of rings, with me in the center and each extended ring indicating family, friends, co-workers, etc. She warned me to discard the people at the outer edge of the rings – those who feel the need to share horror stories about someone who had breast cancer. I had to tell her that I have not encountered those people – probably because I choose to surround myself with people who aren’t idiots and insensitive to others.
My extended family, friends, co-workers and church have all been ready with offers of food, aroma-therapy candles, chocolates (again), lotions, lily bulbs, a necklace reading “faith,” and a bracelet reading “peace.”
Even people I didn’t know prior to the diagnosis have reached out. I’m quickly realizing it’s an unfortunate sisterhood we share. One survivor made T-shirts that snap in the front for me, since putting shirts on over my head will be difficult for a while.
I know so many survivors of this type of cancer and others. I know people who have been brought to their knees by cancer, yet made it through. And all signs are pointing to a positive outcome for me. But I have this problem of always wanting to know the end of the story before I get there. I don’t mean that I need specifics, but I need to know if it’s going to be a happy ending or not. I’m ashamed to say, I will peek at the last page of a novel just to make sure a character’s name is still there. I want to know that they survive at the end. So I guess it’s only natural that I have that same feeling now.
Some of my concerns don’t just surface in the dark of the night. With the potential end to the Affordable Care Act, I am suddenly at the mercy of people I fear care nothing about people like me. And then there’s the realization that this may not end with me. A nurse gently reminded me the other day that now my daughters will have to be more watchful. I’ve already cursed them with my hips, now this.
But the way I see it, while getting fired from my last job seemed devastating at the time, it turned into a positive. I intend to make this unwelcome surprise the same.