Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cancer Girl

Hi friends. Okay, for the first time, I'm kind of just sitting here staring at the screen, unsure of what to say. It feels like all the thoughts in my mind are swirling around like a hurricane.

It has been a rough few days, for a number of reasons, but mainly I'm feeling angry that cancer is taking over my life. I don't mean it's taking over my BODY - it's actaully pretty contained in there, now that the icky tumor has been surgically removed - but it's taking over my mind, energy, time, focus. These days it seems to be all I can focus on, because there is so much I need to learn about breast cancer in general as well as the specific cancer that is in me, and all of the potential treatments for it, so that I can make the best decisions for me. It's confusing, complicated, and overwhelming, and I'm terrified of making the "wrong" choices.

I feel like on Nov. 9, 2009, upon hearing those awful words, "They found something...they're calling it cancer," I woke up in a foreign land where I was lost and didn't speak the language. I am now getting a crash course in breast cancer, which of course is not something I ever ever would have signed up for voluntarily. Not only did I have no understanding of words like "ER+ PR+ HER2-," "lymphadema," "axillary node dissection," "prophylactic bilateral mastectomy," "Oncotype DX," but I was SO ignorant about cancer in general that I did not even know that chemotherapy was drugs and that radiation was something different. I thought chemo WAS radiation, and that it was the radiation that made people lose their hair. I have learned SO MUCH in the past 2 months, but there is still so much more to learn. I'm obviously not the type of patient who is able to just leave it all up to the doctors and their expertise and follow the path that they set for me. I've never been like that. I will certainly take their expert ADVICE, and I do trust my doctors, but really it's my body and it's my ONLY body, and I feel a strong need to be in control of it as much as is reasonably possible. Because having cancer makes me feel like I'm losing a lot of control of my life/health and it's awful.

I feel like there's so much going on in my head that it's hard for me to even write coherently, or to stay on topic, because my thoughts are jumping around so much.

The surgical phase of treatment is almost over for me, which means there is a big transition coming up - I have to leave my surgeon, whom I have really come to trust and respect, to go to the oncologists. I am incredibly resistant to leaving my surgeon, mainly because her job/role is the only one I'm 100% comfortable with. Physically removing the cancerous tumor from my body makes total sense; it's not something I had to think twice about. Everything from here on out, such as chemo, radiation, hormone therapy, etc., scares the crap out of me, with all of the potential side effects and dangers. My appointments with the oncologists aren't for THREE WEEKS, so in the meantime, I have been researching everything, reading cancer books, talking with other breast cancer survivors, making extensive lists of questions for the oncologists, and driving myself crazy in the process. (If knowledge is power, why does it sometimes feel so paralyzing?) I don't see that there are any GOOD options, in terms of further treatments. It's a matter of choosing between the lesser of the evils. And that sucks.

And probably the hardest part of having cancer be my "full time job" right now is that I worry that I'm becoming a self-absorbed hermit; a bad, unavailable friend; the Party Pooper Cancer Girl. I'm trying not to feel guilty, but I do. I feel like I'm so out of the loop, in terms of everything that's going on in my friends' and family's lives, or in the rest of the world. It's hard for me to sustain my focus on much more than CANCER right now, other than sometimes vegging out with X-Files DVDs when I feel like my head would otherwise explode. I'm not able to follow any news stories...politics, health care reform, Haiti... the devastation in Haiti is heart-breaking, but I can't even process it, and I feel like a jerk because of that. I hate being like this...letting friendships drop by the wayside because I can't keep up...Some days I am so desperate to get away from all this cancer crap that I wanna just get in the car and drive and drive and drive, all the way to the beach or something, and just stay there. But it doesn't freakin work that way. I can't put my cancer on hold for a week and choose not to deal with it. I can't ignore the healthcare re-application form that has a deadline I have to adhere to. I don't know how to balance "cancer stuff" with "the rest of my life" right now. OMG and I don't even know how to WRITE right now. This mess of a post is proving my point!!!

I hate being so self-centered right now and not being able to keep up with everyone else's lives to the extent that I'm used to. I want to be out celebrating all of my friends' happy news and changes (the new jobs, upcoming graduations, engagements, etc!), and I want to still be working on the NECCA board, and volunteering with the Women's Film Festival/Women's Crisis Center fundraisers, and sponsoring "my" kid in Pakistan, and babysitting, and helping with NECCA shows, and helping raise money for Haiti, and working with the foster kids, and facilitating Girls Circle, and writing grant proposals, and roller skating with my friends, and doing trapeze, and doing yoga, and ALL OF THAT. But I can't right now, because I have to have more tissue cut out of my breast in 2 days. And then I have to recover from that, and go for a follow-up, and meet with the radiation oncologist, and meet with the medical oncologist, and go back to my naturopath, and choose which treatments to do next and do them.

I'm trying to accept the fact that I NEED to temporarily let go of all of that, and slow down, and not EXPECT all of that from myself... I need to ALLOW myself to be "self-centered" right now, and take care of myself, and allow others to love and support me without feeling guilty for it. It's a big life lesson I need to learn, and something that I will forever be practicing, and it's hard, and I'm just fumbling my way through it. I feel like apologizing a million times over for being an unavailable friend, for not being much fun right now, for being Cancer Girl... Logically I know I shouldn't be apologizing, but... I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat because really that's what I'm feeling. So guilty for not being able to be a good friend right now, for not being able to help other people, or do good things for the world. Ever since I was a kid myself, I've known that my mission in life is to make the world a better place for children. And I worked with kids, probably nearly a thousand of them, for 15 years straight. Then I got burnt out and "quit," but not really; I've STILL been working with kids because I can't NOT. And women's rights has been my other big focus for the past decade or so.... The day that I got diagnosed with cancer was the day that I had been planning on mailing out my cover letter and resume to apply for my dream job, to be a Women's Advocate at the local Women's Crisis Center. And then suddenly I BECAME the Woman In Crisis. It makes me so angry and it makes me cry. I know that I can't help anyone else until I help myself... that whole airplane analogy; you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. So I guess that's what this whole stupid cancer journey is forcing me to learn - how to put on my oxygen mask. I'm gonna stop typing and go practice breathing.


  1. we love you, Britta. whatever you need to do...we'll be here. <3 Cathryn

  2. Everyone who loves you understands why you're focused on this right now ... we WANT you to be doing what you need to do, and we are here to help in any way possible. Remember the FPB mantra? -- "for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies ..." -- you are surrounded by the love of SO many people and you WILL find light at the end of this tunnel, you'll get back to your life and pick up all the pieces. Life is really hard right now, and not fair, but ultimately life is an amazing blessing. You're doing great, you know -- how could this journey not be a roller coaster? I am AMAZED at you all the time, whether you are having a rough day/week, or whether you're feeling confident and competent. You're a woman coping with a challenge. You're going to succeed. Your real friends will be waiting for you, and their love is holding you up throughout all of this. I love you SOOOOO much!

  3. It sounds like you're actually starting to come out of the "cancer hole" a little bit... like you're accepting that your experience with breast cancer is now a part of your life and someday, you will move on. I hope you get your dream job in women's rights, you are a strong, beautiful woman who will continue to do great work.

    Also, with you issues with male docs, have you requested a female oncologist? Most hospitals understand that some people prefer doctors of one gender/sex over another. It's worth a shot since the male techs caused you such distress for your surgery.