Friends, I’ve been scared of this post for a while. But I think it’s time. Because I think I’m finally in a mental place where I can handle people knowing, and I’m tired of keeping secrets.
If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed I’ve had some weird personal stuff going on lately that I haven’t been talking about. I was going on a trip to Texas, then suddenly I wasn’t going to Texas. I was going on a writing retreat, then I couldn’t go on a writing retreat, and then I could go again. I was posting several times a week about training for a half marathon, then I wasn’t posting about training anymore, and then I was hesitantly back to the gym after a few weeks off. And I posted more than a few times about the amazing generosity of my friends, which maybe isn’t so out of the ordinary. But it all ties together.
Here’s the somewhat short version of a very long story.
Two and a half months ago, I noticed a lump in my breast.
Two months ago, I found out that lump was cancerous.
Five weeks ago, I had surgery to remove the lump.
Three weeks ago, doctors were running tests to determine if chemotherapy would be recommended, and to find out if I had any mutations in my BRCA genes, which would put me at high risk for ovarian cancer and also would mean I’d need to get my children tested.
Two weeks ago, I learned that my cancer is a low risk for recurrence, and that risk is not changed by chemo, which meant I don’t need it. I also learned that my BRCA genes contain no mutations, which means no increased risk for me or my kids. That meant we could go ahead with the next stage of treatment, which was radiation.
One week ago, I started radiation therapy. That’ll go on for six weeks. Every weekday. It doesn’t hurt, yet. I hear it might as time progresses.
After that, I’ll get to do some form of hormonal therapy. We haven’t decided exactly how severe to go with that yet. Whatever we choose will continue for the next five years, at least. Along with regular doctor visits and tests to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
I’m not going to lie — this whole thing has sucked. A lot. I haven’t wanted to talk about it, because cancer patient is not a label I wanted people to assign to me. Friend, mommy, geek girl, YA writer, blogger, lover of action movies, queso enthusiast, TV aficionado, a cappella nerd, Twitter addict, book cheerleader — these were all aspects of myself that didn’t change with a cancer diagnosis. And throughout this whole crappy ordeal, despite having this One Big Thing constantly looming over my life, I haven’t cared less about any of those things.
I’m still me. I’m just me with cancer.
When I got my diagnosis, I told a small group of close friends and family, because it felt like something I didn’t want the world knowing yet, but I couldn’t keep from those who knew me best. That was the best decision I could have made, because my friends — most of whom I made through writing — have been invaluable as I’ve faced this.
They’ve brought me chocolate and wine and action figures and books and queso and movies. They’ve gotten me out of my house when I needed a distraction (two days after I got my diagnosis, when I knew I had cancer but still didn’t know the severity because Nashville had an ice storm and scheduling meetings with specialists was a nightmare, I went with a friend to see Jupiter Ascending. Which on the one hand is a weird thing to do two days after finding out you have cancer, but on the other hand, is the perfect thing to do. Nothing seems all that dire when you’re watching were-Channing Tatum rollerblade through a bouquet of space explosions. With bees). They’ve sent me gifs that made me snort in public, and they’ve recommended ridiculous shows for me to binge-watch on Netflix.
They’ve also prayed over me. They’ve handed me money to help with my medical bills. They’ve sent me emails and texts that moved me to tears. And they’ve contributed towards or prepared enough meals for my family that we had to borrow an entire upright freezer to store them all.
It’s in our dining room. My house in no way has enough room for an upright freezer.
Every time I look at it, I smile.
And every time I’ve told a friend what I’m going through, what my family is going through, it’s felt like a burden lifted. I always dread the telling, but it’s never been bad.
So now, even though I’m kind of terrified for the world to know about this, I think it’s time. I’m not sure how my brain is going to react to this going from a thing only a few people know to a thing everyone knows. Already, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to respond to a well-meaning email or text — not even to say “I’m not in a good place to deal with this right now, but I appreciate that you’re thinking of me.” Sometimes it’s all just too much.
If you’ve fallen into this category of reaching out only to be met with silence, I apologize. I will probably continue to do this, at times. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. Just know that if I do this to you — if you try to encourage me and I don’t respond — it’s quite literally not you. It’s me. It’s entirely me and my weird, overwhelmed brain that still forgets sometimes that it’s piloting a body that mutinied on itself.
There are two questions I’ve been asked more than anything else over the past two months. They are:
How are you feeling?
What do you need?
I’ll try to answer them now. The answers don’t change. Or at least, they haven’t yet.
I feel fine. I still have some lingering soreness from my surgery, but I don’t feel sick at all. I’m not tired. My appetite is good. I’m back to exercising regularly, and while I won’t be setting any personal bests at this half marathon next weekend, I feel good about my ability to complete it.
I’m still reading. I’m still writing. None of my dreams have changed.
I’m told that after a few weeks, radiation will eventually make my skin feel constantly sunburned, and that it will get progressively worse until treatment is finished. I’m told it may make me tired. I have markers all over me for them to be able to line up my treatments — literally sharpie marks dotted all over my torso and covered by clear stickers, that feel like nothing but make me look like a Freemasons map. They make it hard to find anything to wear — the markers go all the way up to my collarbone, and we’re not exactly in turtleneck season — and that can be kind of frustrating and self-conscious-making. If you need me for the next six weeks, I’ll be the girl in the t-shirts. Always t-shirts. For every occasion.
But for now, I feel good. I feel like me, both physically and mentally.
As far as what I need, that’s a trickier question. Thanks to several friends and family members being unbelievably generous, I think that we will be okay financially. We have insurance, and while co-pays and co-insurance still add up to quite a hefty sum, it’s looking like we’ll be able to handle it. And that is a huge, huge blessing. Honestly one of my very first thoughts when my doctor said, “your biopsy came back positive for carcinoma,” wasn’t, “Am I going to die?” or, “What is this going to do to me physically?” — it was, “We can’t afford this.”
But now we can. It’ll be a long road — years — of tests and treatment and doctors visits. But it won’t break us.
We are also good on food. As I mentioned, we have a whole freezer full of meals.
So really, what I need right now is to smile. Encouragement — even if I fail to respond — is always appreciated. Prayer, if you are a person who prays. Laughter. Distraction.
The weekend I got my diagnosis, my friends showered me with these things. A gift card for my favorite local Mexican place. Gift cards for books, digital downloads for movies. Bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates. Countless texts and emails until it felt I was swimming in love.
It was like I was being wooed, but not romantically. Wooed back to myself.
(This is why these people are my best friends. They know me well enough to know exactly what I’d need in a time of crisis.)
And it’s still what I need.
So far, cancer has been scary and uncertain and inconvenient and frustrating and painful. It gets overwhelming at the weirdest times, and I never know when I’m going to shut down and become unable to engage on it in any capacity. But it’s also been strangely eye-opening. I’ve never felt such an outpouring of love before. I already knew, cognitively, that my friends were amazing and loving and generous. But now I know it with every piece of me, deep in my heart and soul.
I don’t expect to blog again about this. I’m not going to become a Person Who Blogs Their Disease. (There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not me.) Even this post is a stretch for me. It’s a little terrifying. Or a lot terrifying. Next time I blog, it will be about something book or writing related. I hope.
But like I said, I have the most amazing support system that a girl could wish for. I have a wonderful husband and family going through this with me. I feel good. I’m at peace with the long road of treatment and testing ahead, and I’m at peace with the decisions we’ve made thus far. I’m ready for this to be a thing others know about me, even those I don’t know very well.
So here you go, Internet. My scary secret. I’m nervous.