Tuesday, 29 March 2011

It's not you, it's me, cancer.

Tucked away amongst all of the reading material that I received three weeks ago was a sheet titled 10 Commandments for Fighting Cancer. Number 5, Be selfish, was the only one that I was really struggling to implement. I was having a hard time imagining myself as selfish in my world built around the needs of others. But, I have seemingly managed my first truly (or, maybe more accurately, purposefully) selfish act. I ended a relatively new relationship when I realized that I was holding someone's hand instead of having my hand held during a time of utter upheaval in my life. I enabled this person's downward spiral by supporting their reaction to my diagnosis when what I really needed to do was focus on my own. However, the break-up process was lengthier and far more complicated than I had anticipated. I was under the naive impression that I had found a fool-proof excuse for breaking up with someone. After all, who could argue against the rationale that a gal with cancer needs some time and space to process new information, to focus on herself, and to conserve her precious energy? This very logical argument was repeatedly met with statements such as, "I won't leave you in your time of need," and "I'll stand by you no matter what happens." I was admittedly baffled by this blatant disregard for my needs that were, for the very first time in my life, expressed so clearly, pointedly, and selfishly. After a bit of pondering I realized that instead of providing an easy out, my cancer may have created an opportunity for heroism. I, a single mother, a professor, a person who is used to taking care of everyone and everything, was finally also vulnerable. Perhaps this new fragility, along with the accessibility of stereotypes of what young women in my situation want to hear, created an almost obsessive desire to care for me. Ironically, this intensity to provide for my perceived needs led to the dismissal of my actual stated needs, and ultimately to the demise of a relationship that had potential. In the end, I employed a traditional break-up strategy, the classic "It's not you, it's me," that was both successful and selfish. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Welcome to 1989...

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time". --T. S. Eliot

This is my first foray into the world of blogging, but not into the world of breast cancer. My mother was first diagnosed when I was thirteen years old and she died when I was twenty-four. My notion of womanhood has always been intertwined with breast cancer. So, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks ago, I was instantly transported back to 1989, back to the beginning of my relationship with my breasts, womanhood, and (in many ways) my mother.  In that moment, I started to know.

However, I don't want to stay in 1989 nor do I want to be stuck in a state of knowing; I want to be doing. I will have a bilateral mastectomy at the end of April and then will begin the lengthy process of reconstruction. There is no doubt that this is the right course of action as I have the "breast cancer gene" (BRCA-1) and am considered "high risk." In fact, I have been mentally preparing for this surgery for the last 10 years as the threat of breast cancer was always salient. But, I am completely unprepared for how to negotiate my life as it interacts with my cancer. I have many unanswered questions: How will I tell my 6-year-old daughter about this? How will I occupy my time on my leave from work? Will I look remotely normal? Will I be able to have a casual fling without having to address my medical history before I take my top off?

For me, the most frustrating part of this experience is dealing with the lack of available resources to address my concerns in a way that is appropriate for my stage in life. I did not receive any information pertaining to breast cancer in young women during my debriefing session with a lovely elderly volunteer (and survivor) at the hospital. I started this blog in response to feeling isolated in the context of my breast cancer diagnosis. It is an opportunity for me to write about my life with, despite, and because of breast cancer. I hope that it will be useful to other young women who are in similar situations.