Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Day I was Diagnosed with Cancer, Came off Opiates, and Successfully Fought Cancer


August 14, 2014 was the one of the most accomplished days of my life. On this day I was diagnosed with cancer, came off opiates, successfully fought cancer, and for the first time ever spoke to the women who saved my life. And the most remarkable part? I accomplished this all while watching a three hour marathon of the Real Housewives of NYC reunion.
Let me explain further:
It was one week and one day post surgery and my daughters were at their aunt's house. I received a phone call from the breast surgeon to discuss my pathology results. She explained (in a much more sophisticated way than I'm about to) that while my right breast looked good and my nipples looked good, my left breast had fucken cancer (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ - DCIS). Yes, in the breast tissue they had just removed, there was evidence of cancer! Cancer that hadn’t shown up on my MRI in January or on my mammogram in June, but was now present in August. I had cancer after all. Shocking right? I'm still processing this news myself.
At this point it just seems to move to me swearing (truthfully it doesn't take much). Holyfuckenshit! I had cancer. How crazy and validating is that?! Thank God I got the surgery when I did, that I didn't listen to people who tried to talk me out of it (yes, there were actually a few assholes who tried), that I didn't delay surgery when I hurt my knee, or at any point let fear dictate my actions. I was brave and strong and knew this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it and I was fucking right. Luckily it turns out that if you are going to got diagnosed with cancer after a mastectomy, DCIS is the best type to get. Thankfully a mastectomy is enough to ensure that I don't have cancer anymore. So that's why I can say that August 14th was the day I was both diagnosed with and successfully fought cancer.
As for the comment about coming off opiates that was a joke made by my friend, a drug counselor, who recognizes how difficult opiate addiction can be. It just so happens that August 14th was the day I stopped using my prescribed painkillers, mainly because I was sick of the side effects.
My reference to talking to the person who saved my life is actually a very cool story. A lot of things drove me to genetic testing in the first place, but most significant was that one of my dearest friend's younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and discovered she carried the brca2 gene mutation. As a result, my friend went through genetic testing. I held her hand through the process and was there when she was told by the genetic counselor (the same one who I later met with) that she tested negative for brca2. Had my friend's sister not had breast cancer when she did, I may not have had my genetic testing when I did, nor my mastectomy when I did. On August 14th, I spoke to my friend's sister for the first time, primarily seeking post mastectomy bra shopping guidance, but I also got to tell her that her own diagnosis was not in vain - that it actually moved me to genetic testing and ultimately saved my life.
But mostly what I did on August 14th was watch TV. Hours and hours of TV; which included all three hours of the Real Housewives of New York City reunion.  After all that viewing, I made the following important conclusion: there’s no doubt in my mind that Aviva Dresher came to that party at Le Cirque with every intention of throwing her prosthetic leg on the floor.
Fuck cancer...these are the really important matters in my life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How I went from hot mess, to total zen master.

For almost exactly one year, I nervously awaited my surgery. Looking back at this blog, it's full of references to managing panic attacks, feeling like a hot mess, and not being able to sleep. I’ve read the research on how stress affects executive functioning and in retrospect can attribute my lack of executive functioning to stress. Such stress induced incidents from the year (which I'm almost embarrassed to write down) include the accident I had where I injured my knee, the time I unknowingly wrote a check from a closed bank account, and when my car was towed for reasons I'm still too ashamed to describe.

I spent much of the year trying, but ultimately failing, at finding balance between home, health, and career. I thought I had finally had things figured out for this coming fall, then a week before surgery, at the worst possible time imaginable, the shit hit the fan and once again my career and childcare were in question.  Then something magical happened two days before surgery... the seas parted and my daughter was offered placement at a preschool program where I had initially applied back in October. I knew that this was both a good match for her needs and mine and would mean I no longer would be working simply to cover childcare expenses.  

Suddenly I shifted from self-described ‘hot mess’ to, as one friend described me, "a total zen master". I felt completely at peace...the stress of the past year now behind me. I approached the days and hours before surgery feeling totally at ease and relaxed. Two hours before surgery I wrote the following Facebook status. "Feel compelled to write after so many well wishes. I'm a few hours away from surgery. Feel confident, calm, and ready. The next time I'm on fb it will be in a body with 95% less risk for cancer than the one I'm currently in. How amazing is that?" And I meant it.

The night before surgery I folded laundry and kept up with the Kardashians. I didn't sleep well, but not in a nervous way - more in a high on adrenaline kind of way. The morning of surgery I messaged friends and listened to music as planned. During anesthesia my husband was my DJ playing the Jam, Generation X, and the Ramones. The last song I heard was Rock and Roll by the Velvet Underground, a song that has become my anthem.

I woke up seven hours later in the post-op room dreaming I was in my daughter’s bed. I asked to see my parents and husband who seconds later were by my side. I wasn't in pain, I had no regrets. A huge weight was lifted off my chest both literally and figuratively.

As I write, I'm still only a week post-op. There have been a few complications and setbacks, but that's to be expected. Mostly I'm good, really good, and feel optimistic and excited as I start this new chapter, healthy in body and mind.