Cancer is…PTSD

According to The American Psychiatry Association 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime and women are twice as likely as men to be affected. Common symptoms include vivid flashbacks of the trauma, severe emotional distress, anxiety and hopelessness.

A lump in my left breast revealed invasive ductal carcinoma in 2014. Six years later suspicious calcifications which were determined to be malignant were discovered. New breast, new diagnosis. After five years of tamoxifen and changing my diet – cancer returned. The universal heaviness of 2020 and the recurrence became a breeding ground for fear and panic. I was swept into a darkness that at times felt unbearable.

Cancer is PTSD. It is an unrelenting diagnosis that continually reminds me of the depth of the trauma I’ve endured. The emotional triggers caused by the PTSD of living through cancer are never-ending. How am I supposed to overcome these waves of grief when my body is the trigger? When I look in the mirror before showering, I see a monument of scars. My upper body has become a shrine of both pain and survival. When I stare in the mirror, I feel pity and reverence for the woman looking back at me. She is bruised, the fragility of her beating heart is palpable, and her spirit is weary.

My bi-lateral mastectomy six weeks ago was a step toward giving me more time in this physical body, but the expanders look awkward, like they don’t want to occupy space in my chest cavity any more than I want them there. I wasn’t prepared for the marks from the drains; these new scars sit just beneath the large, dark slits from the sentinel node dissections. A nipple-less mound of stitched flesh has replaced a symbol of my womanhood – this is trauma.

I called my oncologist in a panic filled outburst because my gynecologist suggested I remove my ovaries; I had a dry cough and my lower back was sore. She assured me that my self-imposed cataclysmic diagnosis was unfounded. She also agreed to run more blood work and perform scans if it would give me peace of mind. Her words reminded me that my very existence in this body temple will always prompt a tsunami of toxic thoughts, doubts and despair; peace of mind no longer exists.

PTSD feels like living with a festering wound that never develops a scab. It feels like breaking, like gasping for air, like anguish.  I’m learning how to navigate these dark storms when my inner calm gets drowned out by a life filled with unexpected land mines.

My higher self believes there is a balm for these heart wounds, that there is untapped joy waiting to be found, that there is mercy, a reprieve and ease finding its way back into my life. My higher self is calling me to let laughter in, to stop holding so tightly to fear’s hand and to allow serenity to become my new resting place.

I am trying, I am willing, I am learning to surrender.

Perhaps my scars are monuments of grace through adversity, of dignified strength, of a heart center that holds love and not bitterness.

Perhaps these scars are here to remind me that the deepest pain is given to the most beautiful souls and I am one of them.

Kai McGee is a writer who frequently explores parenting, her journey through breast cancer, social-justice and self-care. She is currently working on her memoir. Connect with her via Instagram @onanaturalkai

Cancer Is… is a monthly Blog where Kai McGee explores thoughts on what cancer is and is not from her lens of walking the journey as a survivor, thriver and champion for Breast Cancer awareness.

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