In This Moment

April 4, 2023

A woman that receives the diagnosis is not the same woman living with the remnants of breast cancer. She simply tries to navigate her steps in the body of a new person. As a hand glides over various areas of the body, it feels foreign and unfamiliar. The most difficult part of life after being diagnosed is coming to terms that you will never feel like yourself. Feel like your old self. This new body requires that you adapt and come to terms with what remains, yet the connection to the old is broken and detached. Coming to terms with a decision that your body signed you up for against your will. The scars that metabolize into pains that many cannot understand without feeling the incisions themselves.

A breast cancer diagnosis leaves residual effects, ones that can leave many feeling like an orphaned adult. Abandon and lost. Homeless. Reminiscent of unclaimed baggage sitting in a room waiting to be claimed. But the actual body has boarded a flight for a one-way destination.

There is a major difference between making a choice versus accepting the results. Women have shared with me the traumatic results that continuously bind them to a diagnosis. The tears that fall on cheeks in quiet rooms. Glimpses of physical disfigurements that manipulate the mental. Those mental thoughts don’t stand a chance against lifesaving manipulations wrapped in unshared options. 

In December 2018, while getting dressed for a holiday party, I found the lump on my left breast. It was confirmed January 2019 that I in fact had breast cancer. After multiple tests, scans, and biopsies, I was informed that I had an aggressive stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma ER/PR+ HER2- breast cancer. My treatment has included a lumpectomy, port placement, ATC chemotherapy, radiation, and ongoing urogynocologic care and physical therapy for chemotherapy-induced lymphedema. Cancer took over my life for a year, give or take a few days. I am dissatisfied with cancer’s aftermath. My treatment called for multiple steroids with chemotherapy medications over a 6 1/2-month period. I was told to limit my physical activity all the way through radiation. At the end of my treatment, I had gained 60 pounds. I am the biggest I have ever been. I have pudgy rolls where I have never had any before. My curly fro and eyebrows are no more.

My post-cancer body is a work in progress, both physically and mentally. I would even go so far as to say that the battle is more a mental one. While I’m a thriver, baldie badass, and very involved advocate in the breast cancer community, it has become overwhelming and depressing at times. While everyone else gets in the holiday spirit, the depression comes in like an unwelcome acquaintance that takes over my thoughts from November until sometime in the spring when it finally releases me. Because of therapy, I have learned that this season of depression that has come to visit me every year for the last three years is due to triggering trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from breast cancer. I’ve also learned that PTSD is a trauma response that comes because you no longer feel safe in your body.

While I am a functioning depressed woman, my energy level is so low, my mind allows for my thoughts to swallow me whole, and I pull back from everyone. Sometimes it shows up as anxiety attacks, but most time it shows up as chronic insomnia. Most nights I am getting between 1-4 hours of broken sleep. During that triggered season that often rolls around in November, my insomnia is the worst. It takes everything within me to muster up the “holiday spirit” for my family and friends. I have tried to push past these feelings to get back to moving. Mentally, I find that I am just sad, angry, pissed, and just over feeling like this. Some days it works and I succeed in making through, some days it doesn’t work and I remain stuck. Ideally, I want to get back to my pre-cancer mindset and closer to my pre-cancer weight.

I’m just tired of being seen as damaged. A lot of it is just me, my thoughts, and my biases. This mindset causes me to constantly think differently than old Keneene. I feel that my diagnosis, treatments, and remnants are contagious viruses to my romantic happiness. While there is definitely shit in the dating pool, I am in there struggling to hold onto a floatie with a hole in it. These thoughts tarnish the possibilities before the introductions even get to happen.

I’m not sure if I will ever get back; I just want to feel better about myself which I know will have a major influence on how I view my outward appearance. Yearly, I am fighting depression while trying to be a fully functioning adult, mother, and friend who wants to whip this beat-up body back into a Keneene-ish form. Lately, I have put my energy into my family and friends. I am finally reading the books that I’ve been meaning to read. I have started writing the series that I’ve been wanting to write. I have even hopped back on my Peloton with the hopes that I remain consistently active and feel better about my physicality. Friendship, activities, and advocacy; I wonder, will this become my life? Those wonders can monopolize my time focusing on the unfulfilled dreams of a hopeless romantic. — Keneene Lewis

Photos by Charmaine Edwards

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