The Anxiety of My “New” Body
“You have cancer.” Three words I never thought I’d hear, especially working as an oncology nurse myself. Not just any cancer, might I add—the most aggressive kind called Triple Negative that doesn’t care that you’re 30 and about to be married in less than a year. The type of cancer that doesn’t take into account that you’re going to be bald and have no hair for all the wedding events, potentially rob you from having your own children and being able to breast feed them. Not to mention the biggest one, the reoccurrence rate within five years isn’t great, so you have to hold your breath every day after treatment is over and pray you’re not just a sitting duck waiting for it to come back.
Ever since I was little, I’ve always struggled with generalized anxiety, and just like every girl, I never thought I was skinny enough, pretty enough and always compared myself to others. Man oh man, if I knew back then what I knew what was going to happen now, I would laugh at myself for getting anxious over the most trivial things and appreciate my then young, healthy, unscarred body. During chemo and losing my hair—sure it was hard, but the day it hit the hardest is when I heard, “Can I help you sir?” as I stood in line at the dermatologist office with my “love your melon” hat and mask on, no lashes or eyebrows. I wanted to burst out in tears and run out of that office. That was the day I started to really hate the way cancer has slowly destroyed my once beautiful body. I was 20lbs heavier because of all the chemo and steroids, felt like a stuffed sausage in all my clothes, wigs half the time just made me hot, trying to pathetically draw on my eyebrows became a lost cause.
Staring at my naked body in the mirror with the scars under my breast from the double mastectomy and the scar from my port—I still can’t fathom how the hell I got here. I’m forever grateful to my amazing surgeons for the work they did. However, not being able to really feel my breast due to nerve tissue loss is one of the hardest things to bare. I found my cancer myself due to feeling it on the first of the month. But now, having loss of sensation, I have a hard time learning how my new body feels and I’m terrified over every little unknown thing I feel in my breast or armpit. Having to get use to the “new normal” of my body is something I still struggle with, but every day when I wake up I remind myself of how far I’ve come. So with this new awkward hair growth I’ve learned that big fun earrings, cute headbands and a bold lipstick go a long way.
Every day is a battle to live this new normal life. I thought going through 16 weeks of chemo, bilateral double mastectomy, reconstruction, 28 rounds of radiation, and now onto oral chemo would be the worst of the anxiety. However, in a weird way I have found comfort in knowing my body was getting treatment and that was keeping the cancer away.
Now that the medical stuff is slowly winding down, I find survivorship being the most difficult to deal with. The unknown of the future scares the hell out of me. Talking to another cancer survivor friend of mine, he said something that resonated with me. “Even if you survive, you’re still a mess from the emotional trauma you’ve been through.” I’ve never heard truer words to be spoken.
I am blessed to have an amazing husband who reminds me I’m beautiful every day, wonderful family and friends who help me get by. Not to mention my therapist who I speak to weekly, I found it so helpful to have an outside person be there to just allow me to vent and cry and complain without feeling bad about it. No one ever gives you a road map on how to navigate this thing called cancer, but I’m trying my best every day and that’s all you can do. — Brittany Muszynski