The Reality of Loneliness with Cancer
I find it ironic the color pink is used to represent breast cancer. A pretty color for such an ugly disease. I try to remember what life was like BC, before cancer. I’ve been so consumed with all things breast cancer for the past 5 months that I can’t remember. I grieve the life I had before cancer. I do however remember my husband immediately passing out in the chair next to me when the radiologist spoke my diagnosis into existence. Meanwhile, I was trying to remember anything related to cancer that I’d picked up on from years of binging Greys Anatomy. The radiologist asked over and over what questions we had. I couldn’t ask questions. I could barely speak. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that, at 28 years old, I had breast cancer. Having cancer wasn’t on the “list” of milestones to achieve as a young adult. We got married, bought our first home, got a puppy, finally had great jobs that we were proud of. This was not a part of our plan.
I remember crying and screaming. I was terrified and angry at myself. Was it my fault that I have breast cancer? What if I’d gone to the doctor sooner? I still make myself sick trying to figure out how this happened. Genetic testing proved I don’t carry any breast cancer genes. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. So, where the hell did this come from? If the cancer is not inherited, it is a “sporadic gene mutation.” There is no good answer as to why this happened. In my job, I work with numbers and formulas. There’s always a way to work through the math and get to the solution. The reasoning behind my breast cancer diagnosis is a problem that can’t be solved, and that’s a hard thing for me to accept.
In less than 6 weeks, I’d lost my boobs and hair. My Dyson Air wrap now sits unused in the bathroom mocking me and my bald head. Yes, my hair will grow back, probably even better than before. But my boobs are gone forever. I opted against reconstruction, because quite frankly, I’m angry with boobs. I didn’t want to have them a part of me ever again. I’m reminded of what I’m going through every time I look in the mirror and see my mastectomy scars. I don’t even recognize my body. No matter how often people tell me that I’m beautiful, I never feel like it. Before cancer, I was finally comfortable in my own skin as a young woman. I think it takes us years of going through different phases before we figure out our style. I finally knew how I liked my hair done, my favorite make-up products and routine, where to shop for clothes I felt GOOD in. Now I have a new body and I’m starting from scratch with my self-love journey. The clothes that used to make me feel confident, I now hate because they don’t fit the way they used to. I wear baggy tops to try and hide the fact that I have a flat chest. It’s hard to feel feminine and attractive when I’m missing some of the things that made me feel like a woman. When I first shaved my head, I genuinely felt like a bad ass. In fact, I barely even cried. The bad ass feeling has since worn off, and now I just miss having any sense of control over what is happening to my body.
Something I didn’t fully expect was how lonely cancer is. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your support system is. I have learned it’s natural and okay to feel alone. Believe me when I say — I have the best support system there is with my husband, both our families, friends, and an understanding team at work. Yet, I feel alone. It took me a while to figure out why I felt alone, because I’m always surrounded by loved ones and people calling or texting to check in. I feel alone when I look around the waiting room at my oncologists and surgeon’s office and I am the youngest person in there by at least 10 years. I feel alone reading other women’s breast cancer stories, because most of them aren’t in their twenties. I feel alone when I’m scrolling through Instagram and see people my age experiencing normal things. They’re buying houses, getting married, having babies, going on amazing vacations. Meanwhile, I’m getting a chemo infusion. Something you don’t see on your newsfeed for the average twenty-something year old. I feel alone in what used to be my favorite stores, trying to find something I can wear and feel beautiful in. There aren’t many clothing options catered to young women that had a double mastectomy. I feel alone going through chemo induced menopause at 28-year-old. I feel alone because no one in my circle is going through what I am. I feel alone thinking about the future. I’m always wondering how many birthdays I have left if this treatment plan doesn’t work, and it turns into Stage 4. It’s hard to not give into the fear that a cancer diagnosis brings.
My advice for someone recently diagnosed would be to be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. You’re going through a million physical and emotional changes in a short period of time. The last thing you need is to be at war with yourself. This is not your fault and you are still as much of a woman, if not more, than you were before. — Heather
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