There are a lot of experiences that can cause trust issues. A significant other steps out with someone else. You confide in a co-worker about something, and they take it to your boss. You are counting on someone to have your back and they choose to walk away instead. You find out that your parents have been lying to you for YEARS about mythical creatures that slide down a chimney or fly into your room at night after you lose a tooth. (If you’re six and your parents are still supporting you, I suggest that you get over the mythical creatures one fast.) But all of these trust issues result from something that happens to you from the outside, so you have a choice about staying in that relationship or leaving it. (Unless you’re six…see above).
So, what do you do when your own body betrays you?
As a young woman, you go into cancer with an unspoken trust of what your body can do. You have an image of who you are and how to manage all your limitations. Before treatment you used to be able to plow the back forty, engage sixteen new clients, choreograph a toddler tap dance and cook a gourmet meal all at the same time and once you’re done treatment, sometimes you can’t even remember where you left your keys. You used to be able to hike to the top of the mountain and now your legs swell and your feet hurt from walking around buying groceries, for which you now have to have a list because you forget what you need the minute you walk out the door. You plan a road trip and the day you’re supposed to leave, it’s really windy and you’re worried that your arm won’t hold out long enough for you to reach your destination.
And you’re not even thirty yet.
It’s not like you can choose a replacement to inhabit the next time you’re online shopping, so you’re kinda stuck with what you’ve got. You get up in the morning and look in the mirror and even if your outsides have physically regained a semblance of your pre-cancer-diagnosis-and-treatment self, it’s like the end of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland and the ghost, in this instance of your cancer, superimposes its image over your face. You dwell in a place where you are very aware that at any time your cells can start to crazily divide and conquer, that as you skillfully apply your makeup or match the shirt to the shoes or put on the prosthesis, your insides can be in a back room making a plan to take you down.
We are all aware that as we age we may become forgetful, our bones may hurt, we may lose some of our strength. But we can embrace that as a part of being human. It’s a completely different degree of treachery when your own body lets you down when your world of possibilities is just beginning to open up as a young person.
So many things change for young women diagnosed with breast cancer and I think one of the biggest and most challenging ones is negotiating a new relationship with your own body. The adage “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. And just as you might not be able to blindly trust an outsider ever again once you have been betrayed (mythical creatures notwithstanding), learning to have faith in the assembled cells you occupy can be a huge hurdle. People will tell you to be positive, with the underlying message that things could be worse. But just because they could be worse does not mean that you shouldn’t give yourself permission to be angry about being so dreadfully betrayed right now, that you shouldn’t cut yourself some slack when your vision of the future is a little hard to see.
Like Adrienne said to me recently, it can be hard to clear the fog when you’re carrying around a fog machine.
Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California. She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure. When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed! Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter, Adrienne, as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.