Two days after my youngest daughter’s 6th birthday in 2015 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. In the nearly three years since there’s been many of the expected things that go along with a diagnosis of this kind. Three surgeries; a lumpectomy, an abscess and a mastectomy where finally an anaesthetist listened to my tales of post-surgical recovery woe and gave me the top shelf drugs, which I highly recommend! There’s been a 6 month chemotherapy regime which I managed reasonably well. Three weeks of radiation following chemo. More messing about in hospitals than some, less than others.
I’m now almost two years out from active treatment, although ongoing hormone treatment in the form of a daily pill makes sure that my weight keeps slowly climbing, my joints ache (and do a very convincing job of making me think I’ve got bone mets), vision is a bit wonky, blah, blah, blah. Basically I’m doing ok. Most would consider that I’m doing well.
There’ve been many unexpected and surprising feelings along this Breast Cancer road. I’m now completely stunned to find that guilt is one of them. Guilt is an insidious thing, sliming its way into your thoughts when you least expect it. I’m finding more than one type of guilt smacking me over the head at the moment. There’s of course ‘survivor’s guilt’, how come I’m boxing on quite happily here while others have it so much worse, and shouldn’t I just shut up about the ongoing issues a cancer diagnosis brings?
Survivor’s guilt is not unexpected, and going through this whole process has enhanced my already fatalistic approach to life, ‘why not me?’ right? No reason why I should evade being poked with the cancer stick. What I’m now finding is, as I begin the process of reconstructing my missing breast there’s a whole different load of guilt jostling for position.
Why has my name come up for reconstruction so soon after diagnosis and completion of treatment? Actually I know the answer to that one, a friend who had an initial consultant appointment with a plastic surgeon cancelled as she’d already had her ‘boob job’, I’d been to a Radiology check-up that week and my Radiologist said she’d follow up my plastic referral. Voila, I get the call there’s been a cancellation and did I want it? Serendipity? Who knows, we’re joking that I’m getting her boob. People I know have been waiting for years, and the Wellington region has just sent a letter to all those on the list explaining the delay and that there’s no saying when things will improve.
Why am I putting myself through this process? It’s going to involve at least two surgeries, two (more!) months off work, untold hours of pain and discomfort going on for years. I’m not unhappy with my lack of breast, I’m OK with looking at myself in the mirror, it’s kind of a hassle remembering my prosthetic and that sucker is heavier than it looks but really I’m OK Why hasn’t this appointment gone to someone who’s desperately unhappy with the way they look? Why to me when I’d just like to have a bit of cleavage back? So many unanswerable questions. I’m working on getting back to ‘why not me?’ and hopefully, with a lot of deep breaths, I’m getting there.
- Carolyn Manning