What does it feel like to have cancer?

My deadline has arrived.  I know that you all have been on the edges of your seats waiting for this post.  Yes, get a grip!  Most of you won’t even read this, and I don’t blame you.  It is depressing thinking about cancer and how it effects a person’s life.  When I initially challenged myself in my Warrior post, I envisioned funny stories, sprinkling in a few emotional tidbits here and there.  Nothing too depressing.  I also envisioned 40 items, as I was 40 when I was diagnosed.  We will just see about that last piece, as I am going to have to split this into at least 2 posts.  Definitely don’t want to bore you all to sleep.

So hear goes nothing…..Part 1 of “What does it feel like to have cancer”?

1.  It feels like a Tylenol size lump on my left breast.  After 1 week of watching it, and it wasn’t budging, made an appointment with a local Gynecologist.  They didn’t take it too seriously, were more concerned about the dense tissue they found on the right breast….but listened to me, and scheduled a mammogram with an ultrasound as added caution.

 2.  Trepidation and what the hell is going on?  During the ultrasound, the radiologist came in after reviewing the images and conducted her own test, measuring and marking areas of concern.  I was told that a biopsy was needed, but not to worry as 80% of them come back negative.  Seeing the blank look on my face, the only word that came out of the nurse’s mouth, calcification’s….call for an appt.  My intuition said it was something.

 3.  Being dragged through a lake on an inner tube, when is it going to end?  Waiting a week for the biopsy to take place.  A different radiologist conducted an ultrasound guided fine needle biopsy, explaining every step and she made.  She ‘vacuumed’ 5 samples out of the breast and followed it by shooting a metal marker into the lump (I cannot even described what this feels like, just know that I don’t wish it on my worst enemy).  I asked to see the samples, having read that if the liquid came out clear that it was benign, but that if it came back cloudy or bloody then it was surely malignant.  I told her what I had read and she tried to convince me that it wasn’t true.  I wasn’t feeling confident, as I saw blood in the samples.  A nurse gave me the # for the results.  The next 3 days drag on and on.

 4.  A hockey puck hitting my chest from the great Wayne Gretsky.   I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, less than 1 mm in size and a grading of 4.  Can’t breathe, instantly go on autopilot. 

 5.  Death sentence. Thoughts of never seeing my babies graduate, get married and have babies of their own flash quickly through my brain.

 6.  God is testing me.  I made a comment that I couldn’t believe a co-worker was giving up the cancer fight and waiting around letting it consume her.  I said that if it was me, I would be crossing everything off my bucket list.  After 2009, I will no longer think for someone else…you DO NOT know how you are going to react when you find out you have the cancer beast.  I hope I passed “HIS” test!

 7.  Insomnia.  Lying in bed, PT spooning me cupping the traitor amongst us, staring at the wall trying to fall asleep.  Waking up, seeing that same damn wall and realizing it wasn’t a dream, it’s my reality.  Over and over and over again.

 8.  Losing a body part.  When the surgeon was laying out the surgical options, I was confident in saying “just take the damn breast”.  PT, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why I was so non shalant about losing a body part.

 9.  Secret.  Finding out that I had cancer the eve of B’s birthday.  Hosting family for the weekend festivities and holding it all in and being “happy”.  Maintaining the secret for PT’s side so that they can enjoy the birth of their first granddaughter.

 10.  Unthinkable.  Getting the courage to tell my sons (5th and 8th grade) that Mom has cancer, it would change our lives for the short term but promising that I would be okay.  All the while keeping my fingers and toes crossed hoping that I could keep that promise.

 11.  Foolishness.  Wonderful co-worker wanted to throw a bon voyage party for the malignant breast and I turned her down-  What the heck was I thinking?  That would have been so much stinking fun!

 12.  Secondary cancer.  Is the enlarged ovarian cyst that is found before the surgery the main culprit—-had the cancer already metastasized?  Blessed be to God—this was proven false a few days later—-the longest days of my life.

 13.  Survivor’s guilt.  I have been given a second chance, my co-worker was not.  To this day I still credit her for saving my life.  The eve of my mastectomy she lost her life to kidney cancer that had metastasized throughout her body.  Two days after my surgery, I walked into her funeral and paid my respects to her family.

 14.  Like a rump roast.  I was warned that the blue dye used to locate the sentinel lymph node would not only turn my breast blue but my urine as well.  Was I ever surprised instead to have my big ole tush turn a beautiful shade of magenta—-if only it didn’t itch like hell and didn’t peel like a bad sunburn.

 15.  Squealing like a pig.  I had drains coming out of me for 2 weeks, the goal being retrieving less than 30 cc’s for 3 days straight.  The first few times the drain was ‘stripped’ I squealed, literally pulling the fluid out of my body.  If only they could hook up a few drains and I could ‘strip’ the fat out of my legs and tush…. Hmmmm…I could make millions.

 16.  Like being in the corner of a high school dance waiting to be asked to dance.  Pathology testing the cancer cells to see what they are receptive to.  What makes you stronger cancer cells, ER+, PR+, HER2 or none of the above Triple Negative?

May I have this dance so that I can kick your ass?

 17.  Not enough empathy for PT.  Everyone is worried about me…who is focusing on his needs….hoping that he is confident enough to vent to his friends without violating my privacy.  I cannot comprehend the angst and hardship that caregiver’s must go through.

 18.  Like trying on my first bra as a teenager, except this time I don’t have to wonder how big my breasts will be….I get to determine the size and the look of my breasts.  What size is your pleasure???

 19.  Overwhelming sense of community.  The outpouring of cards, flowers, meals and support from the people in my life. 

 20.  Claustrophobic.  Thirteen high school girls and boys were taking part in the “Locks of Love” event at the high school the day before my first chemo treatment.  It was obvious the kids were nervous, their feet twitching a mile a minute, such a brave and loving thing to do in front of their classmates.  When a co-worker’s daughter pointed me out to some other girls’ I quickly headed out the side door trying desperately to catch my breath and stop crying.  I later learned that beautiful girl wanted to back out (she was nervous and scared to cut her long hair), but when she saw me she decided she was going forward in my honor. 

My one true regret of this day….not having the courage to be part of the event.  How do you think the 200+ students and teachers would have reacted if I had had my hair cut and then shaved for Locks of Love??

9 thoughts on “What does it feel like to have cancer?

  1. Amazing story with incredible insight. Shaunna, you are brave, strong, heroic and very gifted. One of my team members is going through this currently. I know this will help me to remember her personal struggles though out as well.

    • Thanks Nadra! Just remember that laughter is always the best medicine. I enjoyed crude/morbid humor….go figure. If she ever wants to talk or vent, please point her in my direction. And if she needs to go through chemo, I have a beautiful wig….worn for 2 hours…that I will gladly mail to her.

  2. Shaunna, I was NOT depressed reading your amazing blog. What a courageous woman you are… To share your fears, concerns, guilt and regrets with others. I have wanted to get to know you better for a long while, but now I know why. What a blessing you are! Life is worth celebrating every moment of every day.

  3. OMG Shaunna….you are a wonderful writer!! Having lost a good friend, and known a couple others who have fought the fight, I never really felt like I was saying/doing the right thing, because I had no way of knowing what they were thinking/feeling–this insight is more valuable than you know!! I realize everyone is different, but then again, everyone has to experience at least some of, if not all of, these feelings.

    I’m so glad you are a healthy, happy wife and mother today! Congratulations, and THANK YOU for sharing this!! It’s a tough read, but then it’s not a pretty disease…..thank you.

    • You are always way too kind, if my ego ever needs to be fed….I am coming to you. Most people have a difficult time deciding what to do for friends/family who are suffering from an illness. Just be there, treat them like you normally would and make them laugh! Bottom line, we don’t want our surroundings to be different…even if everything about our lives is different.

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