This post continues what I started in the last post…a few things about breast cancer that I wasn’t aware of at the time of my diagnosis. Knowing the following would have made things a little less stressful:
1. Lumpectomy is a relatively uncomplicated surgery. I wish someone had explained this to me because I was a total wreck going into surgery (which happened to be the only surgery that I had ever had up to that point, making everything 10 times worse). Although I had decided against a full mastectomy, I was still so afraid of what a lumpectomy would entail, what I’d look like and how long it would take me to recover from losing a chunk of flesh.
The reality was…I was back at work the next week. No drainage tubes, no need for heavy analgesics — just a couple of ibuprofin the night after surgery because skipping coffee that morning resulted in a headache, but that was it. It was even hard to tell that I’d had my lump excised. Wish I could go back to my earlier self and tell her not to worry.
2. Doctors are not in a hurry to give you good news. I think there’s a general feeling among medical professionals that there’s so much that can go poorly during cancer treatment that your doc isn’t going to go out of their way to pump you full of optimism. They probably practice keeping an emotionless face as they deliver all sorts of news, both good and bad. As a patient, however, I watched every flicker on my oncologist’s face for an indication of how things were “really” going. I feared that there was something he wasn’t telling me.
It wasn’t until perhaps a year or so later when I was expressing my fears to him about possible abnormalities inside my body that he uttered the phrase, “but you have your health”…and I was taken aback because I had never heard him sound so positive. It was almost a shock to hear him confirm that I was actually considered healthy.
3. Don’t expect things to be the same as before. Accepting that part of your life has changed will make it much easier to go on. This took me a while to appreciate because I was expecting to get back to doing and feeling everything the same as before my diagnosis.
But chemo (and eventually, age) pushed me through menopause, and I had to come to grips with, say, a high-intensity interval workout requiring more recovery time and that I had trouble remembering people’s names. Once I got to that point of acceptance, life after cancer treatment became easier, although it did take a number of years to get there.
4. Hair takes a while to grow back in. The reason I created posts with photographs that illustrated the cancer journey that my hair went through (here and here) was because I could not find good photos on the internet documenting the process. I did see images of a woman a few weeks after stopping chemo with little stubs already visible, but that was not my experience and it made my anxiety over my slow regrowth even worse.
If you’ve ever googled your chemo drug name + “hair loss”, you understand the fear: the first search result is usually a law office gathering info on behalf of cancer patients whose hair never grew back!
It took a number of months before my folicles woke up and actually started growing. I remember the moment that I finally saw growth on the front of my head and it was as if the heavens had opened up and divine light poured out onto me. Seriously. I would have avoided a lot of stress if someone had just told me that it’s gonna be a while.
Ok, ok, to be fair, my oncologist did urge patience with the regrowth but I was a jumbled mess of nerves and was feeling overwhelmed. All the internet propaganda about both (1) other women having much faster regrowth, or (2) other women never getting their hair back terrified me. Note to self: when feeling desperate, stay off the internet!