Tonight the phone rang and an acquaintance of mine from church informed me that she had recently been diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. She'd had a lumpectomy, and she's scheduled to undergo 30 radiation treatments. The woman had some questions about what to expect. You know, for a brief moment, I had to pause and think about the radiation treatments that I received more than five years ago. But my initial hazy recollection of the events suddenly became crystal clear in my mind's eye, as I spoke to her, and in an odd sense, I found myself reliving some of those moments all over again today.
I told her that compared to the chemotherapy, the radiation treatments were a piece of cake for me. Knowing that chemotherapy was not part of her protocol, in some ways I found if difficult to relay my experiences to her because the effects of the chemotherapy overshadowed nearly every other aspect of my care. In my experience, chemo. became the "thing" that led to virtually every negative side effect. While the radiation left visible purplish skin and itchy patches at the site under my armpit, the chemotherapy left much more inconspicuous - and permanent - marks within my body. I still find myself stumbling in its wake. The hot flashes. The difficulty remembering a phone number just seconds after hearing it. The weight gain. The loss of sex drive. Osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, at age 44. And the feeling that some things just seem "different" in my body, but I can't really verbalize what they are. I just don't feel the same anymore.
Maybe I can attribute the "different" post cancer feelings to menopause, which was also brought on by the chemotherapy, almost overnight. But I firmly believe that there's more to it than that.
The phone call tonight was a difficult one, because it was hard for me to separate the side effects of chemotherapy from those of radiation. Who knows? Maybe the two treatments had a synergistic effect and actually made each one worse than either one would have been on its own. All I know is that after speaking with literally tens of women with breast cancer over the last five years since my diagnosis, no two women have had the exact experience.
However, there is one the that we do all share: we've learned to appreciate each day that we're here. Each new day is a bonus. We all remember the day and time that we heard the news that we had cancer, and our lives were changed dramatically from that point on. We know that each hug we give, every smile that we demonstrate to a stranger, and each silver-lined cloud are all so much more precious than ever. Because we've learned that things can change literally overnight, we don't want to waste one single day wishing things were as they used to be.