I am one of breast cancer’s newest recruits. Today is my last day as a civilian. Tomorrow I will have a port put in my shoulder to make the chemo easier to administer. In 2 more days I’ll have my head shaved. In 3 days, chemo will start.
I have a tumor in my right breast, and so have been drafted into a war I have no interest in, no skin in the game. Yet I’m now in a fight for my life. I know it’s a war I will return home from – albeit scarred, wounded, sacrificed. I will lose at least one breast, maybe both. In the short-term I will lose my hair and my immune system will go offline. When I return, my life will be pretty much the way it is now – although maybe I won’t be as angry. Maybe along the way I’ll find acceptance.
Right now I am angry, very angry. How could this happen to ME? Me, who ate all the right things, who exercised, didn’t smoke, gave up red meat at 18 years old, who developed coping skills to deflect stress, who stayed attuned to her body – her temple? Me who has no family history of breast cancer. How did I become THE 1 woman in 7 who gets this? Author Nassim Taleb (Black Swan – the Impact of the Highly Improbable) would say I feel that way because I was raised a Protestant, with the belief that if I worked hard and lived right I would be rewarded. He says that life is random and that it’s how we react to the highly improbable things that happen to us that charts the direction of our lives and makes us who we are. I say that still doesn’t make me feel any better.
Now I give my temple over to a special ops team I call chemo to fight an Al Qaeda-like force called cancer. My temple desecrated, my kingdom decimated. Shortly I will take my final shower where I’ll wash my hair for the last time. I can’t shower for 5 days once the port goes in. I’ll shear my head in 3 days. It’s my last act of defiance, the last call I get to make about my body before the special ops force moves in. Chemo may take my hair, but at least I get a say about when it goes. The American Cancer Society has given me a free wig, one that’s real hair. I’m having it styled to look like my own and the way it feels when it hangs on my shoulders is comforting. I’ll be able to pull it back in a pony tail, which will add a sense of normalcy to a life and body I’ve lost control of.
This is the last day of my old life, the one where I was healthy, where I was whole, where I had all my body parts. I imagine tomorrow I won’t feel much different. But a chain of events will begin that will change me forever, even if it leaves me feeling pretty much the same. I’m angry about that too – that I will go through the hell the next year requires just to get back to where I already am. I don’t feel like someone who has cancer, who is in a battle for her life, whose body has been invaded by a killer. I run, I bike, I walk, I swim, I laugh and I cry with as much vigor as I ever have. And so I feel betrayed by everything I ever knew about me, about my body, about life.