Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, I’d like to think I’ve been a good sport about it. From finding the lump, to diagnosis, to genetic testing, and then surgeries and treatment, I have rolled with it. I’ve likened my changing body to Mrs. Doubtfire, dueling banjos, and a Vegan diet. I’ve laughed my way through new ridiculous fitness routines, read books to burn off energy while on steroids, and played the cancer card once or twice when it was desperately needed. I’ve even timed getting out of bed on winter mornings to when I have a hot flash so that I’m motivated to throw off the covers. That takes a refined skill, my friends.
I’ve also had moments of self-pity and panicked doubt, trials where hope seemed far-fetched, and a deep longing for my life “before diagnosis” to return. It has been a bumpy three years, but one thing I can say is that I haven’t spent a long period of time feeling angry. There have been flare-ups of frustration, stages of deep sighing, and phases of clenched fists. There have been evenings where I have gone to bed early because the day had been a difficult one, and my best defense was to end it. The next morning, the sun would rise again, and so would I.
I embraced the clean slate, the do-over, the chance to begin anew, even with my new reality looming large.
I have met many other women who have been diagnosed, but, with all of them, diagnosis has been the starting point of our connection to one another. A friend of mine had a breast cancer scare. Thankfully, no cancer or reason for concern was present. Her experience had jarred me, but I was enveloped by the rush of relief that she was cancer-free. I have been in a safe, secure place, where I have lived comfortably by insulating myself from the anxiety and terror of someone in my life also having breast cancer.
Recently, that illusion of security has been shattered. A dear friend now has been diagnosed. While her causation is not genetic, her trajectory is still similar to mine.
Now I am angry.
I am so angry that I threw a full-on tantrum, stomping my feet and wailing, Hulk-smashing everything within reach.
I am so angry that I hold back tears every time I see a pink ribbon or a stupid slogan that glamorizes this scourge, as if it makes its victims into saints and martyrs.
I am so angry that I stalk her social media accounts, staring at her posts while trying to piece together comments that are useful, encouraging, inspiring, insightful…anything but unhelpful.
I am so angry that I sit in a pew at church each week and I cannot talk directly to God.
I feel frantic swells of helplessness, and then manic shifts to act. I want to tell her every detail I can possibly relate, and then I worry I will make her more afraid than she should be if I overload her with information.
I want to make a bargain with the universe, to say that I’ll go through it all again if she is reset back to before this began.
It is irrational, I know, to think that no other person in my life would be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is as if I thought I would take this journey and, by doing so, no one else would be subjected to it. What a self-centered view of the world, and it shows how much a person can revert back to early childhood when confronted with his/her greatest fears.
I don’t doubt my friend’s strength, poise, or ability to accept and deal with what is in front of her. If can make it as far as I have, I know that she will do twice as better. But I can’t shake the anger that this is happening again in our circle of friends. I sense a bitterness inside of me that I haven’t experienced before, and it has forced me to confront the truth.
I have no control over who will and will not have cancer. I cannot measure my experiences against anyone else’s. There is more chaos and heartache in the world than I want to believe.
But I can control how much of myself I am willing to give. I can use my experiences as a springboard for empathy and compassion. I can control how I treat others, and how I acknowledge and respect the complexities we all confront during our attempts to do the best we can with what we have.
I didn’t want her in my cancer club, but now that she’s here, I can be for her what she always is for me: a friend. I can strive to be a source of light, and of love, and of laughter. And maybe I can share a trick or two to make getting out of bed on a cold morning a smidge easier.