Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have I Mentioned That Cancer Sucks?

The ninth floor of the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston is dedicated entirely to breast cancer. When you arrive there for the first time, you stand in line to receive your very own plastic bracelet with your very own Dana Farber bar code. You are handed a clipboard and directed to sit in a very busy waiting room chock full of women, some alone, some with accompanying loved ones.

On the day I visited, several women in the waiting room wore surgical masks, a few wore wigs or hats or scarves or hat-scarf combinations. There was no long hair that wasn't fake. A woman wearing a blazer and turtleneck, chatting with her husband, had only one breast. Two women in wheelchairs, pale and exhausted-looking, had their almost hairless heads bowed together in conversation. I caught several women looking at me, taking in my healthy glow and very long, very real hair with and a sort of wry, ironic sadness in their eyes and knowing Mona Lisa smiles on their lips.  

New kid, I imagined them thinking. You're one of us now.

It is in moments like this that the surreal numbness wears away and I want to run screaming from this nightmare. How is it possible that I have breast cancer? That I had a cancerous lump in my breast, in fact, a breast riddled with cancer, cancer in my lymph nodes, a very serious life-threatening situation, and I had absolutely no idea, not one clue? How is it that I was happy and proud of my body, confident in my health just days before, and now my breast is gone, the lymph nodes under my arm are gone, the skin across that side of my chest and underarm are entirely numb and will most likely remain so for the rest of my life?

I have not returned to Dana Farber, will not return any time soon. My surgery and the remaining treatment I have chosen was and will be administered an hour from my home, in Hartford, CT. I expect my chemo will begin in the first week of the new year. I suspect that when I walk into that chemotherapy room, people with IVs attached to their bodies will glance up at me with knowing, sad, Mona Lisa smiles. I will again want to run screaming in the other direction, to insist that no, I am not one of these people. I do not belong here. There has to be some mistake!

It's going to be hard.


Anonymous said...

You are able to communicate so clearly about your experience. You are able to communicate to someone who has not been on the journey, what it's like.

When I read your post I thought of the process--you are in a process of treatment. And it made me wonder if it would help to have examples of women who have been through treatment but who now look and are healthy and athletic.

I also found this post on Runners World:

You have a tough battle ahead of you in your near future, but a full healthy life ahead of you further out.

Thinking of you.

Tash said...

I'm sorry you're going through this ordeal - I can only imagine what some of those hospitals are like. But you have hope, you had cancer and you're now getting treatment for it. You got it in time and you'll be okay. It will suck, it will be awful but you'll come through it like you came through and overcame everything else in your life. You're the strongest person and I have no doubt you'll find the "good" in this situation. HUGE hugs from this side of the pond.

Anonymous said...

My neice was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 24months old....she livied at Farmington Medical for months. Her IV pole, on wheels, was called George. Spinal taps, chemo, hair loss, swollen little cheeks. My father sobbing, all of us in a daze. She was here yesterday, 2-1/2 yr old daughter, husband in tow. A vibrant healthy young woman in remission for 20+ will get through this Amy...

Anonymous said...

Brave Amy,
you continue to inspire with your gift for clarity and wisdom.
A blessed 2011 to you.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted you to know that I was one of your recent anonymous commentators, forgetting to ID myself. This weekend I rejoiced to be with you and see you having fun, although a little under the weather. What a special feeling to hug my daughter and see her in her glory! I love you so much, Amy. Always will. XO, Mom

Abby said...

I stubbled onto your blog tonight by accident. I am in awe that you are as strong as you are and your family should be so proud of you for that.

I wish you a healthier 2011 than 2010. Like others have said this road will be trying but I have a goo feeling with the mental strength you have you will be better off. My brother in law 28 went thru radiation for cancer earlier this year and is in remission.

Although I don't know you my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Bless you and yours Abby

Lori said...

Hey Amy it's Lori. :)

Great post, albeit a heart-wrenching one. Hugs to you, I'm over my flu now, so if you need anything I'll be right over. Just let me know.