some thoughts on living with cancer

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my immediate reaction was to hit the internet and learn everything I could about breast cancer. I wanted to know my chances of survival, of course, but I also wanted to know what I would look like, how I might feel, what reconstruction would be like, and if I could ever feel normal again; just to name a few.   

I have learned a lot in the last two months.  One of the things I have learned is how cancer changes your relationships.   I have been lucky enough to build an amazing network of friends over the course of my 33 years.   Before I had cancer, I could have told you, without a doubt, the people that  I would be able to count on during the worst time of my life.  The names would have come out of my mouth easily, and without a second thought.  Turns out, I was wrong.

It didn’t take long before my world spun completely out of control.  In fact, it happened in a matter of days.  In the very beginning, I thought everything was as it should be.  The people I expected to step up immediately did, and even a few who were surprising.  Unfortunately, as time has worn on, some of my closest friends have become, sadly, disappointments.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s me.  I know I have changed.  I have less tolerance for nonsense than I had before, and let’s be honest, I never had very much.  That said, I was always one to listen to whatever problem anyone wanted to discuss, no matter how my own problems might compare.  I learned from a very young age, that having big problems could cost you friends.  See, people want to be friends with those that they can confide their problems to, without feeling judged or guilty.  I had a rough childhood.  I was surrounded by poverty, abuse, drugs, alcoholism…the list goes on and on.  I went to school many a day, and listened to friends bitch about how they were mad at their mothers for not buying them something, or so crushed because the boy they liked didn’t return their favor.  I listened to this, with sympathy, and offered words of advice and encouragement, despite the fact I had been up most of the night, listening to my mother being beaten, and praying to God it wasn’t about to be my turn.  I got used to hearing things like, “Oh I feel stupid telling you this, because my problems don’t compare to yours, but…” And I acted like it was on the level.  Because what was I supposed to do?  What can you ever do?

It’s gotten more difficult as of late and maybe that’s why this is happening.  Coming face to face with your own mortality changes you.  Having your breasts removed changes you.   Coming to grips with your own vanity changes you.  Being cut open four times in one month changes you. Realizing that everything you loved can be taken away from you at any moment changes you.  Knowing that you woke up one morning, and suddenly everything you knew and loved would never be the same again…that changes you.  I’m still changing.  I’m about to start chemotherapy, and I know that experience will change me as well. 

I don’t know what my future will look like, but I know it could be exactly the same as before cancer, and I will still see it completely differently.  It’s so hard to explain, and I’m far from the most articulate person in the world, so I’m failing.  Just know that cancer changes everything.  You may lose friendships that were important to you.  You may not care about things that used to be important to you.  You may feel alienated.  You may feel weak.  You may feel tired.  You may be surrounded by people and still feel more lonely than you have ever felt in your entire life. 

The good news is that not everything is bad. I have gained the love and support of people whom I never would have expected to step up.  I have found out that I have touched more lives than I previously believed possible.  I have discovered that life is worth fighting for, and I will do it, no matter the cost, because what choice do I have anyway?

The title of this post is some thoughts on living with cancer.  It seems appropriate, because even after the cancer has left my body, I will still be living with it.  I will live with it every day for the rest of my life. 

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