I sure do love historical analysis–as you have no doubt observed if you’ve read The Sarcastic Boob with any regularity. Breast cancer is a fascinating subject and fits right into my love of knowledgeable discourse. The implications of gender and patriarchy! The socioeconomic and racial disparities! The political difference with regard to healthcare! The swelling in my left armpit!
Wait. What? What’s this left armpit crap? It’s the right boob, remember?
I honestly get so lost in the subject itself that sometimes I forget why I find the topic of interest in the first place. Oh, yeah, I have breast cancer with metastasis. Stage IV. Remember?
Yes, I do remember, but it’s still kind of abstract in a very weird kind of way. The lesions have resolved, roused the spondylosis. It was asymptomatic for many years apparently, until the tumor flare kicked it off. The third nerve block to manage the pain was three weeks ago. I fully expected to reenter my life with vigor as I had only four months before.
But it didn’t work this time.
But I continued on with my analysis. Peggy Orenstein wrote a game-changing article that came just as I was beginning to read a great book about the history of the war on breast cancer. Ah, critical thinking. My happy place. I need a happy place since back pain has left me unable to work or do much of anything else. Did I mention my laundry pile is three weeks high?
It’s rough when you’re sick and you’re alone.
Some months after I started chemotherapy–Tamoxifen–I got good news: the lesions had all resolved. The lymph nodes in my chest and under my right arm, tiny lesions in the lungs all gone. Even the lytic lesions in the bone had much less uptake than the scan three months previous. The back pain resolved with the help of pain management. Ah, it felt good to be normal again.
Then it happened. I was typing away on my laptop and it felt like my sleeve was bunched up under my left arm. I adjusted it and typed away. Adjusted again. Worked and then another adjustment. It’s nothing.
During the #bcsm chat on Monday evening a comment was made of itching in the breast post mastectomy. Everyone seemed to be itching after that comment. Even me. And as I reached under my left arm to scratch I felt the swelling. Right in the belly of the armpit where the sentinal node lies. Puffy. Tender.
That’s when it hit me. Jarred from the real joy of historical analysis to the crummy reality of living with breast cancer. I have it in my head that I’ll live and work for another decade; sometimes I even say twenty years. In my heart of hearts I can tell you that I’m not so sure. I’m not allowed to be a “survivor.” Newsflash: after you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer you don’t survive anything. You’re in remission. That pink ribbon celebration can’t hide the real truth.
I connected with my oncologist and my pain specialist today. I was urged to go to the emergency room to be evaluated for a cord compression because of some general weirdness/lightness I feel in my left leg and some other problems I won’t detail. But, me being me, I said, “No.” Much to the chagrin of my physician. Look, I might be in pain, but I’m not crazy enough to subject myself to the crawl of an metropolitan ER unless I’ve been cut out of a wrecked car. So it’s an MRI tomorrow and a visit with the oncologist on Thursday. In the meantime I listen to my superiors fawn over time sheets and doctor’s notes. Someone’s always looking for a reason to clean up the dust and move on to a clean slate. Stop blaming me for being sick, for crissakes.
Depression sets in and I wonder if I have what it takes. I feel less than. Incompetent. A drag. I try to go with the flow, but the flow isn’t there. I feel like I’m at a stand still.
I do love to examine breast cancer in its historical context. To see those tensions in society ebb and flow in response to or in spite of forces that are much much larger than one individual with one disease could ever be. It is fascinating. But then I realize that I am but one person who wonders if I will be able to keep my job, be productive in society, or live–and live well–for another decade within that ebb and flow. And do my laundry.
Goddammit. Cancer is hard when you’re alone.