Respect The Ribbon
I'm cheating a bit this week. Yesterday was my first mammogram since the one I'd lad last year that found my breast cancer, and today's post is a "reprint" of the Facebook post I wrote updating my family and friends on the experience. I'm putting it here because it sums up how I'm thinking and feeling today. I hope it makes you think and feel, too.
Have a great weekend!
There's a woman I've been corresponding with whose blog I've read for years. She's a breast cancer survivor - she had a really tough go of it, and she's only in her early 30s. She's agreed to do an episode of "Anything But Routine" for season four, after the New Year. Recently, she was invited to speak to a group of health science students about her experience, and the speech she gave was powerful. I don't want to steal her thunder, but the gist of her message was that when you choose to wear the pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness, you need to fully understand WHO you're wearing that ribbon for and exactly what those women go through.
That really hit home with me yesterday. It was my first mammogram since my diagnosis. I was dreading it the night before, teary-eyed when we got there - it was done in Dr. K's office building, so it wasn't like I had warm, fuzzy emotions toward the place to begin with - and essentially had a this-close-to-full-scale meltdown when the tech led me into the mammogram room. It came out of nowhere - I hadn't exactly expected to enjoy myself during the whole thing, but I was NOT prepared for the out-of-body experience of seeing myself standing in front of that ****ing machine, clutching my gown closed with both hands, bawling my eyes out and wailing, "I don't want to do this!" The fear literally came out of nowhere.
Fortunately, the tech - a kindly, compassionate woman named Debbie - understood, and she handed me tissues and distracted me by asking questions to update my medical record, and then she apologized and said that since I now had a history of breast cancer, they had to do extra pictures, which meant longer squish time and more pain, because they had to REALLY flatten the girls out to look in every nook and cranny. She was wonderful and kept up a steady chatter of totally irrelevant things throughout the whole process, and she kept saying she wished one particular radiologist was in that day, because "anytime I have women who are anxious about their results, she always agrees to read the films right that second - but she's not here today." I'd rather not have known that.
So Debbie got me through it, and after the mammogram was the "wellness clinic" in Dr. K's designated area of the building (I saw the back of him but didn't get to say hello). The PA was just as fantastic as Dr. K, and she examined me and said she didn't feel anything suspicious and, in fact, I looked to be healing extremely well. But most of our time together was just spent talking. And she said, "You know - you've been through a LOT this past year. You need to give yourself time, and give yourself a break, and recognize that. All of those emotions don't just disappear when radiation is over. In fact, a lot of the time, they only just begin to fully surface AFTER treatment ends, because now you're not in battle mode and laser-focused on anything except getting through it. NOW you have time to feel everything."
Turns out my mammogram meltdown is common - many women (like me) think they've moved on and are doing great, and then comes the very first mammogram after the cancer, and everything hits at once. And, she pointed out, I'm not even a full year out from radiation, and I'm actually still physically recovering from that. I'd thought the physical fatigue I sometimes experience was because I'm so out of shape now, but it's actually still radiation fatigue. Add that to the pain and swelling I still often experience on that side of my body, which is all healing and nerves regenerating from both the surgery and the radiation, and it's no wonder I don't fully feel like my old self.
I really, truly believed that once I was finished with treatment, everything would go back to normal. Now I'm accepting that it hasn't, that everything is different, that I'M different. Granted, I'm good about not dwelling on the cancer or even thinking of it all that often - but I do panic every time I feel a twinge somewhere in my body. I do worry every single time I go to the doctor, or for bloodwork, or for anything that's exploring my health. I do worry about the years ahead, the further out I get, and whether there will be a recurrence down the line, or even a new cancer now that I've already had one that increases the chances of my developing several others related to it. I don't know that that will ever go away. Or that I'll ever completely get back to the body and strength and endurance I had before this happened.
She did promise me one thing, though - "No one EVER believes me when I tell them this, but it does eventually come true: There will come a time when you won't be able to remember what year you were diagnosed with breast cancer." I look forward to that time.
So to piggyback on what the blogger said - it's not just a pink ribbon to wear because it's trendy. It represents a lot. I confess that I never really gave it much thought before my own experience. I see it all differently now. The pink ribbon has my respect.