Writing My Cancer Revisionist History: It's Long Overdue
News flash: I did not harbor aliens. Not space aliens, not any kind of alien. No monsters either. The rogue cell in my right breast that declared war on its neighbors and yours truly, fundamentally, was a mole. One of my own. A sleeper agent who slipped right past me and received an encrypted message I couldn’t decipher. How could I, locked as it was in my DNA? It’s a code so complicated experts still haven’t figured it all out.
Why am I telling you this now? I reopened the cold case years after my diagnosis and treatment for stage 3B ER-positive breast cancer, and there’s new information to report.
Originally, I was absolutely convinced that a foreign body – I may have called it a monster more than once – had invaded my breast. An evil, ugly, space alien-kind-of-looking creature with slits for eyes and teeth like piranha, that multiplied way faster than the fruit flies I studied in college biology.
Anyway, the day the surgeon told me that the punch biopsy showed well-defined cancer cells in my areola and that she scheduled a radical mastectomy for the following week, I was pretty much hysterical for the duration.
Monday: A week from now? Are you kidding? You mean, I’ve gotta live with this monster inside me for a week?
Tuesday: I don’t think I can do this! I don’t think I can wait all this time knowing there’s an alien creature feeding off me like a parasite.
Wednesday: I know it sounds weird, but I feel dirty. Does that make any sense? Like I’ve been mugged and I can’t get clean no matter how long I stay in the shower.
Thursday: Oh, my God! I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t think straight. Could it have gone to my brain?
Friday: How many more days? It’s Friday? I used to love Fridays. Just give me some sleeping pills and wake me up on Monday.
Saturday: I WANT IT OUT! I WANT IT OUT NOW! GET THIS MONSTER OUT OF ME! (Blood curdling screams while young daughters at piano lessons.)
Sunday (at church): Dear God, please guide the surgeon tomorrow as she exorcizes the devil from me.
If you thought getting through that surgery and expunging the monster that haunted me – both real and imagined - would put me on the road to physical and emotional recovery, you’d be mistaken. At least for the foreseeable future, which is a strange notion when you think about it for who, really, can foresee the future?
Who knew the tumor would be so big or buried so deeply in my chest wall that the surgeon feared she hadn’t gotten it all? Or that the cancer had spread to four lymph nodes?
Aha! There WAS a monster inside – damn it – and there still was! I wasn’t so crazy after all.
Naturally, then, I was totally on board when my medical team presented my chemotherapy and radiation treatment plan which, when complete, would be followed by an additional five-year adjuvant course of aromatase inhibitors to prevent recurrence.
“Yes! Let us poison the monster,” I laughed diabolically and rubbed my hands in eager anticipation.
Apparently, it had good hearing because it told my oncologist I only had about a 25 percent chance of surviving beyond three years, regardless of her fancy treatment plan.
But as the next three years turned into six, then 10 and now 15 years out from my monstrous prognosis, slowly but surely, I began to understand that that rogue cell that received the “Mutate!”command wasn’t an alien or a monster at all. It was me – a piece of me that thought it could take over my life and “evolute” me into infinity. In many ways it has.
Thankfully, the cancer died a long time ago, but a better me has been evolving ever since. How else could I have changed so dramatically and so quickly were it not for my cancer experience? Certainly, no other opportunity has afforded me this much personal insight or growth – not a motivational speaker or self-help book; not a spiritual encounter or the normal course of life or the cycle of adult development.
That rouge cell changed the trajectory of my life. Changed the meaning of it. Changed the beauty of it. Changed the value of it. Changed my love for it. Changed it all for the better. Scars and all.