1989 -- Help me I am drowning


In 1989 I think I had a break down. I look back on it now and realize I had to give up being an inspiration to get crazy that year. Let me explain. When I was diagnosed, I did cancer like most American women. I made all the right decisions. I threw up for hours and kept it my little secret. At home I lay in bed and planned my funeral. But to all my friends I was cool as a cucumber. You know, I was going to do cancer "right." Be positive. All that bull----.Sure I struggled emotionally, but physically, with what little energy I had left I planned a festival at church to bring in money for the preschool. I was determined to show everyone that cancer was not going to change me. Lest you think I was certifiable, remember that this was 1989. There were no support groups. There was no one to tell me that this was not a healthy way to respond emotionally to having cancer. And I was alone. I didn't know anyone who had had breast cancer. Now you can't throw your shoe without hitting someone who is dealing with cancer, but back then, I thought I was an aberration – and in the summer of 1989 I was beginning to feel like it. It all came to a head the day I went in to my surgeon's office for my 3-year check-up. She was great and she poked and prodded and told me I was doing great. I burst into tears. "Why do I think about dying all the time?" I asked her. "Why can't I stop crying?" "What is wrong with me?"She looked at me and said, "I have noticed that a number of my patients are having the same problem. They are healthy, but emotionally they are having a hard time, so I have started a support group here in my office with a therapist. And I think you should join."Really, I recall thinking. Where do I sign up? The next Thursday, I began "group." That was what we called it. Nothing fancy. Just group. And it saved my life. I think it was, if not "the" first breast cancer support group in Dallas, then one of the first. When I showed up that first Thursday night, I didn't know what to expect. We met in the conference room of my surgeon's office and there were usually about 8 to 10 of us. The counselor who facilitated our group was Jan and she was great at keeping things on track. I was clearly the furthest out from diagnosis and everyone was staring at me. Oh, and I couldn't stop crying. By the second or third meeting we had talked about the stages of grief and how they related to the stages of acceptance. Jan had also introduced us to psycho oncology, the study of the emotional side of cancer. It seems there are stages we go through in accepting our diagnosis and resolving it. Beginning with disbelief we move to dysforia, which were feelings of being unwell and unhappy (the greatest understatement of all time). Then somewhere we came to resolution. None of us liked these very clinical divisions very much and everyone wanted to know why I couldn't stop crying. So, I explained that I was diagnosed three years before most of them and what it felt like was a rabbit caught in the headlights. For the next few meetings we made up our own terminology for the stages of cancer resolution. The rabbit caught in the headlights – when you hear the words you have cancerDoctor bonding – when you finally know where to park at the hospital and all the war imagery starts as you start chemo, and you have found "your" doctor who you didn't know a month ago but now sees you naked regularlyFine, fine -- what you say to everyone when chemo is over and they ask you how you are and you don't want to say, "I am scared to death." Fine, fine is an acronym for frustrated, insecure, neglected, emotional and fragile, isolated, nauseated and exhausteCrash and burn When you can't stop crying because you have finally hit bottom. But you realize at some point that maybe this is a good thing because like the Phoenix you will come out of this experience a new person, tempered in flameI loved the women in my support group and I will tell you more about them as these blogs go one. Some lived and some died, and they all saved me.

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