Breast Cancer – My Story of a Caregiver
Breast Cancer has impacted the lives of many members of my family, closest to me are my grandmother and aunt beside my mother. They are all amazing women and survivors. This isn’t a story of sadness. This is our story (my mothers and I), of how this disease impacts not only the people it covets but their families and friends as well.
Facing the Feeling Breast Cancer has left me
I feel like I need to get this story out for some reason. I had a dream the other night that snapped me back to fourteen years ago. I thought it was odd because it was the day before her eleven-year anniversary (if you can call it that) since her first surgery for her cancer. It wasn’t really on my mind, at least not consciously. Then a day or two later I turn on the television and I heard about Rita Wilson and her breast cancer. It was just like a neon sign saying, let it out, and (to the tune of my daughter singing from Frozen) “Let it Go”.
In the dream my mom, sister and I were talking about some things nothing notable. When all of a sudden my sister brings up my mother’s cancer as a topic for discussion. In the dream, it upset my mom and it made me extremely upset to the point where I was hysterical crying and I woke up.
The dream that lit the fire to confront breast cancer
The Dream wasn’t so much about cancer, cancer was just brought up and tears were flowing like nobody’s business. So it makes me think there is some unfinished business there. I don’t remember crying when my mom got cancer, I don’t remember significantly digesting the situation and bawling. I mean I did cry here and there but nothing super crazy, like the way I was crying in the dream. You know that can’t catch your breath crying. Well, I didn’t do that in real life.
How our Breast Cancer Journey Began
It was a nice spring day at the end of March. My mom came home from work early which was unplanned. I thought this was a bit odd at the time. She sat me down at the kitchen table and explained that she found a lump in her breast. I was 15 years old at the time, looking back I wish I was older and smarter. I was younger when my grandma went through cancer and while it was sad and difficult emotionally to deal with, it didn’t affect me in the same way as my mom. I lived and witnessed my mom every day and every moment dealing with this disease and she is my mom. Anyway, I didn’t know how to help her and protect her. I didn’t know the things I know now. I wasn’t as smart, or as aware then.
Breast Cancer- Unknown Territory
I knew that for my mom to come home early and to tell me about the lump and with the knowledge of our family history things were not looking good. I mean I knew just from the words “it could be cancer”, actually just from the word “cancer” I knew this was bad. She went for a biopsy; I think she had to go for two. It turned out to be cancer. I don’t remember the stage or any of that, I know it wasn’t the worst stage, they caught it early, but we have a family history. My mom didn’t have health insurance at the time, but I believe she got it through the government at some point while she was going through this.
I looked up information on the computer. I tried to do as much research as possible but I should have done more, learned more, found alternatives. My mom quickly planned a surgery, a single mastectomy with reconstruction. The doctors were to remove her breast and move a muscle from her back to her chest where an implant which was supposed to expand into her chest was placed. Looking back this all seemed rushed and excessive. We didn’t get a moment to process it at all. (If I remember the dates correctly, she found the lump March 31st and April 12th she was going for surgery). When surgery day came around she was having a panic attack right before which was one of the scariest things I ever saw. She kept saying she couldn’t breathe.
Breast Cancer Surgery
The surgery went “well”. I remember going in to see her after surgery. Oh my goodness! She was sprawled out on a bed in the hospital all drugged out. I cried then a little bit. I pushed it away and just focused on other things. It was rough.
So why is “well” in quotation marks. She was alive, cancer free and fine. However, in my humble opinion moving your muscle from your back to your chest is one of the most stupid ideas you can ever do! I mean you have a significant scar on your back and your missing that muscle, you have significant scars on your chest as well. Honestly, this muscle moving has caused her even more pain on top of it.
Breast Cancer Regrets
I wish I was smarter and more informed at the time, instead of saying no that sounds crazy I let my mom go blind and listen to doctors who didn’t give two cents about her and her longevity (My mom was 50 when she got diagnosed with breast cancer). I feel like she should have just gotten a lumpectomy, but maybe because she didn’t have long-term health care she chose the mastectomy. Initially, the reconstruction didn’t look right, as I said the implant or whatever was supposed to expand, it was supposed to look semi-normal after surgery. It didn’t! She looked like she didn’t even have reconstruction surgery, she had to fill up that side of her bra with “chicken cutlets” (those bust enhancement pads) when she went out.
Breast Cancer- The Painful Experience
To top it off some of her drains from the surgery didn’t work right. I was the one with her every day taking care of her, cleaning the drains and making sure she was doing okay. I wouldn’t have changed that for anything. I learned a lot about my mom like she is a fighter. Since the drains didn’t work that resulted in her having to go to the doctor who had to take a large syringe and suck out what the drains were supposed to take out. It was such a painful and horrible experience for her.
Since the first reconstruction didn’t work out right, she had to go for a second. That went much more smoothly, they replaced or put in an implant which made her look semi-normal (except her back I still don’t get that).
After Breast Cancer-Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy SUCKS! Yeah, so after she finished surgery she started chemotherapy which as I said sucks. They gave her medicine so she wouldn’t get sick and so she wouldn’t lose weight. Well, she still got sick, I remember crying a little bit after her second chemo treatment. Her first one went pretty smoothly if I remember correctly. But her second one, had her hugging the toilet and wanting to die. I remember as she got deeper into the treatments, at times it was hard for them to do the blood work so they were sticking her like a pin cushion. I remember her port for the chemo which was in her hand and would itch. I remember her losing her hair, clumps of her hair in the shower drain. I remember sitting with her while she went to the salon or as I like to call it (like my 96-year-old grandma would say) the beauty parlor to have her hair cut.
Breast Cancer- Diminished Self Esteem
She was bald, she was still my mom, she was still beautiful and crazy. But you can see between losing a breast and her hair she was a bit broken. Breasts are these things that we are born with, these things many of us use to nourish our babies, these things people especially men are fascinated and attracted to. For many of us, they are something that adds to our self-confidence, our womanhood. They are a part of our body just the same as an arm or a leg, so losing a breast is tough. Losing your hair on top of that can be the cherry on top of a very shitty sundae. (On top of it all my sister was planning her wedding, and my mom a staple walking her baby girl down the aisle) How do you wake up and look yourself in the mirror and feel sexy, beautiful, sensational? If you don’t already have this amazing connection with your inner self, if you don’t have this unbreakable self-esteem and confidence that many of us do not, it is very hard.
I can look at myself in the mirror right now, with two breasts, legs, arms, and find a million and one imperfections of things that I would change about myself. So if I went through cancer, you are damn right I would need a moment to mourn. A moment to be pissed the f*@k off. But for the most part, my Mamma was a trooper. Of course, she felt shitty, but she didn’t let it show. So many people in the family couldn’t handle seeing my mom without a wig. My sister couldn’t, and my grandmother got upset when she saw her baby at probably her weakest.
But, I didn’t think about it. I went shopping with her for scarfs, and wigs, and the never-ending collection of bandannas. Chemo took a lot out of her, and I am not sure she ever fully recuperated. Since then I have learned a lot about chemotherapy and I am not sure if it was the right fit for my mom but if it is why my mom is here with me today I guess I cannot complain. Once chemo was done she was on medication for five years. She is cancer free today. She is a survivor and when you hear someone is a survivor you think “Wow, that is amazing” but most people, people who maybe haven’t been affected by it first hand, they don’t see everything that goes into it. The lasting effects that it leaves not only on the survivors but the caregivers, family, and friends.
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