As I approach my last chemo on Thursday, I’m looking back on this breast cancer path as it has been thus far. Last summer, my intuition told me I was dealing with something more than a typical cyst in my breast. But my rational mind convinced me otherwise. I had a feeling in June that the burning sensation in my left breast was something out of the ordinary, and I had a dream then that told me to pay attention. My rational mind supported my need for this to be “ordinary,” though. The pain wasn’t constant, and it followed the pattern from when I had regular periods. My breasts would hurt for about a week and then the pain would go away. And I would have pain in both breasts, sometimes even a burning sensation in both. Surely I didn’t have cancer in both breasts, right? I was used to painful breasts because I’ve had cysts for years. I’d had a cyst aspirated about four years ago, and my rational mind said this was just another one of those. I’d had regular mammograms, the most recent in November, and it had come back showing no problems. Nothing logical indicated breast cancer.
Deep down inside, though, in the place where my intuition is strong, I knew this was cancer. And I had a dream about being in a crowd of people with a young doctor in a white coat (actually, much like my radiation oncologist) standing in front of me. I was wearing a hospital gown that opened in the front, and he said he needed to see my nodes. So I opened my gown in front of all of these people and showed him my breasts. I wasn’t uncomfortable or embarrassed. It seemed to be something I needed to do in front of everyone. When I woke up and remembered this dream, I felt at first it was telling me about this burning pain in my breast. That scared me, but then I realized that I wasn’t scared in the dream. If it was a warning about cancer, wouldn’t I be scared? I wrote the dream in my journal, and it stayed in the back of my mind, nagging me now and then. But I went about my life, telling myself that I’d have a bad feeling if this were cancer.
On that same deep level, I’ve known for a long time that I’d have breast cancer. I remember reading an article years and years ago about women who have scoliosis and who had lots of X-rays – and their higher incidence of breast cancer. I have scoliosis and had the X-rays. That scared me. I have also always had an inclination to look away when I saw anything about breast cancer, even if it were billboards by the highway. When I saw The Doctor, a 1991 William Hurt movie about a doctor who goes through cancer, I left the theater feeling more afraid than if I’d seen a horror movie. Somehow, I knew that my life’s path was going to take me through cancer and its treatments. And here I am, just about to have the last chemo treatment for breast cancer and looking at six and a half weeks of daily radiation to complete my treatment path.
And you know what? As bad as it’s been, the path isn’t as scary as I imagined. I’m learning to take life one day at a time. I’m learning to ask for help. I’m learning that I can tolerate pain much more than I realized. I’m learning to share more of myself with others. I’m learning that I can be stuck with needles – often – and survive. I’m learning that I’m more patient and more comfortable with uncertainty than I ever thought I could be. I’m learning what a real blessing kind and compassionate people are. Well, I’ve always known that last one, but I appreciate them more now.
You know what I’m afraid of now? I’m afraid that I’ll forget all that I’ve learned and am learning from this path. That I’ll go back to living a “normal” life where pain and suffering seem far away. That I’ll forget that all of us have pain and suffering in this life and that all of us need – really need – each others’ kindness and compassion. I don’t want to forget that. I want to be healed, to feel healthy and strong again, but still to remember what’s it’s like to be broken, to be tired and in pain, to need others’ help, to look for and appreciate kindnesses, to depend on something larger than me, that something some of us call God and others call the Universe, and to know I am not alone. Not now. Not ever. I don’t want to forget that.