Monday, February 4, 2013

Sick of breast cancer...

Yeah I am sick of it for sure. Funny how that looks now that I have written it~~but maybe it is apt. Breast cancer has after all made me sick. Not the cancer itself of course since it is just an insidious beast lurking inside me and without the lump, it could still be quietly waiting. But no, it is the treatment of course that has made me sick and sick of the reason for it. But without the treatment that insidious beast would awaken and it would not be the treatment making me sick; it would be the cancer which would also be seriously trying to kill me.

Insomnia is also part of this journey. I have always been a light sleeper and my hearing is so acute that the slightest noise can wake me. Dick sleeps like a log and though he rarely snores, he contentedly puffs away the night. This I hear even with my earplugs in. Ativan helps but then there is the addiction worry. I am not REALLY concerned though every time I take my Ativan I do have fleeting thoughts of sleepless nights down the road when I will have no excuse to take sleep aids. I tried Melatonin a few nights but it gave me nightmares so bad I can't even attempt to describe them. And then Ativan does not alway work as in tonight. Lying in the dark tonight while I tried to go to sleep on Ativan I thought about Cheryl Strayed, author of the book "Wild" which I had just finished. She hiked the rugged Pacific Crest Trail at age 26 totally on her own with no prior backpacking experience but with a pretty crazy background. What amazing spirit!

But then her hiking adventures led me to thinking about this time last year when I was training for a short solo trek (with guide and porter) in the Helambu area of Nepal and a high altitude trek to Lo Monthang in Upper Mustang near the Tibet border with Dick and a group of old friends from our Saudi days. Both treks were wonderfully successful and by the end of May I was back in Canada planning for another Annapurna Base Camp trek in October. That was falling apart due to group member circumstances just as I found the now infamous (at least to me) lump July 18.

I can mentally play out that ensuing drama on insomnia nights and let me tell it does not provoke sleep no matter how many times I run through it! "What the fuck" comes to mind often. How did this happen? Yeah it is what it is but still, I sometimes wish that it has all been one of those really bad dreams that you wake up from saying "thank god it was just a dream." Honestly I still want that to be true.

From training for treks to training for surgery is how it is now. Tonight I decided that tomorrow is the day I will really get disciplined and this will include yoga, meditation and walks with a few more snowshoe days thrown in. But then insomnia came along and here I am late at night downstairs drinking hot chocolate while I should be sleeping in preparation for the healthful training I have planned for myself.

It is almost impossible to go a day without knowing I have breast cancer, no matter how much fun we have. There are the side effects of course from chemo but there is also the long string of appointments with so many doctors, so many tests and alway the next looming treatment.

Tonight too I was thinking about my choice of surgery. Full mastectomy and axillary dissection are not optional but reconstruction is. For months I thought about that choice. I read all I could in my two favourite breast cancer books; "The Intelligent Guide to Breast Cancer" which we are all given here in Canada on diagnosis and "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book" which is given out in the US. I spent time with a woman who had the same reconstruction done by the same plastic surgeon as I will have. Knowing that this requires more surgery, anesthetic and recovery time, I have often pondered my decision. I have spoken to women who have had bilateral mastectomies and done nothing and to women who have had reconstruction at the time or later. Each has her own reason for her choice. I do think that having both breasts removed may have swayed me to do nothing, though I am not really sure.

There has been much written about how women feel about losing their breast(s) and how they make the decision to do nothing or to have reconstruction. Though I have small breasts to start with this does not make it any easier to visualize my left breast there but nothing on the right side. To go through surgery, chemo, more surgery and radiation is wearing but that is not all that we have to contend with. There is nerve damage, numbness, the possibility of lymphedema, a very serious situation in which the lymphatic system no longer drains properly due to the removal of lymph nodes and to top it all off, our breast or breasts are gone. And there is still the fear of cancer still remaining or recurring.

Then there was even a small twinge of guilt or maybe selfishness. Choosing reconstruction means longer recovery time and more surgery months after radiation. This means more dependence on family and others to a certain degree. I also thought briefly that if I chose not to have reconstruction that maybe I could still sail across the Med and the Atlantic with Dick. I soon came to the conclusion that it is unrealistic to consider that idea as no matter what I choose,  treatment and subsequent care will extend far beyond the time frame for the start of the sailing trip.

So yes, I am sick of breast cancer. It has been a tough learning curve that never seems to end. I know it will end but is is not really helpful at this point to be told that a few years down the road much of this will be a distant memory. For now, breast cancer is front and center no matter how well I am coping. I also know that I should not feel guilty or selfish for choosing to still have a breast at the end of the day. If it does not work out at least I have given reconstruction my one and only chance.


  1. Cameron, what is your question?

    :) Marian

  2. Hi Marian,
    Quite fitting that I am reading your blog at nearly 2am. Insomnia and breast cancer seem to go hand in hand. I will have to pick up Cheryl Strayed's book for my after surgery recovery reading. I am a big fan of her dear sugar column (was kind of angry with her when she stopped writing the column to promote her book). It is so interesting to read how others grapple with the decisions we all have. We are all as unique as our cancers. And you shouldn't feel guilty at all for wanting to have a breast. I just feel so angry that our breasts have to be taken from us... but have no idea who I should be angry with. maybe I should take some ativan:-)