“Between now and next week, when you see the Surgeon, you'll have to decide what you want to do. You have cancer, Lorraine.” This was the beginning of a nightmare that I never imagined having.
One month later doctors removed two similarly sized tumors from my right breast, which they tell me had been living in my body for more than a year. How frightening is that to think this thing that could have killed me was in there for more than a year!? The official diagnosis was IDC, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, HER2+, Stage 2. What followed was chemotherapy; six rounds to be exact. After that came 18 rounds of Herceptin, followed by close to 3 weeks of radiation.
I read somewhere that a cancer survivor felt her cancer was a ‘blessing’. I’ve yet to find any blessing in my diagnosis. In fact, it was the very worst thing that I could imagine happening. My daughters were only 15! I lost my own mom at 19 and it was awful. Almost 30 years later I still feel like I was jipped. She didn’t see me marry. She didn’t see my twins. She wasn’t there for me while going through all of this.
I just couldn’t let the same thing happen to my girls.
Never in a million years did I expect, at 46, to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Who does really? I’m the second youngest of six kids. My two sisters are older than me. So, why me? I had always been the innocent little sister. I felt tarnished and in some messed up kind of way, I felt like it was my fault.
Cancer completely derailed my life.
What did I do to cause this? What didn’t I do. Too much stress; yes that’s it. My emotions were all over the place. I was frightened, confused, angry and soooooooo physically and mentally exhausted.
Telling my 16-year-old twin girls is something I’ll never forget. Hearing them ask me if I’m going to die is something that I’m sure will never leave my mind. And honestly at the time, I couldn’t reassure them because I wasn’t sure what was ahead. Telling my Dad was the worst. Without a word, he hugged me and walked away in silence.
Three years later, I’m still trying to get my life back. I’m still looking for my ‘new normal’, as they say. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that every bump, ache, itch (yes itch!) is not necessarily CANCER. I can no longer count on my memory for important dates, recipes, telephone numbers, or to recall the lyrics to some of my favorite songs. There are many days that I just can’t focus, I can’t carry on even a short conversation or spell the simplest of words. I’ve been forced to take a job demotion from a position that I loved. I can’t work at the high level I used to. My body doesn’t seem to be able to deal with even a little stress.
And don’t let anyone tell you that the issues you are having with your memory are just in your head. ‘Chemo or brain fog’ is a very real thing!!
I'm slowly starting to feel better and more like the old me. But I still think about cancer every single day in some shape or form. The truth is, I likely will for the rest of my life. Through treatment, I often felt overwhelmed with grief and sadness, and fear and anxiety. It’s my truth. It’s not only about baldness. This, I found out, is absolutely normal. But I would not have known this if it weren’t for other breast cancer survivors.
Naturally I leaned on family and friends for support, but the truth is, they don’t always understand what we’ve been through. How could they after all? As much as I tried, I could never properly articulate what it felt like to go through all of this. I don’t think it’s actually possible. That’s where having fellow survivors in your life and support groups come in handy. Whether face to face, online or otherwise, most everyone who is going through or has been through cancer can benefit from some type of support. Having other survivors who you can turn to for strength and comfort is crucial in your recovery. Being with those who experienced a similar journey has allowed me to feel less isolated, has provided an outlet to discuss my concerns, helped reduce my anxiety, my fear and confusion, and has provided an opportunity to share coping mechanisms and resources.
The other thing that has helped me tremendously is making sure I take the time to be good to myself. Make appointments and seek out any opportunities to take care of yourself.
I was recently excited to be invited by Colleen Kanna to an event called Forget for a Moment Makeover. This event, is organized by her company, coKANna, in collaboration with Rinaldo Hair Designers and Spa. Myself and 14 other survivors were completely pampered with makeup, spa hand treatment, and a scalp massage which I had never experienced before. Colleen also gifted all of us with a choice of coKANna tops. Portraits were taken during the course of the night, delicious food and drinks were served and we were sent home with a huge gift bag full of natural and healthy products and services. All of these were graciously donated by local businesses.
Colleen, a cancer survivor herself, knows how brutal treatment is, physically and mentally. She obviously understands how nice it feels to be pampered. We certainly were pampered that night!
Our mind, body and spirits are forever changed. This much is true. But there IS life after cancer. We just need great people in our lives and events like “Forget for a Moment Makeover” to get us through.
Article written by Lorraine Cooley Rawlins, Wife, Mom, Daughter, Sister and Breast Cancer Survivor.
April 26, 2017