I want to start by saying I’m thankful I’m not spending countless hours receiving chemotherapy in an infusion room or suffering its ill effects. Believe me, I know how lucky I am to have walked away with “only” a bilateral mastectomy with Tamoxifen everyday. I know it easily could have been worse and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly where I find myself one day after all… You know, because of the whole No Cure thing.
Anyway, I’m not complaining. Not by a long shot, but this post is about a new dilemma I’m faced with simply because, like it or not, breast cancer is a big part of my day. Not in the same way those enduring treatment see it, or when I was freshly diagnosed, but it’s there all the same.
I blog about it.
I still see my oncologist and breast surgeon every four months and I kind of like it.
I still attend a support group.
I check in daily with our online breast cancer community and care about the people I’ve virtually met there.
And just a few minutes ago, I found myself on the phone scheduling nipple tattoos, (Who says that?) looking forward to yet another fun time with my plastic surgeon. And by the way, don’t you think calling on a plastic surgeon to tattoo anything is a little beneath them? It seems like something an assistant should do, maybe an intern, leaving the surgeon free to focus on more interesting and challenging work…face lifts, nose jobs, reconstruction. But…I digress.
Saying I’m finished with breast cancer because my expanders are out and my implants in, is quite the understatement. It never ends. I used to think there was a finish line, but I’m no longer sure.
So, with all this cancer stuff in my everyday life, I’m treading carefully on a new friendship with someone who has no idea what happened. How do I tell? Or do I? It almost feels deceitful not to, in a way. As if I’m leaving out a large piece of who I am these days. But, how do you approach the subject with someone who doesn’t have a clue?
And maybe the bigger question is, why is it such a secret?
My story is by no means secret. I’ll discuss it with anyone who’ll listen. I’ll write about it. I’ve even spoken to the occasional reporter and let them write about it, with my last name and town included. So, why is it so hard to own up with someone who’s new to the party?
Perhaps it has to do with protecting my young children from words they may not understand, such as cancer. Not knowing who might say what and having it get to my boys before I’m ready or believe they’re ready to truly understand what it meant for me to have breast cancer. It’s a conversation I’ll have with them one day, but on my terms, when I believe it’s time.
Maybe, it’s fear of the person’s reaction. Having already been spurned by one so-called friend, why risk it again? Although, I know if they can’t deal, the problem is theirs, not mine. I still have to admit there’s a lingering stigma associated with the disease and I’m suffering from it. Otherwise, why would I care what people think? But, if they suddenly see me as a sick person, I have to care. How someone views my health is very personal.
How can something I deal with so publicly, still feel so private?
I keep going over this in my head. I’m not looking to gain support or understanding or anything by telling. I’m not asking for anything. I just want to share something that matters a whole lot to me, an experience I had that changed what I deem valuable in my life.
How do I not share that with a friend, but still…I hesitate.
There’s a great discussion on my Facebook page about this topic. It seems many of us find ourselves in this or similar situations with no clear answer. I guess telling someone new is like a leap of faith. We just let go, jump in and hope for the best.
If the topic doesn’t come up, how do you tell a new friend you have breast cancer or do you?
What’s in the small tin box with flowers on it, a small boy might ask.
It can’t possibly be all that remains of my gorgeous dog, would be my answer.
Such a small box can’t contain the life force I still feel with every glimpse of his face in some innocent photograph. His spirit, too large to be harnessed in a confined space, too anxious to be free.
I see him eager, excited to play, content to lay in the sun or romp in deep snow. I feel his big snout pushing its way under my hand, searching for pets. And then I’m sad again, but it goes beyond missing my friend. There’s a sense of guilt that somehow I let him down. Did we let him go too soon? We had promised to take care of him.
I tell myself he had a good life. When others would have given up on a strong-willed, nervous, fiercely protective German Shepherd, we dug in, found the right trainer and taught him who was boss. He had to know we were in charge. The responsibility was ours, to look after him, not the other way around. He learned to trust in us, to follow our commands. He learned to let his guard down and just be. It took quite a while, but we got there.
After experiencing the hills and valleys of his lifetime together it makes sense to be heartbroken at its end. To feel his presence when getting the mail or turning out the lights at night. I still look for him, and try to stop myself from wallowing, because after all, I think, it’s not cancer. He was an old dog who lived a good life.
Like that matters.
Like that doesn’t make him worthy of the emotion, but of course, it does. Cancer intrudes on everything. Even my right to mourn my pet.
He was still my friend. Ready with an open ear and a giving paw, never judging, never asking for anything more than a walk or a crunchy biscuit in return. He was happy just sharing my space and all was right in my world when I came home to a wagging tail.
As thoughts of chasing tennis balls faded into long ago memory, and walking to the kitchen too much effort, when he no longer raised his head for ear scratches or treats or at the sound of his leash, when he was sick more than he wasn’t and when he looked at us with questioning eyes, we knew, as promised. We would take care of him.
Ours would be the last faces he’d see as he slowly, peacefully drifted off to sleep and hopefully felt some comfort. As ours were the faces he spied through a cage in a shelter more than eleven years ago. Nose to nose, looking at each other, wondering would we be the ones to give him a home?
Maybe, as my husband stood away from the cage that day and said, “I like this one,” the biggest dog in the shelter, thought the same about us. Maybe, he thought it was his lucky day and I hope, as he closed his eyes that last time, he knew how much he was loved, how much joy and inspiration he brought to our lives and how very much he’ll be missed.
As I look at my blog everyday, its photos and title and remember the reason for its name, I hope Goliath, somehow knows how very far his furry paw did reach. Further than any of us could ever guess.
Thank you, Nancy Brinker. For more than you know.
We heard you. Do you hear us?