Women who have been through the journey called Breast Cancer talk about trying to regain what was and their triumph over cancer and what they consider to be their own loss. We try our best to stay positive. But if we don’t talk about what we have lost, it will eat us alive.
During a quick epeak (I very seldom go there) at my twitter app, I found the topic of invisible scars breast cancer leaves behind. And let me tell you, the tweets were flying faster than you could read them. This proves the reality is there are a lot of scars left behind because of breast cancer. Of course, most of them are not physical scars, but rather deeply embedded emotional ones.
Even if there are similarities in our scars that many of us share, each woman’s scars are still uniquely hers. We are all just slightly different in our own way and each of us is impacted differently by her cancer experience.
A couple of months ago my friend Christie, commented on my “Missing My Breasts” post with these words, “breast cancer is a string of losses.”
I have thought about those words many times since I read Christie’s comment. Those words ring true and the recent chat made me realize that they are also true for many others as well. It was comforting to know, or rather to have my feelings reaffirm. This is probably one of the greatest benefits of social media and venues such as Twitter chats and Facebook. You realize you truly are never alone.
Back to those scars…
One post caught my attention, “I was on a lot of painkillers, antidepressants,” said the woman. “I had to see a psychologist because I was starting to get suicidal. It was really tough.”
A few post down, “It’s been very hard for me to deal with not having real breasts,” another stated. “I look down, it’s kind of like a stranger that I don’t really like that’s with me.”
“I look like the stay-puff marshmallow man. Chemo has made me so sick, yet I keep gaining weight from the steroids.” She added, “I hate looking at myself in the mirror. I’m fat and only have one breast.”
Yet another said, “My husband doesn’t look at me the way he use to.”
There are a lot of losses that can and do happen after a breast cancer diagnosis. There is the obvious one such as the loss of breasts (or parts of them). Sometimes ovaries, uteri, hair, eyelashes and brows are sacrificed as well. Some of these losses leave lasting physical scars and others fade or self-correct, at least to some extent, over time.
Then there are the less obvious losses (to others but we know) such as loss of fertility, cognitive skills, physical strength, stamina, range of motion, sleep, bone health, femininity perception and sense of independence and general well-being. And let’s not forget job losses, relationship losses, intimacy losses and financial losses.
A doctor posted, “For women, body image is often the problem they present with,” she explained. “They feel guilty and sometimes say silly things like, ‘I told my husband to get someone on the side.’ That is heartbreaking. They really don’t want their husband sleeping with another woman.”
And with this list, I’m only scratching the surface. But no doubt, these losses leave very real scars.
Cancer takes a toll.
And of course for some there was, or will be the ultimate loss…
Yes, cancer is a string of losses.
In fact, there can be more than one “string” because the loved ones of a person diagnosed with cancer often have losses of their own.
While the actual physical scars left behind due to treatment can be painful and dauntingly difficult to deal with, sometimes the emotional scars run far deeper and heal much more slowly, if at all.
One comment in particular that kept popping up during the chat was that the cancer experience doesn’t just end one day when you walk out the door of your cancer treatment center.
“Cancer isn’t a before and after event. It’s part of the continuum that is your life.”
After a cancer diagnosis, we carry on. We learn. We adapt. We persevere. We live. We regain what we can and do what we are able – in spite of the scars.
Part of this adapting and adjusting should include allowing ourselves to admit to ourselves and to shout out loud the things we have lost and the things we miss.
There should never be shame in doing this.
And in doing so, does not mean we are negative thinkers, filled with self-pity or are unable to move on.
No, doing so is an essential part of emotional healing.
Just as we should never be afraid to speak about the physical scars that breast cancer leaves behind on our bodies, we should also never be afraid to speak about the invisible ones left behind on our minds or psyches as well.