Spread the Dread

Many bloggers I read here in CancerLand speak of how their mother and/or other relatives had breast cancer–or how there was NO cancer history at all, cementing their shock at their own diagnosis. I always viewed my own story as a bit odd: my maternal grandmother, her sister, and her youngest daughter (my aunt), all had breast cancer. Then me, too.

One would think, that with a mother, a younger sister, and an only daughter getting breast cancer within months of each other, my own mother would rocket into the doctor’s office, demand screenings. Nope. My mother refused my numerous requests that she at least get a mammogram. I use “refuse” and “request” to be polite. I’ll just say the conversations were NOT polite, and I eventually stopped bringing up the issue in the interest of saving myself a lot of fussin’ and fightin’. I think sometimes my mother thinks not getting tests equals no bad news–ignorance is bliss. I can understand that trap a little. There’ve been times I’ve wanted to delay my doctor visits, until it becomes the battle of which is worse: not knowing at all, or potentially facing bad news. But my mother takes the cake: at least a decade since her last mammogram. She is almost 70. Isn’t 60-something the average age of a breast cancer patient? Basically, she refused to heed the once a year, 1 in 8 message Pink shoves down throats. And the irony? I still have to explain my anti-Pink views every now and again. Oh, she approves the Pink message—just, not for herself. Her frame of mind is that classic: “breast cancer is very real threat, but it won’t happen to me”. Ah that denial, I once knew it well.

Needless to say, this personal situation drives me nuts, which is one reason I rarely share it.

In the past year, her diagnosis of having a hereditary kidney condition (that no other relatives we know of have–go figure), has opened her eyes. She finally relented and had a colonoscopy—only 15+ years after the recommended age one should start having them. Yes there were polyps, removed and proven benign. Then finally her GP twists her arm enough to get a mammogram. And yes, there was an area of concern, and she was called to schedule a sonogram.

I pause here to say for all the stereotypical “I’m turning into my mother” things I notice about myself each day, how we approach medical issues is the one place we will always be vastly different. She is from the old school, revere the doctor’s word as near deity-like; I challenge everything. I prefer to attend doctor visits alone—cancer was awful in that necessity of always have an escort to help write down/ask questions/don’t drive after treatment. I’m a royal impatient bitch in waiting rooms, so I really don’t like company. Mom likes to have someone with her. Mom usually thinks all is well; I’m a typical post-cancer person—convinced each scratch is a sign of recurrence.

The other difference is I generally mean it when I say, “no don’t come with me”. Mom will say those things and really mean, “please escort me”! (Typical for her age and upbringing.)

Long story short, I took her for her word, did not go with her, and yes experienced the guilt only mothers can force on their daughters afterward. I am further frustrated because I know I would’ve advocated for her harder. The radiologist told her he didn’t think there is cause for concern at present—come back in 6 months. She is relieved and thinks all will be fine. And maybe it will be.

But, given my nature, I have doubts. Just to review if you missed the first paragraphs—imagine my mother as a dot in the center of a triangle. The 3 points of the triangle are occupied with her mother, her sister, and me, her daughter. We all had some serious breast cancer. If you were a gambling sort, what are the odds, hmmm?

Obviously, I’m not inclined to think all will be well even if two of those triangle points were removed. My own cancer was a story of falling into the smaller percentage: (false negative mammogram, E/P negative and HER2+, 1 in 233, NOT 1 in 8….). Of course I am pressing the panic button. Of course I expect bad news in the next 6 months.

But what can I do? The doctors, with more knowledge, think it is not time to panic. The media is full of stories of over-diagnosis, over-screening, false alarms. Who am I to disagree?

I do not know how to be a cancer mentor, as I mentioned in a previous post. I am not the one who will tell you or anyone: “hey it’ll be OK, just fight, be positive, and things will work out”. I will never join a local or online group as a breast cancer survivor that newly diagnosed women can turn to, to comfort and share knowledge. I’m an idiot that barely handled my cancer my own self. It is all I can do, when others around me begin to spiral, to not follow them down the drain (talking about even more folks I know than my own mother).

I’m sure most cancer patients have at least one or many people in their circle saying, “don’t worry, it will be fine”. For me, the problem was I ONLY had those types around me, to the point that every single time I expressed fear or other so-called negative feelings, I was shut down. The result of that for me was that I felt dismissed; it impacted me to the point it reverberates even today. That’s kind of what this entire blog is about: reassuring myself that those feelings are common, normal. And when the kind folks who comment on my blog posts comfort me or share their own feelings of “negativity”—well, that is another reason I keep this blog. This can be a safe place to vent, without the fear of being shut down and told to think positive, it will be OK. I do not know that it will be OK, so I will never say that. I will just try NOT to feed anyone’s panic.

I realize most people in my life need the “it will be OK” thing said to them. I do not know I can bring myself to do that every time. All I can do is try to keep myself from piling on. My stern message to myself: “don’t spread the dread”.