Scar Tissue

It is possible I’d become less anxious about mammograms now that I’m 3 ½ years out from diagnosis. I’ve said a few times on this blog that I’ll never be “over” cancer—that fear of recurrence will always be with me. I know I am not the only person who thinks like that. That great Slate article published last year quoted Dana Jennings: “Even though my health keeps improving, and there’s a good chance that I’m cancer free, I still feel stalked, as if the cancer were perched on my shoulder like some unrepentant imp.”

Well, that nails it.

Medical facilities still grate on my nerves, so, I was only a tiny bit less anxious for my recent experience a couple of weeks ago. So it was a bit upsetting to be shown an image with a new, large white area on the chest wall under the place where the original cancer had grown. It was more upsetting to get hauled back to meet with the radiologist to discuss it, although I do appreciate that he did meet with me. Of all the imaging I’ve had done at various locations throughout this whole cancer mess, this was the first time I’d ever met with the person reading the images. Usually, my interaction is limited to the person putting me or parts of me into machines, and the radiologist is hidden like the Wizard of Oz or something, issuing directives and proclamations.

“Probably” scar tissue from the surgery, he said, but he’d like to do a MRI. I handed him the disc of images from my last MRI, from the summer of 2012. That was a year after the surgery (April 2011). No white area. “Still,” he said. “Probably”, he said. “Scar tissue.” How about that new MRI? Well, at least I got through 2013 without getting an MRI. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, not so much.

The MRI was ordered, scheduled, and approval from new insurance company obtained (because I refused to have the MRI unless approved—I’ve fought that rejection-after-the-test-is-done battle before, and I cannot afford the MRI, period). For 6 days between the mammogram and MRI I went down that cancer road again, assuming the worst because I already know “bad”—I don’t want to know “worst”. The dread, paralysis, and everything just overtook me like it did before. Maybe worse, because my financial and job situations are different now. Even though I did not have all the puzzle pieces—like an actual diagnosis, treatment plan—I was still trying to come up with a strategy for how to handle the worst.

Words like “probably” and “unlikely” or “the odds” now scare the crap out me. As mentioned in the previous post, my initial diagnosis was a sucker punch—I was just being proactive, following the “rules”, when I decided to get a mammogram after my aunt’s diagnosis. I thought it so unlikely I’d have it so young, while another family member was having cancer. But when symptoms presented, I got another mammogram, two ultrasounds (one with biopsy, one without), and the MRI which finally established just how large the tumor was. Each new test result just seemed to yield worse news during those first frantic days of cancer. So my take away has been: test = bad news, and more tests =  wait, it gets worse.

Fortunately that wait-it-gets-worse streak ended back then with results proving cancer was confined to the breast. And the streak stays at the end now—within 24 hours of the MRI, I learned at least that there is still no evidence of cancer.

Obviously, I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions. Upon getting my good news, relief was the most prominent. My week-long headache went away and I was finally able to sleep. In fact that is kind of what I’ve done since then—sleep and do mindless things like watching movies, reading, wandering the internet. My ability to focus, never great since I was always hyper and easily distracted by shiny things, was destroyed by cancer. This new, mere threat sent me right back to the cancer days when I was utterly incapable of focus (hence the lateness of this follow-up post). Of course, the whole time I was processing this incident.

Physical scar tissue is what caused all this upheaval, and it re-opened the scars on my psyche. They were healing, and now they are not. This is not to say I was not fully aware that this sort of thing would and could happen. I even wrote about this a few months ago (My Reality and Your Fairy Tale), and heck, even before that (I Can Pretend).

This is the scar tissue, the reality, I wish more would see and understand. This is a reality I think is sorely under-represented in the media. Before I got cancer, I believed what I saw: get cancer, go bald while getting treated, then: all better! Somewhere in the midst of being overwhelmed by the diagnosis, I began to grasp the lifelong effects in store for me. As I said above, and in past posts, my cancer experience has been a sucker punch. The current and ongoing sucker punch for me is this refusal by others to even comprehend the scars—physical and mental—that linger after cancer.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about why I blog, or even the nature of this blog, about navigating social interaction with others who do not know or will not accept what I think are incredibly obvious truths about cancer. Whatever the word truth means anymore—everyone has their own version, right? I’ve been thinking especially about this absolute refusal by society to think there is only one story of cancer: get cancer, fight, and either win (patient recovers and cancer never comes back and all is well) or lose (patient dies because of poor fighting skills). Scars are never considered. But I will continue to write about the scars—not just the physical ones on my body—the scars caused by this cultural myth of cancer.

Er, as soon as I can force myself to focus again, that is, will I write these things.

But in the meantime, I remind everyone I’m a Cancer Curmudgeon, and I am indeed socially awkward. Usually sarcastic, rarely sincere. But I do sincerely thank all of you that sent good vibes and well wishes in comments and in private messages. I am humbled and grateful.

 

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw

Sarcastic mister know it all”

-“Scar Tissue”, Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

Until next time, then.

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How About a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day”?

I wasn’t going to write about No Bra Day, because 1) so many other blogs I read have said most of what needs to be said, 2) why should I give it more exposure and attention, and 3) I wrote an overly long, overly wordy piece this summer already, back when there was this other No Bra Day (how many are there?!). The earlier piece, I Don’t Want to See It, is mostly crap I wish I had not written, only the final 5 or so paragraphs are worth reading, and some of the sentiment of those will be repeated here.

I changed my mind because as I started mentally ranting I realized that ignoring it won’t make it go away any more than giving it more attention will (more on this theory, keep reading). It deserves all the outrage that can be had.

Who the hell organizes these No Bra Days? There is no organizational name on that graphic (everyone has seen it I’m sure), so I guess it is just some idea someone passed around on Facebook (sorry, I still cannot have a FB page for personal, non-cancer related reasons, so I’m dim on Facebook things). How the hell does it benefit anyone? Don’t bullshit me and say it raises awareness, especially when the top line of the graphic reads “support breast cancer”. Sounds like the purpose of the day is to increase the incidence of breast cancer—the graphic doesn’t even bother to discuss support for patients in any way.  It’s just another excuse to sexualize a disease, and to be childish and talk about boobies. Again.

What I am saying is divisive and angry; I know and do not care. I am so fond of the quote “just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right,” (Ricky Gervais) and I know that just because this event and the participants offend me, I’m not right. Lots of folks, including breast cancer patients, think all this is just fine, so it is doubtful that this event will cease to exist. But I AM offended and right or wrong, I’m going to gripe about it.

Setting healthy ta-tas “free” doesn’t support this breast cancer patient, again, not that this event even bothers to pretend to support any patients, it is supporting breast cancer, remember? It just reminds me of what cancer did to my breasts, and to other breasts. The scars, the ugliness, the pain and surgery. Need I go on? While I can begrudgingly accept that people who donate or participate in Pink have good hearts even if I hate Pink, I have NO appreciation for anyone involved in No Bra Day. Do NOT expect any gratitude or applause for the participation from me. I’m glad that these women are still healthy, still have breasts unmarred by cancer, but I really do not want to be reminded of what I lost. To those who organized this No Bra Day, I consider you insensitive, thoughtless jerks.

I know this day, the participants, and whoever organized it will get praise from many corners—but a quick scan on Google and other blogs gives evidence of some criticism about this event. I wish there more outrage about it. While I have no hope these days of the Pink machine slowing down, I yearn for more concrete ways to express my extreme dissatisfaction. This No Bra Day is one of the most egregious examples of how a disease has become the plaything of an adolescent, boobies obsessed culture.  If I were rich, I’d buy a million very covering and very supportive bras and throw them—well, somewhere, since there is no physical headquarters for this idiotic nonsense. Maybe I’d just scatter them about a big city street, to stop traffic and get everyone to see how at least this one breast cancer patient really feels. Sure, that would just be me throwing a childish tantrum—but the organizers have proven that they are not emotionally or intellectually adult enough to understand the lengthy, smart essays criticizing the event.

Source: etsy
Source: etsy

Why doesn’t someone come up with a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day”, gathering and presenting all the pictures of so many bloggers (myself included, I would do this) in various stages of lumpectomy/mastectomy, reconstruction or no reconstruction? There are certainly plenty of said pictures on the internet. I get why established groups or projects cannot do this—with establishment comes the need to “play nice”.  Being a socially awkward, complaining Curmudgeon—in real life and in the blogosphere—means I seem unable to play nice.

I’m sure many would find a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day” objectionable and offensive (see this is where I can use the Gervais quote to my advantage). But here’s the thing: not wearing bras, or even those “tasteful” Pink ads featuring topless, strategically covered, healthy-breasted models for that matter, do nothing to make anyone understand the reality of breast cancer—other than show off what to those who objectify boobies will be “missing” should cancer afflict any of these women. The current socially acceptable image of breast cancer is the bald-headed woman in a pink t-shirt at a run or walk, smiling and being strong. To me it’s like a sick before and after scenario: women before cancer can be sexy and flaunt naked breasts for cancer awareness, women after breast cancer surgery need to keep covered, need to become unsexy soldiers to admire for bravery, but not to be desired.

Seeing what breast cancer is capable of, and what women who’ve had scarring surgery are capable of, seems more logical and helpful to me. On a personal level, it certainly would’ve helped me when I was recovering from surgery and follow-up radiation, wondering what to do. Instead I saw bikini clad women in ta-ta breast cancer ads, and felt horrible, my emotional wound constantly re-opened.

I loathe the battle language in cancer, as I’ve mentioned often enough throughout my posts. What I hate most is that it is used mainly to blame “soldiers” who’ve “lost their battle with cancer” because they “didn’t fight hard enough.” I rarely see war talk applied in terms of a grand battle plan. Why isn’t it applied here? A good general goes into battle prepared, knowing as much about the enemy as possible—their weapons, strategies, the size and the location of the enemy, and what the enemy does to prisoners. Would it not make sense to show what the “enemy”, breast cancer, does to these “soldier” women? How can this proverbial “battle” be fought if everyone is refusing to acknowledge the “battle scars”? Oh right, we’re not supposed to be victims or prisoners, cancer happens to us, but there should be no lasting mental effects, and no one wants to see the scars (as the summertime fracas with Facebook and the surrounding conversations proved)—we either win or lose, and it’s all on us, even if the weapons (medicine) fail the soldiers, no matter how hard we fight. Yes I’m being sarcastic.

This mass delusion of only showing healthy breasts in regards to breast cancer has got to stop. Yes, it is good to think positive, to dream, and to champion the bright side of life—even if a Cancer Curmudgeon just won’t do that. But to completely ignore the reality, to not face the ugliness or pain cancer brings, I assure everyone, it doesn’t make the ugliness or pain cease to exist. Furthermore, wouldn’t seeing pictures of women ALIVE after scarring surgery be, I don’t know, positive? I remember being told on HuffPo this summer that these scars should not be shown. Hope she never has to go through it, hope she never has to see that ugliness in the mirror, hope she never needs to see my example of one who turned an ugly scar into a triumph.

I prefer to know what I’m up against and I’m tired of a socially acceptable conversation about cancer in which everyone covers their eyes and ears, singing “la la la”, like nothing bad ever happens.  Sometimes, ignoring the bad stuff only results in a sucker punch later.

Only three types of people tell the truth: kids, drunk people, and anyone who is pissed the fuck off.” –Richard Pryor

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. –Nietzsche