In October 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had an estrogen based breast cancer, probably from taking hormones during menopause for too long. I made the choice to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I made this choice to avoid radiation and chemotherapy treatments. As much as I complained about my naturally curly hair, I didn’t want to lose it and start over. I didn’t want to go through the days and weeks of feeling miserable and sick from the chemo. I didn’t want the burned skin from the radiation treatments that would hurt more than any sunburn and would turn my skin black from the treatments.
My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer two years before me and went through a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. I watched her lose her hair, saw her burned skin and stood by as she lost her sense of taste and sensation in her finger tips. I marveled at her strength throughout the treatments, her smile and the way she made cancer insignificant as she fought and won, beating breast cancer. She is my hero and the strongest, most courageous woman I know. I also knew that I couldn’t be that strong in my fight against breast cancer.
Sometimes I feel like I cheated. Like I took a shortcut in my battle by having a mastectomy and reconstruction. I eliminated the cancer by having my breasts removed and all of the surrounding tissue. I healed up and went on about my life, returning to my normal routine. I take a pill every day for five years to keep my body from making any estrogen and visit my oncologist every six months, but for the most part, my life is the same as it was before cancer.
I read about all of the people battling some form of cancer how they fight, their strength of purpose and will to live. I admire their courage and strength. I always feel a bit odd when I walk into my oncologist’s office and see the really sick people waiting for treatment like I’m taking precious time away from each of them for me.
No, I don’t want to experience the sickness and pain of fighting cancer in order to legitimatize my personal battle; that is not what I’m saying, I admire everyone that had or has cancer and their personal decisions on how they wage their battle. I just feel that I’m not worthy as all of the others are who have fought and either won or lost their battle against cancer.
I don’t know if this is a survivor’s crisis or just me. Maybe this is the truth that people who take shortcuts feel guilty later for taking the shortcut or a quicker way of getting to the endgame. The same way people that are given money squander it as opposed to understanding the value of the effort to earn it. Maybe that is the crux of my quandary, I don’t feel like I earned my win.