This is from my CaringBridge from September 18, 2016. I had completed chemo, surgery, and radiation and was in heart failure when I wrote this. I am still healing.
The nagging questions
Cancer – a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue
Cancer Recurrence – the same cancer coming back after a period of time
Cancer is genetic – it can be inherited, or it can arise because of damage to DNA, or as a result of errors as cancer divides
There are more than 100 types of cancer.
Whenever you hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions is what kind. Soon we jump to the why. What caused it, is there a family history, etc. I think we want to know why as a protection for ourselves, and also because we don’t understand enough about cancer. We want to know that we can do something to prevent it from happening to us. We want to know how to protect our children from it.
I have talked to many breast cancer survivors who have a family history. They talk about what it was like when their mom, aunt, sister, grandma, etc. went through treatments. Women with breast cancer in their families, that luckily have not had cancer, are often still carrying the “what if” with them, close to their heart. They do self exams more vigilantly, they start getting their mammograms well before 40.
Breast cancer is not in my family. It is in my husband’s, so I have worried about his sisters, but never about me. If you told me that I was going to get cancer, I would never have guessed breast. The cancers in my family are not in the “family of breast cancers,” or at least that is what doctors have told me. In my mom’s side of the family, there is a lot of cancer. It seemed to skip a generations, so even young, I knew there was a good chance I would be the one to get it. But then my mom got cancer. It wasn’t skipping a generation. I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t get cancer after all: that I could dismiss that nagging feeling I sometimes got to be on top of all preventative care. The more I kept hearing of people getting diagnosed, the more I added to my new theory: cancer followed some sort of trauma. The stress the body was under physically or emotionally allowed the cancer to grow. This made me feel safe, especially as I married and have created this wonderful life. There is no simple explanation of why I got breast cancer. There are many of us from my high school graduating class who have had breast cancer. I wonder if it is environmental. You can drive yourself crazy asking why, wondering, trying to figure out the cause. I got genetic testing, and I don’t have the BRCA genes, which I knew in my heart I didn’t. One marker was odd, but it is one that they don’t yet know what it means. They don’t think it is related to the other cancers in my family. My genetic counselor thought the gene testing center might be interested in my family since 3 of us in a row had cancer before 50, and 2 of us under 40. My mom got genetic testing. No markers. None of us have the same kind anyway.
They say you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis. I do feel like a survivor. I so want to protect my girls from getting cancer, though I certainly have not been able to protect them from a sick mommy. I wish they didn’t know about surgery, ports, chemotherapy, radiation, hot flashes, carcinoma, wig, or mastectomy. I hope the memories of all of this soon fade for them. I am now to the point where the oncologist and surgeon mention the word recurrence. It is an awful word. Because they said from day 1 that my cancer was 100% curable, I knew I was strong enough to fight and win. Recurrence, though, comes with worse statistics, and the never ending nagging questions of: what if, when, is it back? The first time I heard it from my oncologist, I felt so defeated. All of this treatment wasn’t enough. I am still in treatment, this time to prevent. Radiation was to make sure they really did get it all and no little cells were lurking in my chest wall. I have done everything they have recommended, even when I did not want to.
There are no easy answers. I will probably never know why I had breast cancer. I have fought it with all I had. I have lost a lot of things, and gained some good and bad things. I am still fighting, still healing, and it is going to take a long time.