Back to blogging. And Breast Cancer 101.

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The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them. Lois McMaster Bujold.

I haven’t been blogging lately because, to be honest, I lost my mojo.  I lost my mojo because there’s been a lot of sh*t happening. A whole damned sewage farm to be precise. You’d think I’d be used to it by now since it’s been a regular feature for a large portion of my life to date. Losing all but one of my female relatives on my Mum’s side of the family due to breast cancer before they reached age 50 is sh*tty.  Having 3 miscarriages and the subsequent clean-up operations scores fairly high on the sh*t-o-meter too. Being bullied, discriminated against, lied to, let down, isolated, poor, getting burgled and mugged… all those things encourage me to believe sh*t definitely happens. Oh and I almost forgot developing an aggressive breast cancer, having major surgery, chemotherapy, losing all my hair, taking steroids, developing a treatment induced needle phobia, gaining 22lbs in 3 months, early menopause, insomnia and herceptin – those things are a little on the sh*tty side as well. 

OK, I confess herceptin isn’t that bad.  It’s on the list because it involves needles and my brain can no longer deal with that concept. I have another opportunity to test out my new phobia tomorrow when I go for herceptin number six.

Back to the main story.  All these events occurred in less than 20 years and yet I still have a pesky optimistic streak that refuses to let me believe more sh*t will happen.  Of course I should know better because it does and once the pile is big enough I lose my mojo, go into hiding and wait for irksome optimism to flush it all away again.  Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I overcome one load from the sewage works, start thinking better times lie ahead and sure enough more sh*t happens.  As well as being needle phobic I now do a reasonable job of feigning sanity because the recent happenings include workplace shenanigans, my son suffering another fairly serious sport-induced injury, learning that the chemo fuelled steroid binge means I can’t have risk-reducing surgeries when or where I hoped to have them, losing one of my friends and finding out another’s cancer has returned with a vengeance. I think its safe to say sh*t happens. All I need now is a big bill from the tax man! (Fortunately my taxes are all up to date and paid in full so if the tax man comes knocking he’ll be sent away empty- handed).

My mojo up and left during the past few weeks due to all the above and more that I wont bore you with. It’s not quite ready to come out of hiding but I have reason to write and breast cancer 101 may be a good place to start. 

Lisa over at Alright Tit  died on 11th March thanks to breast cancer.  In spite of her positive spirit and amazing humour she didn’t live to see her 35th birthday.  Lisa isn’t alone. I know a number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 20’s and 30’s whose outlook is far from pink and pretty. So it seems a breast cancer 101 is long overdue. People who aren’t directly involved in or affected by this disease may be under the illusion that all breast cancer is curable and all breast cancer patients make a full recovery.  Sadly that perception is a long way short of the truth. 

Whilst breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically over the past 50 years not all breast cancers are equal and we are yet to find a cure.  Research seems to suggest that a range of genetic anomalies and environmental factors cause cell mutations but the more we learn the more complex the transition of normal cells to potential killers appears to be. Until you start digging into this stuff you don’t realise how dauntingly difficult it is and let’s be frank unless you’re a geneticist, a cancer specialist or a cancer patient with a thirst for knowledge you have better things to do.

The charade that has sprung up around breast cancer is, in my view, quite dangerous.  It leads the uninformed to believe that everyone makes a full recovery and that dealing with the disease is pretty straightforward these days.  It also causes some remarkable comments such as:

  • “Well, at least you have one of the easy cancers…”   There is no easy cancer and breast cancer is far from easy. The aggressive forms remain very difficult to treat and the treatment is tough. The less aggressive forms can also recur, there are no guarantees, the disease isn’t choosy.
  • So chemo must have cured you then…”  Chemo aims to reduce tumours to enable surgery or prevent any micro-metastases developing into new cancers. Aggressive cancers are more prone to metastasize and chemo is not a silver bullet.
  • “It must be nice getting back to normal…”  It is nice being out of chemo but treatment isn’t over and there is no normal following breast cancer.
  • “You must be relieved it’s all over.”  It is not all over. It will never be all over because breast cancer can return within a couple of years, up to 25+ years later or at any time in between.
  • “It must have been nice having extra time at home.” It was isolating. Most of the extra time was spent having needles shoved in me, things cut out of me and worrying about my family’s future… if a vacation in Hades is your idea of fun then yes it was nice 🙂

I don’t blame people for saying these things and I don’t think they’re being deliberately insensitive.  I think the publicity around breast cancer leads them into a false sense of security – they genuinely believe its curable, easy to treat and simple to recover from.  No one is telling them cancer treatment screws up your body in so many ways, leaves many people with PTSD and pushes people to their limits in every way imaginable.

Lisa’s death brings it home. Breast cancer is indiscriminate, it is still taking too many lives including a number of very young ones.  Before it deals its ultimate blow it takes just away about everything else as this post from Alright Tit so honestly expresses. The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.Good night Lisa, I hope you’re resting peacefully now.

 

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32 thoughts on “Back to blogging. And Breast Cancer 101.

  1. Thank you for this excellent post. There is a charade that has sprung up and I agree it is quite dangerous. This is why the quote you shared is so important too. Each of us must keep speaking our own truth about what breast cancer is really like. Thanks for doing just that.

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  2. Tracy,

    I’m so glad I discovered your blog . . . this is a new world for me, recently diagnosed with stage III IDC, Christmas 2012. It truly feels like an island even with love and friendship all around me. I’m currently on week 13 of chemo; surgery will follow probably in June. It’s a scary world of uncertainty. Hope and faith have helped me along so far, but I’d be lying to say I didn’t wake up regularly at that witching hour, sweating—fear and anxiety at the helm. At 38, with three young boys . . . I often still think it’s all just a bad dream. It’s amazing how so much “Pink awareness” has given a false impression to many. The assumption being that since there’s so much “awareness,” it really must be a more curable, “easy” cancer to bear. I so wish that were true.

    ((hugs)) hoping this finds you well in spirit and body.

    Nicole

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  3. I’m having a change of scene, nothing major, just a break away from all the cr*p I’ve been enduring from a particular place. I’ll be ready to get back on the horse then and we’ll be at full gallop taking on the challenges that get thrown at us. Thanks for your support Diane, it means a lot.

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    • You’re right Andrea, all we can do is be glad of today and try to stop worrying about tomorrow. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to provide for others, make sure they’re ok, keep everything going… And now I might not be able to do that. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, I care enormously. But I’m only human and some things I cannot change. xxx

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  4. Words can never express the sympathy I feel. Two of our friends died of breast cancer eight years ago and I have two cousins who have thankfully so far survived. Mahalo for sharing your story. Chemo, radiation, and surgery all take their toll on anyone’s body and that is without adding in other stressors. Sending you hugs, blessings and prayers.

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    • Thank you Sue, it is a tough thing to deal with as you know and some are luckier than others. It’s so sad that a few inconsiderate people can cause unnecessary stress to a body and mind that’s already been pushed to its limits. Thank goodness for the gift of resilience, the beauty of friendship and warm support to help people like me keep waking up each day. With love, Tracy

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    • Thank you, you’re right there are things we don’t get over, we just find a way to keep going as best we can. It’s not always easy but it has to be done.

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  5. This is very sad indeed, Tracy. Big hugs to you, my friend. It’s hard to stay strong, but just by writing this post shows how brave and beautiful you really are…

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    • Things are tough going at the moment Dianne but I am lucky to have so much support and wonderful friends across the world who provide kind words and warm thoughts to keep me going. I know things will get better, it’s justo case of riding the storm

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  6. Clicked over to Lisa Lynch’s blog and my heart sank. Rest in Peace, Lisa. Thank you for this Breast Cancer 101, Tracy. I am ignorant of what life with breast cancer is like. I thank you for sharing and for your optimism. Just getting up and writing this post is a heroic act of optimism. I have no words or advice, only {{{hugs}}} and love. Kozo

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  7. This is so sad, RIP Lisa. There are no easy answers or solutions, cancer will only challenge you: your will, resources and strength. I’m sure no one can truly understand this unless it happens to them directly. My prayers are with you Tracy. God Bless. ♥

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    • It is a challenge I would not wish for others though I know others will also find themselves thrown into this whirlpool. Thank you for your support, it is so very much appreciated

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  8. GREAT POST! Love the opening quote, because I fee very strongly it is our duty to speak out, not just for the dead but for the newly diagnosed, so they can read our blogs and take a short cut to all our collective knowledge and experience.
    I’m like a broken record with this, but we need to make a list of snappy comebacks to these things said to cancer patients, no matter if they are in active treatment or in the post treatment-monitoring-to-see-if-it-comes-back stage.
    To those who ask “well, we don’t know what to say, what can we say?” My answer is this: just listen, don’t speak, maybe.

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    • I’ve found out more by reading other blogs and researching for myself than through any other source. That’s not to say my medical team aren’t great, they are, but they have no first hand experience and going through this cr*p is the only way to truly understand what it does to us physically, psychologically and emotionally. My snappy comebacks aren’t all publishable but I might write them one day anyway!

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  9. Losing Lisa was heart breaking. It angers me so much that women die from breast cancer. And is gets me even more that young women have such a high risk if diagnosed (being one of them myself). But, sometimes when you need a break, you just need a break – even though the crap keeps happening. Rest. Step back (if you can). Keep being optimistic if for no other reason than it makes life do-able. And maybe have a cup of tea too 🙂 I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. ~Catherine

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    • I get annoyed with the media, it almost portrays breast cancer as no big deal these days and focuses on the ‘good news’ that more women are surviving. I’m pleased for those women but you’re right, when you really look at this the younger women get far more aggressive cancers and their outlook is not as rosy as the media seems set on leading people to believe. I’m having that cup of tea Catherine, green of course, and I’m standing firm for everyone who is dealing with this disease.

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  10. For the small comfort it may be, know that a lot of people, many of whom have never even met you face to face, are rooting for you. When that final straw seems about to land on your back you are perfectly entitled to swear, cry, break down or rage against the world. There will be people, loved ones and “virtual” friends who will be there to help you pick yourself up, dust yourself down, hand you a tissue and a large G&T / cup of tea, say “fuck this – I’m not giving up” and put up a brolly against the shit storm. You will weather it Tracy. Xoxox

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    • I’m not giving up. No matter how tough it gets I won’t give in – the disease is hard going but the inconsiderate / spiteful people are in a league of their own. Your comment reminded me that like attracts like – genuine people with good hearts attract those with a similar outlook. I’m grateful for all my friends, virtual or not and for their kindness and support. I doubt those who try to make our lives miserable will ever experience the joy of friendship we’re able to enjoy.

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  11. Well done Tracy for writing this, it needs to be said & more often. It’s so hard for people (like me) who don’t have cancer to understand what on earth it could be like for you and your family, but you (and my friend Dave who is currently undergoing treatment for his third bout of leukaemia in as many years) sure as hell help me get my health problems into perspective.

    I’m sorry that things are so unbelievably shit for you at the moment, it really does seem sometimes that some people really do get a crappy deal.

    If there is anything practical that I can do, apart from pray…. Let me know!

    Hugs

    Barbara

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    • I’m sorry to hear about Dave, one of the cruelest things about cancer is that it seems to strike some people relentlessly and gives them little opportunity to regain a ‘normal’ life. I wish him well with his treatment, I know it is so tough. Keep praying Barbara, I believe that our positive thoughts for each other really can make a difference and I’ll hold you both in my thoughts xoxox

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  12. Whenever anyone lays out bad news the first instinct is to respond with some version of, “Cheer up, it’ll be alright,” and then feel either some sense of pity or relief, or perhaps both. I am thinking that by now those sentiments must ring pretty hollow seeing as what you’ve been true. So I won’t. You do know, though, that like all the many others who take the time to read your work we do wish the world were not so frigging shitty and that, for once, a bit of fairness might creep in.

    For the second time today I am reminded of Kevin Kling and how he reminds us that while we may be cured that’s not the same as being healed and that sometimes the obstacles we face are such that we really need to alter the narratives of our lives–even if we are fooling ourselves a bit–so that we can find peace with our lot.

    Here’s a song that’s been going through my mind since I read your post. I’m not passing it along to ‘cheer you up’ but, perhaps to bolster your hope; something that is, in the end, far more valuable than joy.

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    • Thanks Maurice, I think the healing takes a long time and its fragile, so fragile that the acts of others can make or break us in a nanosecond. Fortunately there are more people with kind souls and warm spirits than those with no conscience. The former help us keep going I spite of the letters best efforts.

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  13. Step away, climb back over the fence and move away from the horse. You can try to ride him another day, for now give yourself a break. Are those spring flowers in blossom yet? I get ya…just need to slow down a bit, go smell the roses or something. Easily said, hard to do — I know. High levels of stress won’t make anything better just worse. They can’t take your breath away.

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