As Mike laid in the hospital bed in pre-op, we laughed at each other and decided we are much more comfortable in our usual roles. I couldn't help but giggle as I watched my normally calm and collected husband become anxious and jittery while I became the quiet (yet nervous) caregiver waiting in the wings. Thankfully, Mike's surgery went just as his surgeon had hoped it would and he is feeling better each day. He started to go a little nuts sitting around the house after a few days, so he happily returned to work on Monday. There is still a ways to go as far as wound healing is concerned, but we are glad this little speed bump is behind us. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers - we truly appreciated it so much!
Although this was the first week in a very long time that I wasn't at Karmanos, I still had a couple other doc appointments to go to. On Monday I met with my plastic surgeon Dr. M for my follow up now that radiation is over. He is very pleased with how well my skin looks. You would never believe how quickly it healed! The bright red, perfect square outline that adorned my chest two weeks ago has almost completely disappeared. I honestly contribute this to religiously applying Aquaphor all over my chest three times each day, in conjunction with a very healthy diet. Dr. M said everything looks great and we can proceed with our plan to swap out the expanders and put in the implants. That surgery is now scheduled for May 4 and I am very much looking forward to it!
Aside from doc appointments, another big appointment I had this week was to get my hair did! ;) For the first time since shaving my hair 10 months ago, I was ready! It has been growing like a weed since the late summer and I was fearful I would wake up any day now with a mullet so I knew something must be done, stat! I went to a new hairstylist that does a lot of short 'dos and she came up with a great plan for me. It's a little tricky to try to keep a cute short style since my ultimate goal is to grow it back out. She just trimmed it up a bit and blew out the curls a little so that I ended up with this wavy faux-hawk...what do you think?!
While I was at the salon, I experienced something that I knew was bound to happen but I just wasn't sure when. All of these many months since my diagnosis, I have lived in somewhat of a cocoon. Nearly everyone I encountered knew my story, or could tell I was bald, or saw me at Karmanos where every patient is obviously dealing with cancer. It has always made me feel protected and secure. But I knew that the time was swiftly approaching when I would enter back into the real world and have to try to be "normal" again - not Meghan, the cancer patient. I had a feeling it would be a difficult transition.
The hairdresser asked, "So, what's going on with your hair? What do you want to do today?" I proceed to tell her and her assistant that I lost my hair from chemo and this is my first haircut since it started growing back at the end of the summer. I am proud of being a cancer survivor and I have no shame sharing this with them. Well, her next set of questions go something like this...
Hairdresser: So, what kind of cancer 'did' you 'have'?
Me: Breast cancer
Hairdresser: Did you have surgery too?
Me: Yep, chemo followed by surgery and then radiation
Hairdresser: Wow, so now that all of that is done, you are cancer free and it's gone?!
Me: Ugh..........um, well, not exactly.......(start sweating and feeling a little awkward)
This is where I think, "crap, I knew this was going to happen eventually". How do you try to explain to someone that you didn't 'have' cancer. That you still do HAVE cancer and that you always will. How do you try to make other people understand without freaking them out or having to spend an eternity sharing your life story with them?
Me: Well, actually I have stage IV breast cancer which means it has spread past my breast and lymph nodes to other areas of my body, like my spine. There is no cure for it.
Hairdresser: (looks dumbfounded, mouth agape) Oh really? (It's obvious she doesn't know what to say next) Are you going to lose your hair again?
***It's at about this time that I notice that I have also captured the attention of the clients and hairdressers on either side of my chair***
Me: Well, there is a chance I will have to have chemo again. I am in remission right now and hope to stay that way. As long as my cancer behaves and doesn't start causing problems again, I will be okay.
She was a total sweetheart and was very kind and compassionate. But none the less, it was a difficult moment for me. Sure, I could've just said - "yep, I am in remission" and left it like that. It would have led her to believe I am cancer free and have put that chapter behind me like many survivors are able to do. That would have been the easier route. That would have made her and the others listening a lot more comfortable. It would have opened the door for them to say, "Yay! Congratulations! That is great that you are a survivor!" But I don't get those kind of cheers. Many people have no clue what to say or how to react. And I don't blame them for that in the slightest. But, that does not mean I mislead them into thinking I am cancer-free. So many of us with metastatic cancer already feel like we are overlooked, or ignored - that our stories aren't shared - that our triumphs aren't celebrated because we aren't able to be that perfect success story - the one that is the happy ending that everyone wants to hear.
I refuse to help perpetuate that problem. So, although it made me a little uncomfortable, and although it sparked a few blank stares my way, and even if it incited a hot flash - I will continue to share my story - the real one, the uncensored one. I am sorry if it makes someone feel uncomfortable but I would be doing a huge disservice to all of us that battle chronic illnesses if I didn't speak honestly about what I am dealing with. Rather than being part of the problem, I am choosing to be part of the solution. I see it as a privilege to educate as many people as I can and to let them know that there are thousands of people out there like me. We are still survivors! We are surviving this disease each and every hour, each and every day - and we need you to help support us and celebrate our victories with us, no matter how small they may seem.
So although this transition back into the "real world" hasn't fully taken place, certain aspects of it have begun. I know once I eventually return to work and interact with new patients again, somehow my cancer may come up. Or when I meet someone new in my personal life and they ask if we are going to have children, this may come up. I don't plan on rambling to every stranger I meet at the grocery store about my disease and what the word metastatic means, but when the situation presents itself and I am faced with that choice to either gloss over the details of my diagnosis or share the truth behind it, I will always choose the latter. And I believe we will all be better for it.
Well, it's now 2:20am and my alarm is set to go off at 6:20am so I better hit the hay. Will I be tired in the morning? Sure thing. But will I really care? No way. Want to know why? Because I am headed to West Palm Beach, Florida to visit this little munchin and help celebrate his 1st birthday!!!
That's right...I am escaping the cold and headed to sunny Florida for a nice long weekend. I cannot wait to see Brinley, Andy and little Andrew! I haven't seen them since a super quick visit while we were in Fort Lauderdale for Labor Day. It's going to be the perfect "end of radiation celebration" gift to myself and can't wait to see my favorite Floridian friends. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
ps - If you could say an extra prayer for my friend, Pam as she undergoes a double mastectomy on Monday. Pam, I am sure it will go just fine and you will be back up on your feet before you know it! Hang in there!
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