A year ago today…
I was in the hospital recovering from my double mastectomy, which was April 5, 2011. I almost would have let April 5, 2012 go by without a thought but my boyfriend reminded me it was a year since my surgery.
As I sit here now, typing this, I don’t have any sense that April 5th is a monumental day in my life. It probably was when it was happening, but not now. I read about all these young women who have prophylactic mastectomies and achieve peace of mind that they’ll “never” get breast cancer. I’m glad for them, but even after my double mastectomy, I still fear getting breast cancer. Again.
Is this normal? I tell myself it’s just being realistic. People get recurrences, even after major surgeries to remove breast tissue. I hear about it more than I’d like to. In the shower, I still run my fingers over my skin to make sure there are no lumps. Every time I feel a weird soreness or sharp pain or other strange sensation, I have a fleeting fear the cancer has returned.
Peace of mind would be great. But a year after my surgery I’m still not there.
And now this has turned into a really negative post that doesn’t accurately reflect my mood today (It’s Friday! I am going home for Passover! It’s spring! Team Peeta!) so I want to also say that this fear of cancer doesn’t consume my every day and paralyze me (except when I’m crazy like with the dizziness episode) – it just exists. I think it’s something I’ll live with the rest of my life. Maybe that’s just the difference between previvors who have mastectomies and survivors who have mastectomies.
In the past couple of weeks, there have been several times when I’ve paused and thought “What the hell am I doing with my life?” Mostly, these happen at work. It’s not that I don’t like my job, I do – it’s just that the the weight and profundity of what I experienced this year suddenly become so real to me that I wonder why, after it all, I am still sitting at the same desk I sat in last year, staring at the same computer, hacking away at the same 9 to 5. Hanging out with the same friends. Having the same “normal” banter with my boyfriend. Watching the same TV shows. Eating the same food.
Welcome to “survivorship”, I guess. What is it that makes people want to do something profound after experiencing something profound? To me, I just feel kind of lazy and disappointed in myself. I was confronted with what could have been (and still could be) a fatal disease, and yet, when treatment, major surgeries and major life decisions were over, I went back to the same crap I did before I was confronted with my own mortality. There is so much I would like to change about my life and so many adventures I would like to have before I die – why not start now? Because, of course, these things don’t happen in a day and there are realistic limits in life – money, jobs, family, social obligations.
What I really wanted to do was post this article about cancer “rehab”, because it made me think about all the above issues I’m dealing with. I’d love to hear from other cancer survivors who went through this.
As my dad pointed out to me the other day, when you Google my name, a whole new host of sites pop up. That’s partly thanks to this snazzy new video featuring, well, me, that was filmed by the good people at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, where I have been receiving all of my cancer care.
Survivor : Cara Scharf from GW MFA on Vimeo.
A couple weeks back, the marketing department at MFA wanted to create a profile of a cancer patient, and my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr. Christine Teal, recommended me. I worked with Brandon Bray, a wonderful filmmaker, to put together the above video, which I think turned out beautifully. When I was approached to be profiled in video, my answer was of course, “YES!” Though it does give me pause to think that some people who don’t know what I’m going through might find this, that’s a small price to pay given the enormous desire I have to educate people and let other young women with breast cancer know they are not alone. It’s why I keep this blog and why I am proud of this video.
Please watch it and tell me what you think.