Decision-making post cancer

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This is Philadelphia, our new home. Yes, the boyfriend and I have left DC for a “new” city (in quotes because we used to live in Philly, so it’s not really new, but it’s new enough after four years away).

I am here to pursue grad school: a Master’s in Arts Administration, so I can one day change lives through the arts… or something like that. This has been a huge decision for me and mostly every day I question whether it was the right decision. I guess everyone does that with big decisions: buying a car, buying a house, moving to a new city, taking a new job, etc.

But I’ve definitely noticed that making decisions has become much harder for me post-cancer.

This might be an over share but I want to relay something my therapist and I talked about, which is my fear of loss, because I think it relates a lot to this topic. I have lost a lot in my life: my mother, my breasts, my “carefree” 20’s, my feeling of control over my body… the list goes on.

And with each loss, I become more averse to the feeling. Thus, when it comes time to make a decision, I think about everything I might lose in the decision-making process. If I choose one path, I am “losing” the possibility of all other paths. For instance, I have chosen to go to Drexel for a Master’s in Arts Administration, but that means that I can’t go to UPenn, a better school, for a certificate in Nonprofit Management! The horror!

It even trickles down to little decisions. I spent the summer working at Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot in 1865. A couple times, I was wandering through the museum making sure all the visitors were accounted for and I’d find abandoned tickets on the floor. I would pick them up to throw them away, but I’d weigh the decision very heavily. What WON’T happen if I throw this away? What if the visitor realizes they dropped it and comes back? What then?

During those moments, I would try to calm myself by saying, simply, “It ISN’T THAT BIG OF A DEAL. Throwing this ticket away will not be the end of the world.”

I realize I have to see things as more gray, not so black and white between having and losing. Making decisions is what advances life and I can’t let it cripple me.

Any other survivors experience this?

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Happy Mastectoversary!

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.

Cliches and The New Normal

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.

Survivor: My Video Story

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.