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    A Cancer Recurrence Does Not Mean You Have Failed

    Your Diagnosis is Not Your Fault!

    If you beat cancer once, it is possible to beat it again. Contrary to some of the current new age thinking, a cancer diagnosis does not mean that you have failed, and a setback does not mean it’s over.

    One of the problems with our current, new age influenced culture is the idea that we create everything that happens to us. If we believe that, we can un-create it, or so the wisdom goes.

    Even if you don’t necessarily believe that, a lot of folks do, and it can make it hard to be gentle on yourself.

    I have always been health conscious, although I have not always done what I know to be best for myself. I certainly pointed a finger at myself at first when I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer. If only I had been more consistent with exercise. If only I had eaten more vegetables, if only I had left a stressful marriage years before, if only……

    I got over that and got committed to surviving. I had some strong beliefs about what would work, and fortunately for me I survived. Did I survive because of the acupuncture, the massage, the therapy, the healing touch, my health shakes, my self inquiry? Or did I survive because my oncologist knew what sort of cell type I had and that she expected the cancer to respond to the big guns she fired at it? Was my fantastic response to chemotherapy a result of my holistic East/West approach, was it luck, or the wonderful, compassionate and thorough team of doctors who treated me? In any case I was blessed. If I had a setback whose fault would it be?

    Nobody’s! I repeat, nobody’s.

    I had a friend in my art and imagery support group who had faced an aggressive breast cancer. She believed strongly in the approach she had taken. When her cancer recurred, she was certain that she had failed. It was hard to watch her beat herself up about it, and I was certain that her self flagellation was not helping her body to stay strong.

    I believe very strongly that self love helps us to find our resilience. Love strengthens and heals. Whatever beast has intruded on your life, self blame will only give it power. Self blame is a useless, counterproductive activity. Don’t blame yourself for indulging in self blame! Enough already if you are doing that!

    Cancer happens. It sucks. Sometimes it happens again. Cancer happening again does not mean the end. I asked my oncologist what would happen if the cancer I beat once were to return. Her response was that we would beat it again. She’s a research specialist among other things, and in the cancer world new stuff is coming to light all the time. It is true that people still die of cancer. That does stink. However, it is also true that more people don’t die of it than do on the whole. Many survivors coexist with their cancer until they die of something else. In the cancer world, death by old age means I win.

    Setbacks can be anything. They can be chemo effects that don’t go away as fast as you want them to. A minor or major recurrence can be a setback. I viewed my lymphedema, which surfaced nearly two years out, as a setback. At first I was annoyed at myself for not being more careful. I got over that. It was just a setback, and now my lymphedema is very well controlled. Hey, I’m still here!

    If you are reading this today, you are too, and that’s what matters.



    Why I Will Not Reconstruct

    Musings of a One-Breasted Goddess

    I’ve been a uniboober for nearly five glorious post cancer years, and I know that I won’t change it. How can I know?

    I appreciate so much that if a woman wants reconstruction she can have it, and insurance will cover it. That was not always the case, and that’s just not kind. Every woman who loses a breast should be able to do what she needs to do to recover and feel whole.

    The reason that I will not reconstruct is that right now I am whole. I am missing one appendage. I have sensation and movement in my whole body, and my pectoralis muscle is intact. I don’t have any foreign objects in my body. That to me is whole.

    It doesn’t make sense to me to chop and numb other parts to give me back a breast, one that isn’t even like the one I have. My new breast would not have sensation, would not feel or look the same, would not respond to a lover’s touch. Would I ever be satisfied with this?

    Maybe if it could be a real breast, I would be satisfied to lose sensation in my belly, have my skin stretched, distort my pectoralis muscle so that it could not move freely, and to re-injure my entire left side and once again lose sensation to my elbow, across my back, into my neck, and across my chest. Maybe it would be worth three separate surgeries, sacrificing pieces of my beautiful, sensate muscles, the risk of infection, scarring that disfigures the new breast, tampering with the healthy breast, the risk of silicone leaking into my system, and the further trauma to my body that could leave me vulnerable a cancer recurrence.

    Since any new breast I would get would not be the real thing, why would I want one?

    I understand that it would be convenient to never have to search for my prosthesis if I misplace it. I would have cleavage, which I do miss a little. Perhaps I would feel less fearful of a lover being put off by the scar across my chest. Fortunately I understand that I am still a woman without cleavage, and my partner loves both sides of my chest.

    What doesn’t make sense to me is that my journey and recovery has been all about reclaiming the parts of me that were lost. If I want no part of my heart and spirit to be numb, if I want to feel everything, what sense does it make to cut off sensation and movement from large areas of my body? I want to feel it all, enjoy it all, be it all, body, mind and spirit.

    And, can a deeper healing come from acceptance?

    Maybe providing the new appendage makes it possible to not feel the pain. However, I believe that true healing means to feel the pain, let it go, and claim another part, the part that was numb or hurt, until I feel all of me. I grieve for my beautiful breast that nursed my babies, quickened at my lover’s touch, and is gone forever. I feel the ache, and I feel my chest, my belly, my heart. I move my body joyfully and with gratitude.

    I think every woman must do what feels right to her, and I believe that every woman should be encouraged to think it through. These days it is assumed that every woman who loses a breast will reconstruct. What isn’t discussed at length are the disadvantages and the risks. Nearly one third of all reconstruction surgeries will have some sort of complication, or less than ideal outcome.

    I miss low cut dresses, shelf bras, and sexy matching underwear, but not as much as I thought I would.




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