Breast cancer patients suffer symptoms of post traumatic stress. We try our best to focus on our blessings, our God, our families, our support networks but we have a constant internal struggle against this life-altering disease.
I call it living on the edge. Not in the sense of the word where you may drop everything and jump on a motorcycle and leave it all behind, although some days that sounds completely rational. It’s a feeling like you live on this constant edge of emotion. That something insignificant like yogurt spilled on the table will set you into an emotional downward spiral. That if someone were to tell you their dog died 10 years earlier you would weep like you never have before. I liken it to Humpty Dumpty. One small nudge and the cracks appear out of nowhere and down you fall.
I have 2 beautifully strong and brave friends who both lost children this past year. One lost her 2 day old son and one lost her 21 year old daughter and we oftentimes talk about this edge. It’s a precipice many of our friends don’t want to cross. They don’t want to upset us so they pretend they don’t see us in the supermarket. Or they don’t bring up something that may upset us as tears form at the corners of our eyes at the mention of something deep or heavy. I have never lost a child and I don’t think cancer compares to the grief and trauma of losing a precious child but I know what it’s like to live on that edge. These friends mean no harm and are themselves grieving for us but it’s a chasm we do not see but feel tremendously.
Some days I wake up crying, stifling the sound so my poor husband doesn’t hear and think he did something to upset me. Some nights I go to sleep, a wet pillowcase and a pile of smashed tissues on the floor below my bed. There are so many things to feel grateful for, to feel blessed by and so thankful for but some days there is just so much. So much. The weight of cancer is heavy. And some days you feel like you’re lugging behind you this heavy burden of worry. You hope, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your doctors know what they’re doing. That you’ll be in the 50% of the women with Stage 3 cancer that make it. That the surgery, chemo and radiation, that has racked and ravaged your body, will have annihilated all the diseased cancer cells in your system. You hope that there will be a normal life on the other side and that cancer will somehow profoundly change you for the good. But you can’t escape the feeling that you are no different than the 50% of women who don’t make it 5 years. That your husband and children will know a time without you. That you will not have made a big enough difference in their lives. That life will go on without you. Those are heavy burdens to carry and it makes living on the edge very scary.
I wish I could say there was an easy solution. That counting your blessings would make it all rosy again. And some days it does. But some days the smile is painted on. Some days the tears are so close to the surface that a simple,”hey how’s it going?” will send us into a tidal wave of tears. It’s ok. Don’t avoid us, don’t change the subject, don’t run the other way. Just rub our arm and say, “I’m sure it’s hard.” Because it is. And just know we’re learning to live on the edge.