Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not Me

I was always certain I would never get breast cancer because my mother told me it didn't run in our family genes. She should know I reasoned, she's part of the medical community--a registered nurse. Heart attacks and strokes run rampant in my family. But breast cancer? Not one case.

Perhaps that's why I never bothered to check my breasts once a month for any unusal lumps. And maybe that's why--when my general physician slid her hand across my left breast during an annual check-up and found a formidable mass of tissue thickening--cancer had pretty much taken over the entire area. I had a tumor the size of a baseball that had already invaded the lymph nodes. After an MRI scan, they also found a smaller tumor in my right breast, although that side was lymph node negative. My prognosis? Stage 3, locally advanced breast cancer.

It was March 12, 2008 when my doctor called and gave me the news. For some reason, I started screaming at her angrily. I said something like, your prognosis is all wrong, I don't have breast cancer in my family, check the records again. Then I realized I was simply trying to kill the messenger and apologized for my rude behavior.

I got off the phone and marched into my boss's office, slamming the door behind me. "Gerry, I have to tell you something, I have breast cancer." He gave me a hug and then started asking me all these questions. Once again I got hostile over his barrage of inquires and yelled, "I can't answer anything now, I just don't know!" At that point I stormed out of his office, grabbed my jacket and drove home.

Morbid thoughts swirled through my head as I drove: I have cancer and I'm probably going to die. I'm going to have a slow painful death where my physical body will shrivel and deteriorate before everyone's eyes. My life is over.

The first person I called to share the news was my boyfriend. "I have breast cancer Joe-Joe. Promise me you won't leave me right now. I need you."

"Of course I won't, I love you, I'll always be here for you Marcy-girl," he assured me.

I knew I had to call and tell my parents, but I just couldn't do it on that day. The only way I could completely absorb the bad news was by going home, cuddling on the couch with my cats, and staring blankly at the drone of news on CNN TV. It was important to maintain normalcy by just carrying out a mundane routine. That enabled me to calm my fears and start thinking logically about the daunting task ahead. I got on the internet and researched everything about breast cancer. When I looked at the survival statistics, I leaned back and thought, maybe this journey I have go through to battle cancer won't be so bad. And maybe, I might come out of this a better person and win.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indulge Your Passions and Creativity--Now

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had lots of plans. I had planned to return to my ballroom dancing classes that I stopped taking in 2004 when I broke up with my then dancing-fanatic boyfriend. I had intended to take another series of cooking classes like the ones I so enjoyed at Greenwich continuing education back in 1997. I had talked about joining a writers' group. I dreamed of taking a Meditteranean cruise.

Then the reality of my breast cancer treatment thrust me into a world of endless MRI, CAT and PET scans, doctor's appointments and chemotherapy sessions. The daunting treatment schedule left me with just enough energy to drag myself to work Monday through Friday. Since I was often nauseous and tired, my life was stripped down to the basic essentials of just getting by. And sometimes even that was too much to handle.

That's when I missed feeling normal again. I remembered fondly those Saturday nights at The Terrace Dance Club perfecting the rhumba with my old flame or spending a leisurely Sunday creating a luscious meal for family and friends. I knew I had to get out of that self-pity funk, so I searched for any respite to forget about my aches and pains. I just wanted to be distracted by laughting and doing something I love.

On bad days, I took to watching my favorite movies. I read books that sat on my bookshelf for years. I committed to journal writing and recorded the daily sojourns of by cancer battle. I rediscovered the calming effects of needlepoint and made a pillow. Everything lightened up when I made a point to do one act of creativity or take time out for one enjoyable activity everyday. When I did that, I knew there would always be a bright point in the day, and I would not be able to look at the future with nothing to look forward to.

Of course I had my limitations. I couldn't go to my Lotte Berke exercise classes two times a week anymore. I couldn't keep the house as clean. But I refused to feel bad about not being to handle my usual responsibilities. I had breast cancer, and that was the perfect excuse to become a princess for awhile. As Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips noted, I earned the Platinum Club Cancer Card, and as a woman who loves to spend, you can bet I to pulled out that carn whenever the moment was right. I'll talk to you about that another day.

Just remember, while your battling breast cancer, treat yourself to something fun everyday--return to doing the things you love.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

You Are Not Alone

The last time I checked, one out of every eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I happen to be among the millions of women in those statistics that came up number 8. Since I have already been down the breast cancer treatment road, I want this blog to be a place where women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer can ask questions. I cannot tell you which course of treatment to go with or which cancer facility is best. I am not a doctor. I'm simply a middle class, middle-aged woman that got a little wiser because I was faced with the possibility of death.

What I believe I can help you with is navigating through all the emotional dark tunnels that inevitably come while battling breast cancer. I can do this by sharing my own expereince and sharing the stories of women that I met in my breast cancer support group. For example, when I went to my doctor's office, there were no brochures to tell me how to feel pretty for a special occasion when I had no hair, and no eyelashes or eyebrows. Breast cancer robs you of your most precious feminine assets. Your beautiful eyes turn hollow and naked. Your shiny mane is gone. And if you had a great looking set of breasts and they have to go? Well, you get the picture.

So how do you compensate? One of my suggestions? Fashion and accessories. Hey, you are in a battle so you've got to adopt a warrior wardrobe. Never underestimate the power of a beautiful silk scarf, big earrings, dramatic sunglasses and an exquisite hat. This is the time to go over the top. Your friends and colleagues will admire you for that. I have plenty of stories to prove it.

So go ahead, ask me the questions, voice your worst fears. I will tell you what I went through or I will tell you what someone I know went through. Nine times out of ten, it isn't as bad as you project it will me.

Case in point: A year ago this time, I had no hair. Now it's all come back. Within my lifetime, for about eight months I had no hair. That's not very long in the grand scheme of things. But the anticipation of loosing my hair caused me great anguish and pain. Once I lost it, I utilized the wigs, scarves and hats, and it was business as usual.

Looking back, it was kind of nice to get up in the morning and not have to mess with my hair. Saves alot of time. Who would have thought I'd miss the days when I had no hair.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Surviving Breast Cancer With Style

On March 12, 2008, my doctor told me I had breast cancer.

I immediately did research on the internet and decided for myself that I had the most curable, and treatable of all breast cancers, which would entail nothing more than a quick surgical removal of a small lump in my left breast. Boy, was I wrong.

I must say I took the news like a trooper and flippantly explained to my boss the illness was merely a bump in the road. He assured me I could take as much time off as I needed, to which I replied, "Oh no, I plan to work the whole time!" Of course I was naive once again, not forseeing how chemotherapy would bring me to my knees.

Throughout 2008, I did the adjuctive chemotherapy, the mastectomies, the radiation. This year has been a journey in reconstructive surgery--two surgeries done, and one more to go. Now, I am supposeedly cancer-free--but it came with price. I've lost both of my breasts. Due to complications from my first reconstructive surgery last March, both my legs are numb from the knees down. It's hard enough to walk these days, and forget about running or getting on the stairmaster.

My entire torso looks like a road map of scars, and I hate the sight of my naked body. But enough of the negative talk. I feel grateful, because as of now, the medical jury says I'm cured.
And there's so many people out there that just aren't that lucky.

I'm 52 years old. Now is my time to pick up the pieces. I had a scary brush with the angel of death and I escaped--even if some scars were involved. As I went through my treatment last year, I began to think about all of my dreams yet unfullfilled.

God spared me for a reason--because I have yet to do my purpose on earth. This blog is my way of clarifying how I want to reinvent my life as a breast cancer survivor. And trust me, I plan to do it with style. That's all for now.
Marcy Bruch