Cancer is shit. There’s no need for loquaciousness here; it’s simply just shit.
And yet at the end of last year, after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and stood staring down the months of treatment that lay ahead of me, I thought to myself ‘there’s got to be a silver lining’. Surely, if nothing else, my experience with cancer will chill me out, make me wiser as I learn to reevaluate my priorities and find joy ‘in the moment’. That’s what happens to cancer patients, right? I’ll probably even get my own Hallmark movie. You know that classic trope: anxious woman with low self-esteem is, through some tragedy, forced to stop and smell the roses and in turn finds joy and makes Ru Paul proud by learning to love herself and thus loving someone else. Get the tissues ready for those feel-good tears!
Well, I’ve finished my main treatment, and my journey these last several months has been a mixture of vignettes that taught me mini lessons to various degrees of usefulness: things like if you hangbang while wearing a wig it will fall off in the middle of the dance floor, or finding out who your real friends are. But I wouldn’t say I feel enlightened.
I was diagnosed on November 2, 2016. After having gone to the breast clinic for an exam and biopsy two weeks earlier, I sat in front of my doctor and patiently (pun intended) waited for the results. My friend had come along and sat to my left. She had spent the last couple weeks reassuring me that it could be anything, there was still a good chance that the lump I had discovered was nothing. But give a hypochondriac two weeks of limbo and she will dream up every possible worst case scenario no matter how much you try to reassure her.
My doctor was waiting for a nurse to join us in the exam room – surely that’s not a good sign, I thought – and as soon as she entered and closed the door behind her, my doctor looked up from my notes. I stared at him as he took a deep breath and said, ‘I’m sorry, but the results have come back and it is cancer.’
That should have been the moment my world collapsed, but that sinking feeling never came. Hypochondria had proved itself beneficial; I had seen this coming. My overactive imagination had absorbed the shock. ‘Right,’ I said as I leaned forward. ‘What next?’
My doctor seemed mildly taken aback, but only for a second before going on to explain that we caught it super early and I was going to be just fine. While my full treatment plan would be discussed at a later time, the first step was surgery. My personal journey started there, flipping through my surgeon’s diary, tossing dates back and forth until we found the soonest day to remove my cancer.
In the end, I had a lumpectomy, a second surgery to take more out, three months of chemotherapy, a month of radiotherapy, and am currently on month four of my 5-year endocrine treatment. But that’s the boring part.
Sure, treatment sucked. But the scars or hair loss never seemed to upset me as much as realising I was never going to get my membership to the zen club. What a rip off.
Surely cancer patients are entitled to that calming sense of in-the-momentness. One day you’re running around stressing about the dude in front of you at Starbucks who seriously if he takes any more time to order his skinny soy mocha wtf-ucchino he will cause your precariously-built wall of sanity to crumble around you, and then BOOM all of a sudden you’re in the doctor’s office, faced with your own mortality. Turns out you’re actually not invincible, BUT sweet Jesus, you’re free from those myriad anxieties because you realise that none of it matters. You faced death and he gave you his business card – and it’s one of those super fancy ones too so you hold on to it – but told you he didn’t have time to discuss this now, ‘so let’s chat later’. Life feels fresher, colours more vibrant, sensations more sensational, love more wonderful. You are zen af. Buddha, all smiles and man-tits has nothing on you – except, I guess, the tits.
But here I am, ten months after my diagnosis and I’m still an anxious wreck. In fact, seeing as I cried the other day because my hairdresser couldn’t fit in an appointment at the last minute, I may even be worse than before. My everyday stress is rising faster than sea levels and, understandably, my self-diagnosed hypochondria has become more acute – I’m pretty sure I have nose cancer now too.
So sorry boob, looks like you went suicidal for nothing.