August 25, 2012 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Out of the blue, a journey begins

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I’m wigging out.

Really.

I’m also giving up mascara, hair spray, tweezing and shaving. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I have breast cancer and those things won’t be necessary.

I have no family history of cancer and two recent examinations didn’t disclose the invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. It was discovered via my yearly mammogram and follow-up testing. Due to early detection, my tumor was a moderate size; I’m lucky that the cancer is neither aggressive nor fast-growing, and my prognosis is good.

Although I prepared myself to hear the worst, receiving it was something altogether different. Richard and I still can’t wrap our minds around it.

But we haven’t had time to process it, because our lives immediately became an insanely busy, adrenaline-fueled maelstrom of medical visits, procedures, tests, surgery, phone calls, multitudinous tasks, and brain-cramping info dump we can’t begin to absorb amid the stress, exhaustion, cognitive dissonance and anxiety.

We’re on the bullet train through Crazy Town. Honestly, what did I do with my time before having cancer?

When we walked into the Spokane Breast Center three days after my diagnosis, I stopped halfway to the reception desk, thinking, “This is bizarre; I don’t belong here.” I longed to flee, for the diagnosis to magically disappear. But cancer calls and you come.

Then a curious thing happened: I suddenly sensed myself in the middle of an unbroken line of invisible sisters who stood there before and behind me. And somehow that gave me the courage I needed to walk to the desk and begin my cancer journey.

After a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node removal, we expected radiation to follow. Thinking of all those who suffer under chemotherapy, I kind of felt like an impostor with “cancer-lite.” That odd illusion quickly disappeared at my post-op visit; my surgeon had discovered cancer inside and outside a node and informed us that I needed four months of chemo.

After this stunner, Richard and I sat in the parking garage, shell-shocked. How did all this happen and so quickly? I said, “I want to go to Red Robin and stuff my face with fries.” That night I didn’t exactly decimate a basket, but my salad was woefully neglected.

While taking estrogen didn’t cause it, my cancer is hormone receptor positive and estrogen has been fertilizing it. So I’ve not only had to quit taking it, but also must take hormone suppressing drugs for five years after radiation. Bye-bye, youth in a jar! Cranky, crinkly, hot, bald woman on the loose!

Although I suspect I’m not going to rock Emma Watson’s gamine look, I’m having my hair cut really short before chemo so it won’t clog up our drains when I begin molting. I’ll choose a wig, courtesy of the American Cancer Society. “This is your opportunity, at last, to be a blond surfer bunny,” wrote my sister, hearkening to our Southern California youth. “So perhaps you’ll pick a long blonde wig with gorgeous straight locks.”

Now I gave that tantalizing option some serious thought. Regrettably, blond hair doesn’t suit my skin tone, but should Katy Perry have all the fun? I could wear blue for bad days and pink on the good ones.

For four weeks I’ve rocketed between energetic good cheer and tense jaw-clenching exhaustion with no time for tears. I’m determined to be my best self, endure with grace and generosity, feed my sense of humor, and keep journaling my real-time cancer experience, a project that’s become for me an island of sanity in a sea of stressful chaos.

I expect my road through treatment to be pretty bumpy over the next several months, giving Spokane streets a run for their money. But I’ll do my best to regularly be in my Front Porch rocker alongside Cindy, Stefanie, Sandra and Jill, writing columns as the breeze blows gently through my artificial hair.

Cancer may have given me a sucker punch, but I’ve got my gloves on, and as the slogan says, I’m going to fight like a girl.

You can reach Deborah Chan at tabbytoes@comcast.net.


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