“Oooh, that’s one creepy-looking dinosaur!” I told my wide-eyed-but-ready-for-bedtime daughter.
“Then read about it, Mommy!” she laughed, pointing at the ferocious dinosaur in one of her favorite books.
“Honey, I’m so glad they are extinct.”
“Otherwise, they would chase us and eat us?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
She yawned. “I’m glad they are extinct, too,” as she rolled over to sleep.
It’s now midnight, and I’ve been trying to sleep for hours, but cannot rest an eyelid.
A dinosaur is trying to devour me.
I’m having a bad night. One consumed by fear and anguish. I wish it were a good night, one where the medications ease my anxieties and put me in a restful sleep.
But tonight isn’t that night.
The last of my cancer treatments was a long time ago in cancer years, yet here I find myself curled in a fetal position, crying about breast cancer.
With. Too. Much. Time. To. Think.
I ruminate endlessly about how I needed not to have heard the words, “It’s cancer.”
My loved ones think I should be over “it” by now. A friend recently told me that where I am now is so much better than where I was a number of years ago when I was newly diagnosed and undergoing treatments.
In a sense he’s right. I am far better off now. I have a beautiful, joyful life for which I’m thankful every day. I really lucked out so far in this game of cancer roulette.
But the PTSD that keeps me up some nights has made me supremely unlucky, too. It is part of the collateral damage that ensures I will never be done with breast cancer. NEVER. No matter how long I long for the carefree days when I was untouched by ill health, I will never be carefree again. It’s not just fear of recurrence and paranoia about aches and pains that keep me up at night, but trying, trying, trying to cope with trauma.
I have repeatedly told my doctors about my PTSD, and they are understanding — but unless they themselves have faced a life-threatening disease — I know they do not understand. They have helped me physically; their interest lies in the human body, not the mind. Of course, the mind-body connection is powerful; I just wish they understood that.
Although mental health professionals have my back, I still wholeheartedly wish for my other doctors to understand what I’m going through.
One mental health professional asks me each time I see him how my sleep is. “Just fine,” I lie. I’m afraid I’ll be put on medications that will make me a zombie. This is unacceptable to me. So, here I lie tonight unable to sleep, constantly looking over my shoulder and grieving.
Yesterday, my daughter made a discovery, “Mom, this breast is smaller than the other one!” Though I was weeping internally, I calmly said that I know and once again reiterated that it’s because mommy had a boo-boo there, and it was removed, so my right breast is smaller. “And what about that?” She was pointing to a remaining deformity on my right breast due to three lumpectomies, radiation, and mastectomy with reconstruction. I then told her that it was because the doctor had to treat it to make the boo-boo go away.
Then, thankfully, she dropped the subject, leaving me relieved but shaken. Sooner than later, she will put the pieces together, and I will help her, as I help her put dinosaur puzzles together.
I have a great life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m lucky I am spending wonderful amounts of time with my daughter. We have activity-packed days, which help keep the demons at bay.
Come to think of it, I think I could live with the dinosaurs. I wish cancer were extinct instead.
Feel free to share how cancer has affected you emotionally and/or physically.
Do you have “dinosaurs” in your life?
I am eager to read about your experiences.
Tags: breast cancer, breast cancer aftermath, breast cancer and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, cancer and motherhood, PTSD