What feelings have I felt since being diagnosed with cancer? I remember the day so vividly, though sometimes I wish it wasn’t so vivid. I kept getting a phone call throughout the day from a number I didn’t recognize so I ignored it. After school Paul and I were going to have a photo matted and that same number called for the fourth time so I decided to answer it. It was the oncologist and he asked me if it was a good time to talk. I was driving down the interstate at 70 mph but I assumed it would be a quick call and I told him it was fine. Because even though he was calling about a biopsy I had a week earlier, I knew (felt, assumed, guessed, deduced, predicted) that the biopsy would be negative and the endometriosis he found would not be a big deal to resolve. Of course, we all know by now, I was wrong and he told me it was cancer, a very serious cancer involving surgery and chemotherapy. He apologized for having to give me this news over the phone but he wanted to schedule the surgery quickly and didn’t have time for me to make an appointment to talk in person. But said I could call anytime to discuss my questions. I thanked him and hung up. A few minutes later I called him back to ask him what kind of cancer I had…I thought it important to have that information.
What I felt first is what most people feel and that is disbelief. No, this can’t be happening to me. I have spent some time caring for my sister when she had breast cancer, for my mother, who at that time was dying from ovarian cancer and for my father through a myriad of diseases and conditions. The similarity between my cancer and my mother’s was uncanny, I just couldn’t believe it would happen to me at all, the caretaker, much less now when my mother was preparing for her life to end from cancer. I had a hysterectomy the year before to remove parts that might become cancerous later on in life due to family history. So much for that strategy!
After disbelief came the usual emotional devastation when you realize it is real and you have to believe it. I felt great sadness, anger and disappointment. I felt I wanted to not treat it at all and go ahead and give up on life. I didn't feel like I could go through it all. I felt weak and helpless. There were tears and gnashing of teeth. Then there was numbness. I think you have to go into the numb stage to protect your brain and heart from overload.
The next few months were a mixture of sadness, self-pity and numbness. My mother died a few days after my first chemo treatment. I felt grief that she was gone and relief that she was spared more suffering. There was so much going on physically that I feel like I never had time to adequately process what was happening to me emotionally. But finally some emotions I did not expect showed up…and they were fear and anxiety. Yes I know its normal to feel these when going through surgery and chemo but the extent to which I felt them surprised me. I became afraid and nervous about EVERYTHING, even the things that were not cancer related. If Paul went out I knew he would have a car accident and never return. If I heard a noise at night it was someone breaking in to kill us in our sleep. I began reading the news and saw how scary our world is. I started studying food choices and realized we are probably all getting poisoned slowly but surely. Any ache or pain or twinge meant the cancer was growing. Any abnormality in my body meant I was getting an infection again. I realized that once you know you are not invincible then anything bad can happen…and probably would. I hated being afraid of everything.
Now that there some is distance from that day my feelings are less erratic and often mixed with happy emotions. My sense of humour has improved and I can make jokes, though my family may wish I still didn’t. I plan for the future now and buy new things, which I stopped doing for awhile because I was sure I was going to die at any moment. I feel grateful. People really are good and have done so much to help that I feel great appreciation. I feel more compassion for those going through hard times. I am not sure whether it is time that has helped or if I’m really learning something. I still feel fear. I still feel sorry for myself sometimes. I still get angry at times that this is happening to me. All normal I think. But most of all I know I am responsible for my reactions to all the emotions I feel. And so we move on from this day of discovery to whatever is next.