Cancer Saved My Life

by AnonymousOctober 29, 2019View more posts from Anonymous

Her words slammed into me and I gripped the sides of the paper-covered table to hold myself steady, holding her gaze as I processed the four syllables that washed over me again and again. Like a riptide that held me under, I fought my way to the surface only to be pulled below once more as I stared at her knowing and fully comprehending, yet denying that it was my body that held the disease. Finally led me from the exam room with its pale pink walls and diagram of the breast to her office where the image of my own were brought up on a screen. She showed me the initial tumor, an oblong mass embedded on the left side and tucked close to my heart that she described as “the bomb.” And then she carefully pointed to the micro-calcifications or “shrapnel” extending from the back of the chest wall to the nipple and taking up the entirety of my breast. Her right hand quickly pulled up the image of the other breast, a nearly identical version of its counterpart without the tumor. I listened to her recommendations without actually hearing her, my senses reduced to a weird filter in which everything and nothing made sense.

Five years later I am told I am a survivor. The only thing I know is that cancer saved my life.

Looking back, I almost think it’s funny that the only time I was ever asked if I felt safe in my home was when he was with me. Almost. Because he barely went with me to any of the appointments. I would avoid eye contact when I answered this question. And I wouldn’t have answered any other way if he wasn’t there. No one believes you anyway if they don’t see the bruises. And for cancer patients, there are always bruises from the blood draws or the anemia or something. He kept everyone away from me telling them “she’s got this” like people always tell cancer patients. He would tell them I was strong and independent. I was a fighter. I was… I was isolated.

I was told I was a burden. I was waking up after a bilateral mastectomy and lymph node dissection restrained at the wrists and completely alone. I was left by myself to clean up the side effects of 25 infusions of chemotherapy. I was driven home from a reconstruction and told to sit in a car while he ran into the home improvement store because we were “right there”, holding the pink basin under my chin willing the nausea away. I was screamed at that he did not want a “bat shit crazy wife” and to just “move on already”. I was a bank account and 401k that were emptied. I was a mother protecting her children who were also protecting her from an affair. I was waiting for the right moment. And then I was gone.

I was 39 when I was diagnosed, without a family history of cancer of any kind, absent of risk factors, training for a marathon and averaging 80 miles a week as a vegetarian. I wasn’t old enough for a mammogram according to the guidelines and found the initial lump by chance. October is breast cancer awareness month. It is also domestic violence awareness month. The pink ribbon that decorates the calendar and is everywhere I go in this month strangles me in its reminder of what I endured. I was a cancer patient who was also enduring domestic violence.

Breast cancer did not touch my life. It jolted me from slumber. Cancer was not a gift or an awakening. My diagnosis did not create a new realization that I deserved better in what little time I might have left. Instead, it confirmed what I already knew and was a catalyst for taking action. Had I stayed in that marriage, I would be dead. It was what he was waiting for. Awareness isn’t enough.

Five years later I am told I am a survivor. The only thing I know is that cancer saved my life.

:-)