Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cancer Puberty - Growing Back into Health

Today I realized that almost two months have passed without a blog post.

No wonder I feel a bit wonky.

Since adolescence, writing has always been a processing mechanism for me. A poem in a moment of passion; a never-to-be-sent letter in a moment of weakness; a diary entry documented in a moment of confusion; a smattering of song lyrics in a moment of overwhelming joy.

And blog post, after post, after post during cancer treatment.

Whatever the product, writing has always been the process that brings relief from, comfort to and validity for some of my larger-than-life emotions.

Walking today with Becky, a new friend who has just begun chemotherapy for breast cancer, I revealed my recent desire to not identify myself as a cancer patient. I had only just revealed the same sentiment to my husband so I was a bit shocked when the words tumbled out of my mouth this morning.

I struggled to clarify my sentiments this morning. 
I am happy to talk about my 'journey', I just don't want cancer to be one of the first three things people learn about me. I am delighted to share my story to support others but am tired of being surrounded by pink ribbons. I am immensely grateful for the unwavering support of family, friends and total strangers but I have started to bristle at any looks or words of sympathy. 

Since Day One of my original diagnosis, I have been open and honest about my decisions, fears and successes. I have shared surgical hiccups, emotional ebb tides and grandiose recovery plans. My openness educated others, demystified breast cancer and created a comfortable environment for my children, husband and friends to openly share their concerns and frustrations. My openness allowed me to shed light on my fears, making them a little less scary. And my openness unearthed a peer group that is absolutely unparalleled in understanding and emotional support.

I have no regrets.

Yet, especially in the last few months, part of me has wanted to forget and erase the cancer part of my life. I want to pretend it never happened. I don’t want to know some of the things I know and I don’t want my family and friends to have to know them too. I know they cannot forget. I know I cannot forget. 

Sometimes I just wish though. 

Nothing is wrong. Depending on your choice of description, you may describe my condition as in remission, cured* or no evidence of disease (NED). 

Nothing is wrong. My cancer was completely removed. I avoided chemotherapy. I’ve had successful reconstruction and, although I will require another surgery to correct a seroma and a slight contracture if I want to really be symmetrical, my prognosis is excellent.

Nothing is wrong. I left the high tech industry and have taken my skills into the realm of patient education and health advocacy. I have built relationships and expertise in the health care arena. I am delighted to be using my knowledge and my energies to help other newly diagnosed women process their emotions and navigate their treatment.

Nothing is wrong.

Yet something seems not quite right.

Perhaps I am still pissed off that I cannot do a push-up. I try every day and I am getting closer but almost four and a half months since my last surgery, I’m relegated to a handful of ‘girl pushups’ and a plank.

Glass half-full Stacey can focus on the improvement. Itchy, not-quite-centered Stacey is impatient.

Perhaps I'm a bit fatigued by individuals insisting one day soon I'll wake up and view cancer as a 'gift'. I have the utmost respect for positivity yet, despite their passion regarding the evolution of feelings, I do not and cannot conceive of considering cancer a gift. 

Perhaps I’m still a bit self-conscious about my new body that clothed looks just like the old body. More likely I’m actually irritated that I’m allowing body-image to play a role at all.

Becky asked me if perhaps this itchiness was a product of my ‘moving into survivorship’ and beyond the patient perspective.

Perhaps. There really isn’t a map. I don’t know where I am on the path of survivorship. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s going to be a straight line.

I have blamed much of the ‘off’ feelings on Tamoxifen but I have to say, the vague irritation, the misplaced frustration the nothing-is-wrong-but-something-is-not-quite-right emotion feels oddly, and yet remotely, familiar.

I feel pubescent.

Remember those awkward middle school moments when you’re trying to figure out which peer group you really align with? Remember feeling on-top-of-the-world one day and bitchy at the world the next? Remember writing out your emotional randomness in your journal and hoping someone would read it so they’d understand you better? (Oh, wait! Was that just me?!?)

I believe I’ve figured it out. 

Tamoxifen may be responsible for some of the mood fluctuations and memory issues, but the puberty analogy resonates. Queue the wildly random and mildly illogical thoughts and feelings - I am in the midst of survivorship puberty. I’m growing up and looking for my survivor peer group. I believe that means I’m growing out of cancer-ville and back into health.

Any others out there in the midst of 'survivorship puberty'? 
Anyone grown-up survivors have tips, tricks or suggestions? 

* Cured is actually a misnomer on several different levels but I’ll save that argument for another day.


  1. Personally, I find that we are missing a kind of bridging ceremony. In church when the teens move out of middle school into high school, we have a bridging ceremony where they are welcomed into youth group. Again, we do a ceremony when the transition from being youth (teenagers) to young adults - entering into the world of college. These ceremonies are quite emotional, but also help to signify significant occasions in our live journey. I find that I myself personally creating these transitions. I shall have my breast memorial ceremony in Hawaii - it may not be one specific event, but may turn into a week of snorkelling topless whenever I can manage it - but it signifies a transition. My next transition will be post surgery recovery ... I'm looking at the Avon Walk as a way to mark that transition ... in that same timeframe I'll be jumping back into academia - attending conferences ... questioning my new academic identity ... especially if I can manage a project based on breast cancer blogging ... which will definitely cause my worlds to overlap ... but back to my point ... in our various support groups, we seem to lack the celebration of milestones and what we need to move aware from "warrior" status (active treatment) to survivor status (NED ... preventative treatment). And I think that transition is significant .. just as significant as a graduation ceremony!

  2. Love it Rebecca and thank you.
    Indeed I marked every significant step during treatment and recovery and I know that definitely helped my mental and physical health.
    I suppose I can remove myself from the emotional limbo in the same manner I've dealt with everything else... I need to register for another run/bike/tri race!