A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Why I am a Cowardly Lion(ess)

I feel great. I'm full of energy and verve. (That's what lions have, you know.) I also look healthier than I have in years...glossy, thick hair and radiant skin. Surely, this means I have cancer.

Pessimist, you say? Not at all. This is the way I felt and looked when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years ago. You know the 10 warning signs of cancer? I had zero. Zero.
Everyone thought the lump I had found was a cyst. It wasn't.

Please excuse me while I skip ahead of my BRCA saga for the time being because I want to express how I'm feeling at the moment. Which leads me to why I'm a Cowardly Lion(ess).

But I promise to return to my BRCA ordeal in case any of you think you might be a carrier of this gene-- or if you simply want to know what's involved in getting a boob job and tummy tuck. It's the same operation either way. (But, you get far more sympathy and meals if you're having surgery because of BRCA rather than a boob job.)

I was sitting in Dr. Zen's office a few weeks after my operation for a follow-up appointment, when he told me that I was one lucky girl. That's me, all right. Lucky. With slashes all over my abdomen and other lingering surgery side-effects, which I'll spare you the details of.

"Lucky?" I asked. Well, yes I was. Apparently, they found pre-cancerous cells on my fallopian tube. If I had not had the operation when I did, he said, it would have been an entirely different scenario 6 months down the road. That's the problem with ovarian cancer, remember? It lurks beneath the surface and quietly spreads, disguising itself as symptoms related to other illnesses. By the time it's finally discovered, it's often too late.

Whew! I thought about how I originally dismissed being tested for BRCA. I also thought about the timing of my surgery. It was up to me to schedule it, and I wanted to get it over with immediatly instead of postponing it. Both of those decisions ended up saving my life.

Yes, I felt very lucky, to say the least. But, doctors have a way of giving you about 3 seconds to feel euphoric before they drop another bomb on you. That's when Dr. Zen said he was going to have to open me up again and take out my uterus. (In the last operation, he only removed my ovaries and fallopian tubes since I was also getting a double mastectomy, and it was too much strain on my body.)

He added that my second operation had to be scheduled as soon as I could have surgery again -- in 3 months. THE MAN JUST CAN'T KEEP HIS HANDS OFF MY BODY!

To make matters worse, I saw my oncologist (a.k.a., the Drug Pusher) the next week to discuss the surgery to remove my uterus. She narrowed her eyes and advised me to "emotionally prepare myself" for chemo again, if they ended up finding cancer. That would mean 5 months of chemo + steroids. Again.

Isn't having to endure poison once in your life enough? But, twice?! (With all the pharmaceuticals they're finding in our water supply these days, you would think that drinking tap water would be enough.) I decided I would just wear a "Say No to Drugs!" t-shirt the next time I saw my oncologist.

So, this is why I am a Cowardly Lion(ess). All my friends thought I was so brave going through the BRCA operation like I did. But that was pre-emptive (avoiding cancer) and the next one is exploratory (looking for cancer). There's a big gulf between the two. And I'm petrified.

That's why I relate to the Cowardly Lion. Because he wanted courage so badly that he faced his fears and kept going...despite the impending pain and misery it would entail.

Courage was his birthright, and he wanted to claim that in the same way that I want to claim my birthright of fully being me and fully alive.

But to achieve this wish, the Great Wizard (Dr. Zen) told him the horrible news: "Bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West!" ("You have cancer! You must undergo chemo!") It's enough to make a feline jump out of a window. (Sam, however, doesn't have to worry about me since we live in a one-story house.)

The Cowardly Lion endured...in spite of it all. He had to walk through a haunted forest. He had to fight off nasty, flying monkeys. He had to face down a green woman. All the while, trembling and crying and holding his tail.

The Bible talks about our journey to claim our birthright--which is recapturing who we were intrinsically made to be in order to live the lives we were meant to live. And the only way we obtain our birthright is through storms and suffering. That's essentially the story of Joshua. In order to claim the Promised Land, he had to fight the giants.

There's an expression the Bible uses when people decided to fulfill their destiny despite their greatest fears. It's "Setting your face like flint." Flint is one of the hardest minerals there is. It's unbreakable. Unshakeable.

I'm reminded of my favorite quote that I've held onto whenever I've been scared. It's by Helen Keller (and I paraphrase):

Security is a Myth. It doesn't exist in men or nature....Life is either a Daring Adventure, or Nothing at All.

So, I am going forward...trembling and crying and holding my tail. I'm going to have to enter the haunted forest and fight off nasty monkeys and maybe even face a green woman along the way...all because I want life. And I know this is what I've got to do to grasp it.

1 comment:

guinea said...

I am a coward learning about courage from you. You are quite an inspiration. I am sure you wish you were less of one right now.

I pray for you a lot and think about you every day.

Thank you for letting me be part of this with you.