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

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

I've never tried Match.com -- which is good, since I'm married, and Gary takes a dim view of this sort of thing -- but I understand you have a chance to get to know someone via email before meeting them in person. That's what has happened lately between me and a young woman named Alicia.

A mutual friend connected us since I was going through my BRCA ordeal and she was going through breast cancer treatment. She and I shared a similar diagnosis (stage 3) and treatment (surgery, chemo and radiation), and she just finished her radiation treatments last week. Hooray!!

The difference between Alicia's situation and mine is that she is only 34 years old -- so terribly young -- and, she's getting married next month. Did you read that correctly? NEXT MONTH!

All to say, I don't know Alicia that well (obviously, since we've never met); however, I can tell you that she is a much deeper and more profound person than I.

Gary will tell you there's no way in the world I would have gotten married right after I had completed cancer treatment. My vanity has always overruled lesser things like love and commitment.

At the end of cancer treatment, you're bald, lacking eyebrows & eyelashes, and chocked full of steroid weight. As Alecia quipped: "With cancer, you lose everything but weight." How true. I also lost my sense of humor...

What's more, it takes months and months for your body to recover from all the battering it's suffered. There's the lingering taste of chemo (a metallic taste) in your mouth. There's the washed out, death-like skin tone. And, there's the total lack of energy.

Yet, at the end of her treatment, Alicia is getting married. And she's upbeat, funny and full of life. And brave. She's amazing.

Don't get me wrong. I've never set eyes on Alicia. She's probably drop-dead gorgeous. (She lost 2 feet of blond, curly hair that reached the middle of her back, so I'm envisioning her looking like a supermodel.) I'm just saying that anyone who goes through the cancer process arrives at the end looking like Jonah after he was thrown up by the whale.

And then there's Alicia's fiance. Now, I will have to say that Gary equals Alicia's beau when it comes to being Prince Charming. Gary told me every day that he loved me and that I was beautiful and I was the best thing that ever happened to him. Alicia has a Gary in her life, as well. What Alicia and her fiance possess is real love. Anything less, as far as I'm concerned, is the dating game.

After our few interchanges, I feel like I have a new friend. To get an idea of how special she is, this is what Alicia wrote me, a total stranger, in her first email:

I want you to know that I am here to support you-- sometimes it helps to be able to talk with someone who knows the "real deal" and won't candy coat things. It is not easy-- as you know-- and you can fight this thing and get through it! It is an emotional and personal battle and roller coaster every day-- some are easier than others-- keep your spirit and hope up-- remember tomorrow does get better. (It is too difficult to envision a month out some days- but in a month it is even better...) You know everyone's experience is intensely personal and is really individual-- no one had the same experience-- which really is not all that helpful in terms of what to expect for you-- it is helpful though to be able to vent/ question/ and mentally prepare with someone who can relate pretty closely.

This is what it's like with this disease. You connect quickly, easily, intimately with other survivors. And that's what gets you through this hell -- having someone who understands on the deepest level all the horrible and embarrassing and painful and scary stuff you have to deal with. And they commiserate and make you laugh and allow you to vent. And they hold your hand when you need it...to let you know you're not alone. That's what helped the Cowardly Lion through the haunted forest...friends to hold his hand. And empathize, because they had to walk through the scary places as well.

Having another survivor reach out to you is extremely powerful. And comforting. That's what Alicia has done for me today.

On a final note: When I arrived home this afternoon, I found a voice message from my friend, Patsy, awaiting me. She said she was confident everything was going to turn out okay for me. After all, she reminded me, only the good die young. She has a point. I can now rest easy.