how it really feels

I am a writer, I’ve always been a writer, and yet I’m struggling to put my feelings into words. It’s so intangible, a heavy cloud of devastation rather than something I can point to and dissect. People tell me they don’t understand: but you don’t have cancer, why are you upset? or you don’t have to make any decisions for awhile, right? I lament the fact that the only true option for me is prophylactic surgery, and it’s met with but you’ll get perfect new boobs! or variations on we don’t love you for your boobs, it’ll be fine.

But my biggest fear is that it won’t be fine. I already feel like a stranger to my own life; I go through the motions, but I don’t really relate to people anymore. I can’t – how could I? What about “the guy I’m dating hasn’t called” or “I got passed up for a promotion” is there for me to relate to? I can understand what people are saying, and I can remember how those things used to make me feel. But now, everything is surrounded by a haze, through which I can see and hear but not really feel. Every single thought I have is started or ended with BRCA. I feel like the soldier in that advertisement – he comes home from war, the streets are empty, he’s alone, until he finally meets a fellow soldier in the street and suddenly the world fills in. I don’t mean to trivialize war or the experiences of the military, but part of me can’t come up with much else to compare my situation with. If it’s just me and the rest of the normal, non-BRCA world, it’s as if I’m all by myself.

I am not even twenty-five years old, and I feel like my life is over. I have always been comfortable in my physical self – my worries and self-esteem issues solely surrounded my personality. I am vehemently against cosmetic surgery and self-starvation and I’ve never gone tanning or dyed my hair. And suddenly, what was always good enough no longer will be. I will no longer be a whole person. The only way I can see it is that I’ll be damaged goods, no longer myself, no longer in my own wonderful body with which I came into this world. And while I can frame it in less-than-sucky ways (if my body is no longer truly my own, I can have a heyday – I’ve already decided I’m getting at least one tattoo after this, and if my body is no longer my own, I may as well finally bite the bullet and dye my hair red like I’ve always been afraid to), it really is awful.

And the flip side? The world in which I don’t opt for surgery? It’s waking up every single day wondering if today’s the day I get cancer. It’s appointments for screening every six months, filled with weeks of waiting for results, crossing fingers and praying that it’s not cancer this time. It’s knowing that even though I’m so young, I’m not safe. It’s hearing “we found something we need to biopsy” and having a biopsy and waiting even longer to find out if it’s actually cancer – and knowing that if it is, there will be chemotherapy and months of sickness and a mastectomy and living the rest of my life waiting for the cancer to come back. It’s having panic attacks before MRIs. I am twenty-four years old and will be getting annual mammograms and MRIs for as long as I have my natural breasts. I am twenty-four years old and will be sitting, waiting to catch cancer “early enough.” I can’t even think about it without crying. People say “At least you’ll catch it early!” but the truth? The truth is THAT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. It is still terrifying, and there is nothing good about having cancer. Even if it is “the good kind.”

And I know that I can write for days and still no one will understand. No one could possibly understand unless they’ve been here, or battled something similar. I feel disconnected from what I knew as my life. I feel bleak about my future, terrified no matter which path I take. I feel like I should be alone, like I cannot be normal or happy long enough to have friends and relationships. I am absolutely brokenhearted. Completely shattered.

And no one told me this, going in. I had no idea it would feel like this, and I have no idea how to dig myself out.

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