Sunday, July 17, 2022. In the months that followed my surgery, I became depressed. I didn’t fall into the depths of despair or anything too substantial, but my weeks were hard. They still are hard. I intended to go back to work part time for my employer on May 2, which I was able to do. I worked 4-hour days that whole week. I felt so good I thought I could return to 8-hour days the following week. I was wrong about that.
It’s now the middle of July and I still haven’t been able to complete a 40-hour work week. My thinking and concentration haven’t resumed to their pre-surgery state. My body is still experiencing way more pain than I want it to. I wasn’t scheduled with occupational therapy until six weeks post-surgery. I found the exercises painful and difficult to maintain. My chest feels tight and constantly aches. Mornings are terrible and hurt the worst. I tried swimming as soon as the doctors said it was ok, but I am experiencing significantly worsened pain afterwards, so I’ve had to cut back from three days a week, to two days a week, and lately I’ve only been making it one day a week.
I started endocrine therapy on June 2nd to block my body’s estrogen. I was terrified to start this medicine, which is a daily pill, because some women can experience significant side effects. My primary fear was worsened migraines. Several doctors said there was a chance it could have the reverse effect and help my migraines, which is why I agreed to give it a try. Based on my cancer’s pathology, it is the best therapy to prevent recurrence. So far, my migraines are about the same, though this month I have been going through my eletriptan tablets faster than usual. I’m not sure what this means. I have been told the longer the estrogen blockers are taken, the more the side effects can develop.
I have been worried about recurrence. I know my surgery removed the primary tumors, but I think about free-floating cancer cells, fragments, looking for new tissue to invade. The research says I have only a 3-6% chance of recurrence if I’m able to take the estrogen blocker for five years. After that, there is no clinical evidence of needing to stay on it.
My mood was all over the place for most of May and June, but in recent weeks has been more stable. I’m continuing with mental health therapy and even tried a breast cancer support group. I found the support group was not right for me because it caused a great deal of anxiety as I listened to the other women talk about their chemotherapy and radiation side effects.
At first, I felt self-conscious about my flat chest with ribcage that sticks out due to my pectus excavatum, especially when wearing a tight tank top and going for my walks. I’ve always preferred form fitting clothes, and I didn’t want to change this about myself, so I just did my walks anyway. I thought I could manage until I got my breast prosthetics and then I would feel better. But I couldn’t get in with the breast prosthetics place until June 30th and even then, I had to order the ones I preferred. They still haven’t arrived. When I do get them, I don’t think I can wear them because my chest still hurts too much.
I have been going into the office at my employer and working onsite one day a week since June 8th. The other days I work from home. It’s not a requirement to work onsite, considering my circumstances, but I don’t want to let my illness beat me. At first, I wore my Johnny Was scarves religiously, even to the grocery store, because I thought people would look at my flat chest and speculate. Eventually I got used to my new look. I still look athletic and physically fit, and that’s all that matters to me. I don’t know how I will feel when I get my prosthetics and can tolerate wearing them. Maybe I will prefer them to being flat. A part of me wonders if I will feel inauthentic. But that doesn’t feel right either, because I wear makeup and hair extensions and enjoy those embellishments. I have a suspicion I’ll want the prosthetics for certain outfits and that’s it. I’m just going to be extra special now because I can be breast-free or not, depending on my mood. I have enough going for me, with my goals for The Music Tarot, to not get too wrapped up in my appearance. I realized I have an amazing ability to shift my perspective and achieve my mission, regardless of my physical circumstances. During the course of my diagnosis and treatment, I promoted and released nine singles every other week from March 4th to June 24th.
I want to stop focusing on my health and start returning to a normal routine, but so far, I’m not there yet. Recently, my illness has started feeling more like a nuisance rather than a death sentence, which I guess in some ways is a good thing. It means I am starting to let go of my fears of recurrence.
And what about the car? The crazy confusion about Miah’s car accident on the day of my diagnosis? The auto body shop was unable to get the parts until June. Our car finally finished repair on July 15th, nearly six months after the accident. As it turns out, you can go through cancer treatment faster than you can get a car repaired in today's market.
Miah and I also discovered a faster, easier route to the hospital. It cut the commute time nearly in half. We were both disappointed we didn’t figure this out until after my diagnosis and treatment was nearly finished. I still visit the hospital maze at times, but there are larger breaks in between visits now.
Lastly, I want to summarize my lessons learned. I put this list together the week after I received my surgical pathology results. I shared it with Miah, and he helped me re-phrase a few of them.
Top 10 Lessons Learned:
- I can ask for help and the Universe will provide for me all the support I need.
- I have more all-weather friends than I thought.
- I have more fair-weather friends than I thought.
- I have all-weather friends who distance themselves because they can't handle it when someone they care about is going through treatment for a serious illness.
- I am more adaptable and more resilient than I ever imagined.
- I am self-aware and in control of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- I shouldn't put too much weight on expecting the typical result or outcome described by my health care providers. Things do not always progress as straightforwardly as I hope they will.
- I can withstand and go through scary medical procedures. My belief that a cancer diagnosis and treatment would be too much for me was incorrect.
- I heal better with cards, flowers, and gifts.
- I am funny. When things become deadly serious, I use humor to bring life and light to myself and others around me.
I’m sure I will continue to share bits and pieces about how cancer has changed my life and what it taught me, but for now I’m ready to start a new chapter. I am looking forward to writing the next seven songs in The Music Tarot collection. That will bring me to 39 out of 78 songs written – which is 50%. I know I will get there, but it probably won’t be this year and that’s ok. Brian and I are still cranking away at recording and producing the previously written songs. I revised my marketing plan and am improving my digital marketing and social media presence. The next single, Enjoyment / Nine of Pentacles, is scheduled to come out on August 12th. Recently, The Music Tarot achieved 160 monthly listeners on Spotify. It seems I am reaching some listeners and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
End of 17 - Aftermath