'On a Scale From 1 to 10’: Cancer and Rating How I’m Feeling
Let’s be honest, cancer really sucks.
It’s not just the chemotherapy, medications, side effects, surgeries, and radiation; it’s also all of the physical and psychological traumas that come with it that make it so horrible. Cancer is a disease that can affect everyone, and its damage can run deep. And even after surviving cancer, regardless of the chance of reoccurrence, the fear can remain in one’s mind and emotions along with physical, emotional and mental wounds and scars that are left from the experience.
Once the words “you have cancer” have been spoken, your life is spun around and nothing is the same again. All of a sudden your life is taken over by doctor appointments, tests, needle pricks, scans, medications, chemotherapy sessions, surgery or surgeries, and radiation treatments. There can also be constant pain and various other side effects from the medications and treatments.
As one battling cancer, each time I go to the doctors I’m asked to rate my “pain level” from 1 to 10. The unfortunate thing is that the pain generally is a constant for me, and sometimes the medication I am given won’t even touch the pain. For many of us, we begin to function with a higher pain, anywhere from a 7 to a 9. But the pain level is different for each one of us. But even on our good days, the pain is still bad. We pray for days without pain, without any of the harsh side effects from the medications, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We look forward to the day we are able to finally say we are “cancer free,” but sometimes the pain will also remain after the battle is won.
But cancer is more than just pain. It brings with it so much more than just the side effects from the medications and treatments. From the onset, there is fear and anxiety as we endure multiple pricks from needles for the various blood tests, scans over our bodies, and what can feel like endless waiting as the doctor searches for how advanced the cancer has become or how it has reacted to the current treatments. Depression can also creep in. And there can be anger as we are left with the ultimate question, “why me?”
Still I am only asked to rate my pain. What about my mental anguish? Shouldn’t that be rated as well? Shouldn’t there be a monitor on the depression and anxiety with every doctor’s visit? How come there isn’t a scale to rate my mental health? Maybe the doctors should also ask us how we’re “feeling” on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 as in “wanting to give up” and 10 as being “happy and everything is sunshine and rainbows.” But honestly, how many of those “10” days actually exist depends on where we are in our treatment and how we are feeling from the side effects.
We all fear that dreaded diagnosis. It does more than just invade and destroy. It can create more than just pain, nausea, and weakness while invading our bodies. I believe it can also create strength, hope, faith, friendship, determination and bravery.
I am a warrior. I am battling against triple negative breast cancer and face the struggles of depression, anxiety, pain and uncertainty on a daily basis. But I am also learning more about myself every day. I am discovering I am much stronger and braver than I ever though I was. I have become more and more determined to love more each day and to try to pay it forward as much as I am able to. Every day I look for reasons to smile and for those precious moments I would have normally overlooked before. I choose to look for the humor and beauty around me instead of dwelling in the sadness and fear. I still have those moments of depression and anxiety. I still cry for no reason at times, but I try not to linger there.
I went through the normal emotional phases right after I was diagnosed. I was angry. I was terrified. I wept. I screamed out to the world. I asked “why me.” I questioned if I had done something wrong to deserve being diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. But then something happened…a sense of peace overcame me. I still have those moments of insecurity, of fear of the unknown. I still have the anxiety over if the chemotherapy is working. And I still cry for no reason at times. But there is still a sense of peace within me. While I may question why I am forced down the path I am, I have realized that what many have told me is true…there is a purpose for all I have gone through, and this is no different.
Growing up, I remember once thinking I wouldn’t know how I would get through it if I had ever found myself with a disease such as cancer. I have watched people I love, people I admired and looked up to for their own strength as they were diagnosed and passed away from cancer, ALS, dementia and Alzheimer’s. I admired their bravery and inner strength as they fought past the pain, confusion, various side effects from their medications and treatments all while they continued to live their lives surrounded by family and friends. Throughout this journey, I know they have been beside me, holding me up when I was weak, comforting me when I was down, and reminding me there is more to me than I ever thought or believed there could be.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had my moments of wanting to give up. I’ve been there when the pain, nausea and weakness were so bad I was unable to do much but lie in bed and feel miserable and cry. I have had many “pity parties” for myself during all of this. But no matter how hard things got, no matter how much pain I was in, I knew I could not give up. Those were the times when I discovered just how strong and brave I was. Every time those thoughts even crossed my mind, somehow that peace would come over me again. Was it God laying His Hand upon me, letting me know He is always with me? Was it my loved ones I had lost previously surrounding me with their love and strength? Was it both?
Cancer can bring moments where you feel all alone in your battle. Regardless of the love and support of those around you, there is can be a loneliness. Those moments while you are going through the scans and your brain won’t shut off, or those silent moments in the dark where your fears start to creep in can really remind you that it is your body going through the fight; and while those who love you are supportive and try to understand, without having gone through the same treatment or process as you, they can only sympathize as we have to deal with the side effects and pain on our own.
But I am blessed with the people surrounding me. Not only do I have three amazing people I am proud to call family who continually watch over me and grant me the patience and forgiveness for when my side effects are bad or when my attitude is not where it should be (we sometimes tend to take our pain and frustration out on those we love and are closest to us). I don’t always feel like I deserve their forgiveness, but I am thankful and appreciative that they are always willing to forgive and continue with love. Without this cancer, I would never have made as many friends as I have in the past four months. I have created bonds with fellow Pink Sisters that I pray will continue for a lifetime.
When this all started, I never knew my writing would touch so many people (for that I am forever, deeply humbled). I never knew I would create not just one group, but two. One that is dedicated to those family, friends and caregivers of those with breast cancer. I had discovered that there were so many groups on Facebook that catered to supporting the women and men (breast cancer can affect both men and women), but no group existed for those who were loved ones and caregivers to those with the disease. There we have some Pink Sisters who are able to answer questions these people needed answers too. Plus to give them a place to reach out to peers and have a community they deserve.
My second group was started because I liked the idea of sending little cards or notes just as pick-me-ups during our battle. There are still some kinks to work out, but I believe it will all work out in the end. Thankfully I have help with both of these groups; during the worst of my chemotherapy, I had difficulty being able to monitor the groups and keep things up with them, especially the Pink Sisters group.
But without my loved ones and fellow Pink Sisters all cheering me on and sending their support, this would have been a difficult battle to face. I have been extremely humbled by the outpouring of love and support by family, friends, and Pink Sisters. I have been blessed with two amazing ChemoAngels who I love writing to and reading all of their stories. For all of the gifts, chemotherapy bags, goodie bags, cards, and letters…thank you for always bringing me smiles. Sometimes those are days when I need them the most.
So, yes…cancer sucks! But for me it has also been a wake-up call to refocus on what is most important in life to me.
So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling today?
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
Follow this journey on My Journey With Breast Cancer.
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