When I Finally Let Myself Grieve What Cancer Took Away From Me
A little over five years ago, I had a hysterectomy for what I later discovered was stage IIIa endometrial cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed. I was 36 at the time, and my OBGYN oncologist asked if I wanted to freeze my eggs. I said no.
I was confident in that decision, and I’ve never regretted it. I didn’t want to bring a child into the world knowing my history, and as it wasn’t like anyone was beating down my door wanting to have kids with me. I told myself while I would never be a mother, at least I would be alive to be the best aunt ever to my niece (and I totally am). At the time, I didn’t feel anything regarding that decision. My mind was so focused on surviving that I didn’t think about what I was losing. I couldn’t. I blocked it out.
Treatment ended for me nine months later, but it wasn’t until my sister told me she was pregnant with niece number two that the dam burst. I went home and was playing video games when I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I cried for the children I would never have, I cried for the mother I would have been and I cried for nine months of one of the hardest struggles of my life — and so much more. I knew my emotions had finally caught up with everything I had been through and the only way out was through. I had to have an unrelated event happen to trigger it, but once they finally caught up, there was no stopping the grief pouring out of my body. I had to go through that to really heal from everything that had happened, and to be OK with never knowing the feeling of bringing life into the world. I still wonder what kind of mother I would have been.
A year and four months ago, I had a double mastectomy for breast cancer. Luckily for me, I didn’t need further treatment than my surgery. My surgeon basically told me what that meant — I would lose my breasts. I agreed, and before I got back to my parents’ house, tears were rolling their way down my cheeks. By the time I got in their door, I was crying nonstop. The funny thing was, I didn’t even know what I was crying for.
I’m a fat woman. I’m 41 (42 in nine days! Eep). My breasts were more of a hindrance than anything else. They didn’t cause excessive back pain or anything, but it seemed like they were almost always in the way. I knew from the moment I was diagnosed I would be taking both breasts. I have Cowden syndrome. The risk of getting it in my other breast was too great, therefore both had to go.
Me after having the remaining hair shaved off post my first chemo. Do you see the relief on my face? It was so real.
I knew this. So why the water works?
I had to realize that even though I was so ready to let go of my breasts, that even though I knew from the moment I heard the words “breast cancer” and “DCIS” that a double mastectomy would be in my future, that I still had to grieve for what I was going to lose. That I don’t have to like or care for a body part in order to grieve for it. It’s still a lost body part, it’s still something cancer took from me.
Too often we don’t allow ourselves to grieve for what cancer takes from us. We are focused on surviving the treatment. We are focused and in a rush to get back to our everyday lives, not realizing that cancer changes our everyday life and it will never be the same again. I lost my ability to bear children, to be someone’s mom (although I am a good cat mom!). I lost my breasts, and while I didn’t really like my breasts, they were still a part of me and I had to feel that loss. I don’t regret either decisions I had to make to keep myself here, but if I ever have to go through cancer again, grieving whatever I will have to lose even if I am OK with losing it, even if I don’t want to feel that pain while I am trying to save my life, will be part of my journey.