With a newly clear mind and sun shining throughout my entire studio apartment, I began to shower in more delight than usual. Only a couple months prior I had overcome an attempt on my own life and was taking life day by day, dealing rippling emotional effects that followed. However, this particular morning was exceptional. Until, uh-oh. “What is that”? Immediately my eyes welled with tears. “I’m too young”, I tried to convince myself. But anxiety would cue the tears to flow. Without hesitation, despite having just turned 26 years old only a month ago, I called my doctor.
“Patricia, you are so young. This may just be a cyst”, the physician suggested. “But, we want to do a biopsy just to be sure”. Black Friday morning, while consumerism and its chaos swept the nation, I was dealing with the chaos in my mind. My former boss whom I had a professional and personal relationship with, as well as another close friend at the time, accompanied me to my appointment. The biopsy was extremely invasive and painful. I cried all day. Waiting for the results felt like forever. Finally, my doctor called inviting me to her office. She shared with me that I would be a breast cancer survivor, and ironically I had no tears. Instead I laughed hysterically. This would mark my first day as a survivor.
I felt everything happened so fast between December 5th, my diagnosis date and February 16th, the date of my surgery. I would meet my oncologist and learn I needed to collect family medical history of which I had not known much about. To follow would be the egg harvesting process. This process would inquire about my physical, mental and sexual health. The span of injecting myself in the abdomen with hormones at specific times lasted a couple weeks. I had never been pregnant, but surely looked it! I experienced ovarian hyperstimulation afterward in which I was forced to sit up to rest because laying down was painful and I couldn’t breathe. Lastly, before chemotherapy, was surgery. Before cancer, I never had surgery in my life! A lumpectomy was thought to be the best option since my results for the genetic test was negative. I wore a surgical bra for a couple weeks to secure my breast in place and was advised no heavy lifting. It was painful moving around, but what was worse was the implant of the chemo port. I was advised by my pink sister that this was the best option to avoid chemicals of treatment collapsing veins in my hands and burning my skin. A treatment plan had been prescribed that was suitable for the stage and type of cancer I had. The margins were clear, the size and rate of growth declared the cancer stage IIA, and it was revealed to be ER+. The saline flush tasted awful and is unforgettable. The red liquid injected would make me hate red for a very long time. The sight of red would make me nauseous almost immediately. After my first treatment I was extremely sick, experiencing indescribable fatigue, vomiting and flu like symptoms. I was to report back to the treatment center the next day for a neulasta shot. This induced my skin hurting and extreme sensitivities to smells, and worsening of other symptoms. Antihistamines and zofran alleviated these gross reactions. I remember feeling I could not do this another 15 times! But with much encouragement from the nurses team, I would. All this would begin not just a cancer journey, but a new way to navigate my emotions and life itself.
To start, I had always felt that my life experiences from childhood into adulthood were very difficult. I was always in the fire! To bear the scorch of life’s flames, I would become emotionally unavailable to it. However the gas life would pour on me called cancer made the flames bigger hotter and raging. Chemotherapy would burn away the stoicism I boasted. Chemobrain would have me to forget the simplest things, but expose all that was dormant. My emotions were no longer flame retardant and I was a vulnerable mess with no know how on healthy coping skills. So, I sought help. Alongside chemotherapy, I would introduce myself to an actual therapist. The expertise and passion of my therapist would help to realize how past traumas had affected who I had become until that present time. In this time I would also learn about boundaries. This helped me gain a new sense of confidence in myself to discover who I was and what I wanted. As chemotherapy ended and segued into radiation treatments, my life shifted. A new sense of self from the experience of cancer began to arise from the ashes of my former being. Shortly after my first cancerversary, I resigned from my promising insurance career and pursued a career path I felt would make a difference in the lives of other survivors. Beauty!
Beauty is not just an act of cosmetic application. It is an inner essence and a language. While I did not have hair, lashes, or nails even during treatment, I would learn how to disguise my battle. I would often flaunt my bald crown and grew to be a turbanista! People often assumed my bald head was a choice of style and would compliment that I wore it so well. One thing I couldn’t mask for long was the damage done to my nails from treatment. Initially ashamed, I would later grow to make the discoloration turned raw flesh of my nails an awareness piece. When confronted with ignorant comments, or inquiries I’d share that I am a breast cancer survivor and these are the side effects of treatments. After much trial and error, I had perfected brow placement. None of my external beauty efforts however, could compare to the work that was happening within. I learned that beauty was not just what I looked like. It was who I was. It was my strength, my tenacity, my kindness and ability to connect with others.
Finally, I was no longer in the fire. I had come through it.
May sound bizarre, but maybe cancer was the scorch I needed to see the beauty in even the ugliest experiences I have had with other people. How all of it made me who I Am. Further, that although they flames of life were raging, I have the power to extinguish it. The fiery experience called cancer would burn away all that I was not and reveal all that I Am. That I Am compassionate, patient, genuine and loving. And how to lend these virtues not just to experiences with others, but toward myself.