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Breast Cancer Is A String of Losses

During a recent #BCSM twitter chat, the topic was the invisible scars breast cancer leaves behind. It was one of those chats when the tweets were really flying because; well, there are a lot of scars left behind. And of course, some of them are not physical scars at all, but rather are deeply embedded emotional ones.

Even if there are similarities in the kinds of scars many of us share, each woman’s scars are still uniquely hers. We are all unique beings and each of us is uniquely impacted by her cancer experience.

A couple of months ago my friend Jody, who writes the blog Women with Cancer, commented on my missing my breasts post with these words, breast cancer is a string of losses.

I have thought about those words many times since I read Jody’s comment. They ring so true and the recent chat made me realize that they ring true for many others as well. This was comforting to know, or rather to reaffirm. This is one of the great benefits of social media and venues such as Twitter chats. You realize you truly are never alone.

Back to those scars…

There are a lot of losses that can and do happen after a breast cancer diagnosis. There is the obvious one such as the loss of breasts (or parts of them). Sometimes ovaries, uteri, hair, eyelashes and brows are sacrificed as well. Some of these losses leave lasting physical scars and others fade or self-correct, at least to some extent, over time.

Then there are the less obvious losses (to others anyway) such as loss of fertility, cognitive skills, physical strength, stamina, range of motion, sleep, bone health, femininity perception and sense of independence and general well-being. And let’s not forget job losses, relationship losses, intimacy losses and financial losses.

And with this list, I’m only scratching the surface. But no doubt about it, these losses leave very real scars.

Cancer takes a toll.

And of course for some there was, or will be the ultimate loss…

Yes, cancer is a string of losses.

In fact, there can be more than one “string” because the loved ones of a person diagnosed with cancer often have losses of their own.

While the actual physical scars left behind due to treatment can be painful and dauntingly difficult to deal with, sometimes the emotional scars run far deeper and heal more slowly, if at all.

One comment in particular that kept popping up during the chat was that the cancer experience doesn’t just end one day when you walk out the door of your cancer treatment center.

As Jody stated (again, quite wisely) during this particular chat:

Cancer isn’t a before and after event. It’s part of the continuum that is your life. #bcsm

Such a simple and yet profound statement, at least to me.

After a cancer diagnosis, we carry on. We learn. We adapt. We persevere. We live. We regain what we can and do what we are able – in spite of the scars.

Part of this adapting and adjusting should include allowing ourselves to admit to ourselves and to state out loud the things we have lost and the things we miss.

There should never be shame in doing this.

And doing so does not mean we are negative thinkers, filled with self-pity or are unable to move on.

No, doing so is an essential part of emotional healing.

Just as we should never be afraid to speak about the physical scars that breast cancer leaves behind on our bodies, we should also never be afraid to speak about the invisible ones left behind on our minds or psyches as well.

What invisible scars do you have as result of  your (or a loved one’s) cancer diagnosis?

Is it harder for you to acknowledge or talk about your invisible scars than your physical ones?

 

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22 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Is A String of Losses

  1. The scar that I still remember with my Mom is the scar from the port that they put in her chest. It was near the collarbone and I remember she always wanted to hide it. That really limited her choices. Finally one day I told her that she should show that scar proudly as a war wound. She survived cancer and is still living today – and wearing low-cut shirts again!

  2. Nancy–wow!! Reading your sweet words actually opened up some wounds that I believe tried to heal too quickly after treatment–all in the quest to return to “normal.” Thank you for your insightful words and this beautiful post. Blessings!

    1. Kim, Gosh, it’s so great to hear from you! Sometimes those old wounds do open up don’t they? Some never do heal entirely, or permanently perhaps is a better word. There are triggers that make us remember things, opening up those wounds. When you think about it, how there not be? Thanks so much for your kind words. Hope you’re doing well.

  3. I went to a counselor for a while who helped me a lot by helping me sort out and see my losses, especially the “hidden” ones individually. She said I needed to deal with each separately, rather than the overwhelming altogether. By doing that, I was able to begin dealing with them in more positive ways. Relationship changes are the hardest. Harder than the physical, harder than loss of career.

    1. Elizabeth, I think your counselor gave you some good advice there suggesting that you deal with each loss or issue individually and I agree about the relationship changes being the hardest… Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    Great post! Besides my physical scars, I, too, have invisible ones. I’ve endured great losses, such as the loss of fertility, loss of my feeling of stable health, and loss of friends. It just goes on and on. Thank you for writing this; this really resonates….

  5. For me it’s not the obvious scars it’s the ones that are deeply embedded. So many losses, family, financial I’m so tired of never having enough. and it’s not that I want a lot. Being happy… How can you feel really happy when you are always surrounded by sadness. or fear I have been in a not so happy place for a while now and I just can’t find my way out…. Good post as always Nancy….. Love Alli……xx

  6. Hello Nancy! I just want to tell you that I really like your blog. When I was reading your post, it made me think of how your reaction was when you were diagnosed with Breast Cancer after your mother died of the same disease. I wonder if you thought you were going to die like her, since you were of course affected by the loss, or you were confident that you were going to beat it..?

    1. Yolem, I try hard not to compare my cancer experience with my mother’s, but of course I have those thoughts from time to time. Thanks for reading. I’m glad you’re liking my blog.

  7. I have just stumbled on to your website and have found your blog to be one of the best down to earth factual statements about this journey. Have done the mastectomy and chemo now in the middle of recon. Everyday I can look in a mirror and see my loss and 2 years down the road it’s still very hard . But it is the unseen scars. I watch my husband get older every day, worn down by his worry. I’m one of the lucky ones but I feel sooo guilty! The my biggest unseen scar is my adult daughter . From dx till now she has drawn further way every day. Until then I spoke to her most days , saw my grandchildren several times a week till now I never see or hear from her. She lives 5 mins away. I have tried over and over to talk to her and she just says it’s all to hard. I know she is scared but hell so am I . Again I am overwhelmed by grief and guilt. The unseen scars are just soo hard

    1. Lynne, Thank you for stumbling upon my blog and for your kind words. I appreciate your feedback. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I’m sorry. I understand your feelings about looking in the mirror and about your feelings of loss. It is all very hard and you’re so right about those unseen scars being the hardest. I’m sorry your daughter has had such a difficult time. Maybe she needs a bit more time. Don’t give up on trying to reach out to her. If you are feeling overwhelmed by grief and guilt, I would suggest finding someone to talk with about it. Cancer can do a real number on our mental well-being and sometimes speaking with a professional who offers validation and counsel can be helpful. Good luck with things. And welcome!

  8. Nancy – I love the way you tap in to issues like this! Another great blog!
    It’s not just the loss of physical, you are right – but it seems like the physical losses are the start of the descent in to the emotional loss. Over a 2.5 year period I lost both breasts, hair, eyelashes and brows, toenails, feeling in my feet and elsewhere. I lost my own recognition when I looked in the mirror. Who was that bald, yellowed, thin creature looking back at me in the bathroom mirror? Heck, I even lost my boyfriend who was an angel to me through chemo, but lost his own patience as I fought to find comfort in intimacy.
    But, It’s the psychological loss that I was not prepared for…I didn’t even realize what was happening as I slipped down that slope until slowly, so slowly, I started coming back to my self.
    It wasn’t until my double reconstruction that I realized how much I missed ‘mounds’. It wasn’t until nipple reconstruction and tattoos that I realized how much I missed those visual cues that anchored me to my femininity.
    My femininity. That sense of self, was my greatest loss and took almost 18 months to – not get back – but rebuild.
    I will always have neuropathy and teeter during balance poses at yoga as though I was on a boat in the high seas. And I will always look for alternate ways of opening a jar because my hands ache and have no strength BUT
    I finally recognize the face I see in the mirror and I see a woman of amazing strength.
    So in spite of the losses, I am grateful. Because of the losses, I am grateful. Who knew?

    1. Pharmacist’s daughter, The physical losses and the emotional toll can be quite a lot to deal with. I’m sorry your relationship with your boyfriend suffered and ended as well. You’ve been through too much. But yet, here you are, rediscovering your self in a sense. It’s all such a process and yes, we live with the ongoing fallout. Some days I still don’t recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror… she is much altered and yet the same too. And finally, we can feel the losses and feel gratitude at the same time. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  9. And while you’re going through treatment, no one ever warns you that you will become acquainted with grieving on so many levels, that you will be adjusting to loss in some fashion for the rest of your life.

    xoxo

    1. Kathi, No in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It seems there’s an expectation to not worry about the losses or grieve for them, but rather to get on with things and forget. Not quite that simple. Thanks for commenting.

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