As most of you know, I am bound and determined to help increase awareness about metastatic breast cancer in any way I can. As part of this effort, I am pleased and excited to share a guest post this Mets Monday by Jennifer Campisano. Jennifer was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 32. In her post she shares with us about being a young mother while also balancing all that such a diagnosis brings. It’s a must read.
After you read Jen’s post, be sure to leave her a comment or ask her a question in the comments section and then head on over to her blog soon to read more of her incredible story. Thank you, Jen, for sharing some of it with us here today.
When Cancer Becomes Routine
By Jennifer Campisano
It’s tough to remember my life before cancer. More specifically, it’s tough to recall the freedom I felt, the innocence, and the security that my life was rolling along at a mostly pleasant clip. There is also a great chance I am exaggerating this idea of being carefree in my memory. It is very possible I just worried about other things, like my parents’ crumbling relationship or when my baby boy would sleep through the night. But it is also wince-inducing to remember some of the things I once worried about almost daily, including whether my body was ever going to return to its pre-pregnancy shape (not exactly, it turns out). Cancer brought more important things into sharp focus as my previous life skidded to a screeching halt.
Almost instantly after my diagnosis, I knew with absolute clarity that the end of my parents’ relationship was not about me, and not a matter I should concern myself with to any great extent. I could still have my relationship with each of them, but the tornado of their divorce and the intricacies of their financial agreements — or disagreements — was not my business, even if I was a lawyer. Cancer gave me an excuse that even having a baby five months earlier hadn’t, and I extracted myself from their unraveling.
Learning that I had Stage 4 breast cancer obliterated (for awhile, anyway) my concern about my son’s sleep habits, too. Suddenly, all that mattered was spending time with him, whether it meant I was losing sleep or not. I spent many nights rocking him gently in his nursery, crying because I could no longer nurse him and because I was scared I was going to die and leave him. I would repeat a line from one of his books over and over: “It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish. Hold your breath and make a wish.” And I would wish for just one thing.
In the beginning, my anger toward cancer was a guttural fury, catching me by surprise as I drove home from work or to my oncologist’s office, or as I organized cupboards in my bathroom and came across a piece of my wedding jewelry. My anger would erupt in obscenities and hot tears and sometimes my fists pounding on the steering wheel until I had to pull over to the side of the road or crumple in a heap on the bathroom floor. What had I done to deserve Stage 4 cancer? I wondered more than once. Nothing, is the merciful and merciless answer.
As the years have passed, I can hardly believe cancer has been such a big part of my life for this long. August will mark my three-year cancerversary, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of cancer to some extent. As I write this, I have been in remission (or showing no evidence of disease) for seven months. I have been abundantly lucky. I respond well to treatment, my cancer does not, and I am determined enough to withstand multiple rounds of chemo — to do whatever it takes, really — in order to watch my little boy grow up, in order to grow old with my husband.
The routine of cancer — the appointments, scans, blood work, chemo recovery days, even the anxiety — has become part of our daily life, like taking my son to preschool or going grocery shopping or opening our mail. It is just what we do. I chat with the nurses who’ve become my friends, I take Xanax as needed for the anxiety that surrounds my scans, and I write about my experience in the hopes that I can shed some light on this disease for others going through it — and heal myself in the process.
When the nurses at my infusion center throw confetti over another patient celebrating his last chemo session, I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy, but mostly I am thrilled for him and hopeful that the drugs have worked. When I bemoan the fact that I am so damn tired in the week after chemo, I remind myself I have a three-year-old. I don’t think I was this tired when I was working full-time, after cancer but before I went out on disability. The difference is now I get to spend my days with my incredible boy.
Some days in my post-diagnosis world are more fraught with emotion than others (cancer brings forth every emotion on the spectrum, often all in the same day), but I have lost most of my fury at this point. Now, my anger is more like a flickering candle, still within me but not all-consuming in its inferno. This anger is softer and more sustainable; it will last for the long-haul. I have hope I will, too.
Jen is a first-time mom who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 32, when her son was just five months old. She writes about navigating the intersection of motherhood and cancer-land at www.boobyandthebeast.com. More than two years after her diagnosis, she is still in active treatment, but also actively enjoying watching her son become a little boy. She hopes she will be lucky enough to see him become a man.