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Breast Cancer Is A String of Losses

Breast cancer is a string of losses. It just is.

During a #BCSM twitter chat a while back, the topic was the invisible scars breast cancer leaves behind. It was one of those chats when the tweets were really flying because; well, cancer leaves a lot of scars.

Like I need to remind you, right?

And, of course, some of those scars 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 person’s scars are uniquely hers/his. We are all unique beings, and each of us is uniquely impacted by a cancer experience.

A while back, 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 that chat made me realize 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, breast 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, so 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 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.

Grief and cancer go hand-in-hand. And I’m not even talking about the grief that comes from losing dear ones.

There should never be shame in talking about our losses.

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

No, it means we are human and 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 and psyches as well.

Edit:  Sadly, Jody Schoger died from metastatic breast cancer on May 18, 2016.

Update:  Learn about my FREE Resource Library.

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

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

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#BreastCancer is a string of losses #cancer #mastectomy #womenshealth #grief #loss #survivorship #socialmedia #Twitter

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Jeffrey Neurman

Tuesday 24th of September 2019

So true. Sadly. You hit on so many of these most important matters that so few who haven’t had cancer are aware of.

Holly

Thursday 1st of August 2019

I lost my hair, my dignity and fear. I regrew my hair regained my modesty and became fearless. I won’t let cancer diminish me.

Robyn

Thursday 31st of January 2019

Amazing article. I just turned 40 and 2 years post-treatment. I lost so much...my apartment, my job, boyfriend, friends, in addition to my breasts, hair, identity, self-esteem. The grief hits so hard these days. I thought it would get easier? Thanks for being real and writing so openly about this. xo.

Nancy

Monday 4th of February 2019

Robyn, The grief never goes away we just learn to adapt and adjust. It does get "easier" in some ways, but not in others. Thank you for reading and taking time to share as well. My best to you.

Kathi

Monday 20th of October 2014

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

Nancy

Wednesday 22nd of October 2014

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.

Pharmacist's Daughter

Wednesday 13th of August 2014

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?

Nancy

Wednesday 13th of August 2014

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.

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