Tomorrow is the anniversary of getting my biopsy results. Meanwhile:
• To this point I haven’t cried at all. I’m really so relieved that I’m not headed for chemo. I’m going to have a rough couple of months and then I’ll be “good as new”.
• I haven’t really acknowledged the fact that once you have cancer, you kind of always have it. Anyone who knows anything about cancer understands what a complicated and unspecific statement that is. My boyfriend made a comment about “always” having cancer, and I didn’t like that very much. For the moment I brushed that aside. For the time being, I was still going on the “then I’ll be good as new” sentiment above. I wasn’t really ready to digest anything bigger. Considering how little I knew about cancer at this point, it’s kind of funny that I conveniently became even MORE ignorant about it (as in: “What do you mean ‘I will always have it’? You mean they don’t just give me the treatment and then I’m ‘cured’?).
• I’ve got friends trying in all sorts of ways to help me with my decisions about what to do and where to do it. It’s a complicated issue for me. I want to be home. I’d like to be with my family, but my dad is in NC where I grew up. That’s it. I have one sister in New Mexico and one in Georgia. My best friend is in NYC. No matter where I go in the US, I only have one “family” person to support me in any given city. Everyone else will have to travel to see me anyhow. So in that sense, what’s the difference between being here in Europe or in the US? And of course, my bf Del was here in Brussels. I didn’t want to leave him when I didn’t even know for sure how long it would require us to be apart. In fact, more of my friends were concentrated here in Brussels than anywhere else. But the complications of getting serious medical treatment in a foreign country? It was mind boggling.
• Every time I thought I had made up my mind, someone or something made me lean the other way. I was really confident in my oncologist here, and my family and I had no idea how to arrange for me to see the right people at a hospital at home in good time. My dear friend Wendy has a sister that works at a hospital in NYC who said she could get me in there. I went crazy with stress trying to scan my medical records to her for the doc’s to look at over the weekend, etc etc. It just didn’t work out and in the end I had to take a deep breath and let it go. I realized that the real stress was in not having a decision. I needed to just trust my instincts and pick something, against all external pressures. Everyone seemed to have an idea I felt obligated to follow-up on or be interested in (not just to properly acknowledge them but because what if they were right and had the best answer?). I felt so much better when I let all that go. In the end, when I told Wendy that I wasn’t going to pursue the NYC option, she informed me that her sister’s colleagues had asked her where I was, and when she replied “Belgium”, the NYC doctors actually advised that I stay where I was. “Belgium’s a great place to be medically speaking, particularly for breast cancer.” As much as I had made my mind up, that sure was a relief to hear. (Because, really, it wasn’t “made up” of course. I was just trying to stop oscillating for the sake of my sanity.)
You see, there is a sort of pressure when trying to make such an important decision, and it doesn’t only involve yourself, silly as that is. In the beginning, everybody that you are really close to seems to “own” your cancer just a bit. (At least it felt that way.) This was where the pressure to accept and acknowledge everyone’s opinions came from. It took a while to assert in my own mind that it was mine all mine and I could do whatever I wanted and I didn’t have to explain to anyone what or why. Everyone trying to help by giving opinions and suggestions, and that’s what you want. But unfortunately, those opinions and suggestions don’t all agree with each other and none is usually more informed than another. And there is the feeling that you have to defend whatever you decide as the “right” decision to all the people that are investing themselves trying to help. So there was such a feeling that I was “off the hook” when the NYC doctors gave the nod to the idea of staying here. What people (and even you yourself) don’t quite understand until you’re in the situation is, you don’t WANT options just at this moment. What you want is your doctor to say “this is what you need to do.” So far, that hadn’t happened.