Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and wondered what was lurking underneath you…eying your body…sizing you up to see if you would make a tasty meal? That’s what I call the breast cancer “shark attack syndrome.”
I liken the physical and psychological impact of a double mastectomy to a shark attack. It happens quickly and violently. In a matter of minutes you are struck hard and parts of your body are carried away into a vast ocean by a predator much bigger than you. It isn’t personal. The attack is random. You are left alive but amputated–stunned and with a life long fear of the water.
People who know about my diagnosis gawked at my chest like an accident scene on the freeway. Family, friends…they can’t help themselves from looking. I chose not to have reconstruction due to the lengthy recovery…an infant and a toddler don’t lend themselves to extensive plastic surgery. My daughter was 8 months old and my son was 3 years when I had the surgery, not exactly the age where I could be out of commission.
I don’t wear the prosthetics I bought…they constantly remind me I am amputated, and the first time I took yoga one of them fell out! My beloved yoga teacher said, “Just take them out, honey.” I never looked back.
The journey through a breast cancer diagnosis with two small children was so very hard. I searched for the words to tell my son…
”The Doctor found a lump in mommy’s breast that isn’t good for her body and he has to take it out.”
Thanks to my son’s school and my amazing husband, we got him through it…but he STILL talks about it and recently asked, “Mommy, why don’t you have boobies?” At that point I realized my beautiful daughter would grow up never knowing her mother’s body to look “normal.” She only knows the scars. That is the day my heart broke forever. As if depression didn’t make me feel inadequate enough, now I felt like a carnie act. Come on down and meet the lady who was attacked by sharks!
I will never truly recover from knowing what I look like and what I represent to my children. But I am here to be their mom and truly thankful. Thank god I had it checked. The mammogram showed no abnormalities! If I had just had the mammogram I would have faced a diagnosis of invasive cancer and perhaps required chemotherapy or radiation. As of now, they tell me I am “cured.”
And I found it myself.
Not a minute in the day goes by that I don’t worry that it will return and take me from my children. Every woman who has had breast cancer knows exactly what I’m talking about. Every cold, every headache, every stiff muscle, still scares me into thinking I am still out there in that ocean—defenseless to another shark attack. What part of my body will they take next time?
I saw my mother lose her breast early in life. The same month I was diagnosed, she was diagnosed with Stage IV colo-rectal cancer. I watched the sharks circle her for six years, taking feet of colon, and eventually her life.
But it isn’t a pity party. I am glad I got cancer. It was a hell of a lot easier to deal with than postpartum depression, than life-long depression, than the cancer that is depression. And it got me immediately in touch with impermanence, and subsequently, my spiritual practice.
If I were thrown back into the dark ocean again and a recurrence reared it’s ugly head, I have my faith to thank for curing me of my fear of sharks.