First Person

Breast cancer patient uses diversion to cope with harsh reality

 

Andrea Torres is a multimedia producer with The Miami Herald who is chronicling her breast cancer journey Tuesdays in Tropical Life

atorres@MiamiHerald.com

Over the past five months the perturbational nature of breast cancer has increased my craving for escapism.

A movie theater with gleaming windows in Miami Beach resembles a hypnotic portal into a realm of fantasy. Chocolate and its silken touch comes in the form of a smooth mousse or crunchy cookie. The tonal fashion shows of Balenciaga and a dozen other powerhouses are only a click away online.

Only a naïveté would assume any of these actions to be inconsequential. I have groused that the satisfaction of most of these haphazard pleasures has been short-lived. Even dark chocolate has punished my recalcitrance to the recommended sugar-free diet with a sour aftertaste.

It is with a combination of shame and disappointment that I must make this confession: I have given up on a raw diet, yoga, prayer and meditation as the main ways of coping. While surrounded by others’ suffering, I have often felt like my prayer vacillations are a cynical exercise in futility. I find comfort in whole-wheat pasta and organic tomato sauce. I am too anxious to meditate every day, and sometimes my body and skin ache too much for me to want to stretch.

Some breast cancer survivors had warned me this would happen.

“I didn’t feel like moving much, so I became addicted to mindless shows like Kim Kardashian after my mastectomy,” said a breast cancer survivor. “Netflix will become your best ally during chemo,” said another. “Since I had lost my appetite, I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted when I had the chance, and I bought tons of shoes.”

I recently saw a cancer patient senselessly smoking. He was standing in the parking lot near the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Having a life-threatening disease makes one entitled to a vice or two,” he said, while holding a box of menthol lights with wanton disregard.

I have stayed away from caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol and illegal substances. And I have never had so many people offer me marijuana in my life.

“I know what it feels like to have to live with a health condition. Trust me. We have the best weed. You are welcome to come by any time,” said a woman, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel condition. A generous friend who is an accomplished attorney and marathon runner offered “white widow,” “California dream” and a few other strains of marijuana I had never heard of.

“I know you don’t smoke, but I can also get you carmerlicious … anything you want babe, just let me know,” he said before giving me a hug, and a kiss on the forehead.

I know their intentions are good, but most doctors believe that smoking marijuana results in many of the same risks associated with smoking tobacco — including increased susceptibility to lung infections, airway obstruction and a possible risk of lung cancer. But there is also a smokeless option.

“I make really good brownies. I can bring you some. You know, every week if you want,” a friend said. Another said she had the best “420 chocolatatious recipe.” The obvious appeal did not tempt me. Engaging in a criminal offense sparks paranoia.

Dozens have also informed me about their support of medical marijuana.

“It has anti-bacterial properties … you know there have been studies on a chemical [Cannabidiol] found in marijuana that helps to slow the growth of cancerous cells,” said a friend in an e-mail. Three articles were attached. One of the articles purported doctors have been prescribing the active ingredient in marijuana — THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) dronabinol, also known as marinol — in a pill or suppository form to cancer patients since 1985.

A friend who said he has been taking marinol while undergoing chemotherapy said he has experienced increased irritability. He described an incident when he was yelling at his parents and “was furious” and confused about feeling like he was “high all the time.” I don’t want to feel like that.

I’m set to finish radiation therapy this week. I won’t have to watch the daily painful novellas of the waiting room. I won’t have to see the sweet woman with brain cancer struggling with her walker. I won’t have to comfort a Cuban “abuelita” who is fighting the “diabolical” cancer for the second time and says she wants to die. And I won’t have to hear the sporadic tantrums of an angry woman, who every now and then from her wheelchair, screams loud interjections at her adult son.

All this has not dented my deep-seated optimism: I’m going to make it out of this. Life is going to get better. And when it does, escapism won’t feel as necessary.

MY JOURNEY

Part 1: At age 33, I’m dealing with breast cancer

Part 2: Cancer treatment complicates dreams of pregnancy

Part 3: Hanging in when chemotherapy gets rough

Part 4: Tough surgery choices: Mastectomy vs. Lumpectomy

Part 5: Silicone implans are not the only way to go in breast reconstruction

Part 6: Rebuilding the breast from body tissue

Part 7: Body fat can be used to build breast

Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy

Part 9: Taking control of the fear that comes with breast cancer

Part 10: Doctor knows about being a breast cancer survivor

Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope

Part 12: Finding strength from others

Part 13: Facebook, medication help breast cancer patient deal with depression

Part 14: A new outlook on 2012

Part 15: Breast cancer patient faces genetic mystery

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