Social media became my lifeline as waves of fear, sadness, anger and confusion swept ashore with hurricane breast cancer. Emotional distress came with the diagnosis. Experts in psychosocial oncology say that women with breast cancer have the third highest rate of depression among cancer diagnostic groups, and that major depression is an under-recognized and under-treated problem. I turned to Dr. M. Beatriz Currier for help.
It looked like the worst part of the life-saving treatment for breast cancer was behind me. My future was hopeful. I just had to be patient. I had adopted a new routine to battle the morning sadness. I began to browse through a small booklet titled Myself: Together Again by breast cancer survivor Debbie Horwitz. It has a series of photographs showing the breast reconstruction progress she underwent when she was 32. I had become a beneficiary of her last years resolution.
Over the past five months the 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. Only a naïveté would assume any of these actions to be inconsequential. I have groused that the satisfaction has been short-lived.
My dream of living a life free of breast cancer seemed possible when my radiation therapy at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center ended on Thursday. My naked torso looked like a Piet Mondrian cubist painting, as a reddish square covered the left side of my chest. My skin was irritated. It was peeling. The burns hurt, but I was feeling happy. If all had worked as planned, the radiation I received every week day for about a month had destroyed the remaining menacing cancer cells.
In the world of mastectomies, a world that Angela Lara entered in July at Miamis Jackson Memorial Hospital, most women fear mirrors and tight clothes (among other things). Lara and I have a lot in common. We both walked the hallways of Florida International University with big dreams in our pockets. We were both diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. With a stage IIIA (the most advanced is stage IV) diagnosis, we both walked through the valley of death.
I have heard this reasoning multiple times: The benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Im not so sure the logic always works. The next phase of my treatment includes taking a drug for five years that the American Cancer Society has deemed a human carcinogen. The drug is called Tamoxifen. The list of carcinogens also includes a leisurely day in Miami Beach: solar radiation, tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
The body image issues continued. How could they not? After breast cancer treatment, the woman in the mirror looked like a damaged mannequin. And even with breast implants, I felt like a creature that belonged on a different planet. I pity the guy who checks me out and dares to come up to me, I told a guy friend over a text message. And when he asked why, I replied, Its like feeling sorry for a man who hits on a drag queen thinking he is a she. He said I didnt make any sense.