By Lauren Lopriore
It wasn’t until I finally decided to see a therapist and get one on one support that I realized what I had just went through. It took me a few months after my final Herceptin treatment to really question what had just happened the past year and it took me almost a year before I had a mental breakdown.
Being diagnosed with cancer is something that I will never forget, but what is sometimes difficult for me to remember is how I got through 12 months of treatment pretty much alone. With the support of my husband, he and I made it through each day with very little support and many losses. As soon as the diagnosis was confirmed on the phone by the oncologist, I put my blinders on and went full speed ahead. The wheels were in motion and I just lived day by day hopeful that I would get through it all. I was very emotional, but I didn’t feel I had anyone else other than my husband to lean on. It’s hard when those around you don’t really understand what you are truly going through.
My family and friends were there for the first few weeks. My parents, sister and aunt joined me at initial appointments with the oncologist and surgeons as well as to my pixie haircut and buzz cut. They attended chemotherapy appointments as well as my surgeries. I received flowers and some care packages that were very thoughtful. I had two friends come into town to visit and a few came to my apartment to check-in or meet me for lunch (on a good day). Later I would find out that those in my life just didn’t know how to be there for me and my husband. They would later share that they didn’t know what to do and that because I didn’t directly ask for help they thought that we just wanted to get through the treatment alone (just my husband and me).
Not only did I experience the loss of support from friends, but I also lost friendships. It’s hard being a cancer patient and realizing that your friends don’t know how to support you so they just decide to turn their back on you instead. My family was always there, but not the way I would have hoped. I know that I didn’t directly say I need you to the laundry and make food for me, but I guess it would have been something that I would have thought would have just happened. While I had family come to chemotherapy with me what I really needed in addition to that company was time with loved ones on bad days or days that I was home alone wallowing in my sadness.
Loss is not something that I saw very often. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer, but that had been almost 15 years prior to my diagnosis. I lost my grandmother and uncle the same year I was diagnosed and then the following year my grandfather. Loss now was something I was becoming all too familiar with. It’s not just losing friends and family, but cancer takes away what makes you feel you. I was never attached to my breasts, but now that they had cancerous tumors I was really not attracted to them. The minute I learned of the 3 tumors, I knew I wanted both the right and breast to be removed. Not only do I have the loss of not having breast tissue and nipples, but I also have the loss of feeling in my chest. They tell you this when you talk to the surgeon, but my focus was on getting the tumors and lymph nodes out. I wasn’t focused on the nerves and feeling coming back. Well it surely doesn’t come back. I look at my “foobs” in the mirror from time to time (it’s hard for me to still after 5 years) and there is sadness and happiness all mixed up in my eyes. Happy to have the cancer out, but sad to know what it took from me
I sat in the therapist's office for the first time and she talked about loss and cancer. I never really thought of it as “loss”, but more so just that it sucked. It was an interesting way to look at the diagnosis, friendships, support, breasts, and fertility. I was experiencing loss of who I was, the people in my life, the love I thought I had, what made me a woman and what would make me a mom. It was really hard for me to learn that chemotherapy was most likely going to zap my ovaries making it difficult for me to get pregnant on my own. I knew that it was the best thing to do before starting chemotherapy, but the thought of going through IVF and being hopeful for a growing family was so emotional on top of everything else. Not only would the chemotherapy ruin my ovaries, but if I went on tamoxifen to help prevent any recurrence then I would lose the opportunity to carry any children.
The past 5 years have been filled with loss and depression, sadness and uncertainty. It’s taken time, but after my daughter was born I was able to start feeling some acceptance. Many days it may seem like I’m “ok” with what has happened. This is not the case. I still have many emotional days, however, I have accepted the reality that I don’t have my breasts, that friends are going to come and go, that people can only do what they can do, that I need to ask for help, and that I will never be able to carry my children (unless I get off meds or wait until I’m 41). I have learned to live with these losses because my husband has given me love and support to help me through the tough days. I also have the most amazing daughter that makes me feel the losses a little less. I know that I should be grateful for the time and memories that I have with the ones I love. It allows me to have more good days than bad - living and enjoying life. I’ll never be able to replace what has been lost, but I have made new connections, built relationships, taken risks, listened more to my needs, and taken time for myself. Loss is tough, but since moving past the denial, anger, and depression (with a little help from therapy and medication), I have gotten to enjoy an amazing life that I have been blessed with each day.
By Lauren Lopriore