Is dating off the table?

This question is more complex than it was before cancer.  I honestly don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve heard of others meeting “the one” during treatment and after. I’m boggled by that.

Who has the energy?

Who has the sex drive?

Who has the funds?

I’ve been a body I don’t recognize since my 35th birthday, which is when I believe the cancer started growing. That’s when my thyroid got out of whack and major weight gain occurred. Even though my energy was somewhat lacking, I was still dating back then.

I’ve had my heart shattered once and deeply hurt once. I had begun to date myself and take time for personal growth when the cancer beast reared its ugly head. Dating was not even a remote thought once the cyclone of appointments swept me up.

I’ve been 43 years old for a month and starting to feel lonely. My life has been so busy trying to heal, battling long-term side effects from chemo, surgeries and radiation, serious depression and anxiety, chronic pain, medical leave, then more surgery and now I’ve had time to really process all that has happened since the cancer call on 9/14/15.

Things won’t magically become all right once I meet the ‘right’ guy.

I can’t expect to find happiness through someone.

I can’t keep waiting for someone to take care of me.

I don’t think like the woman I once was either. I’m jaded. I don’t even watch romance movies anymore. I used to be a sucker for those. I don’t read trashy romance books anymore either.

It’s like a light switch was turned off once I was medically induced into menopause at 40. Losing so many body parts all at once did something to me. I feel hollow. The only thing that makes me still feel like a woman are my tears.

I hear all the time “the right man will love you at your worst.” Well, I think many of you will agree that men are very visual creatures. Sure, I have a pretty face, but not a pretty body.

My body is scarred.

My body is numb in certain areas.

My body radiates and burns with pain.

My body is out of shape and struggling.

My body is utterly fatigued.

How can I date in such a low physical state? It was hard facing rejection when I was stick thin. I sure as hell can’t handle rejection looking and feeling like this.

I also realized that I can’t date a regular guy. I’ve nearly died. I’ve been through something life shattering and life altering. How do I make small talk about trauma? I don’t think lightly anymore.

Does that mean I need to meet someone also has/had cancer in order to relate? Hmm…

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

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It’s a troubling world

This world is troubling on so many levels. I can typically handle one thing at a time but not a total shitstorm within two days. I will go ahead and warn this piece will talk about race in relation to cancer.

Believe it or not, race plays a part in the cancer experience. I’ve dealt with many nurses, staff at cancer support communities and fellow warriors in online support groups who automatically assume since I’m black that I must have triple negative breast cancer. They have sometimes talked down to me.

No, this is not my imagination. This is not me being overly sensitive.

I blogged about this particular incident when I first started my blog in November 2017. It’s worth repeating. Some will innately get the insult and frustration. Others will not see why it was a big deal. All I can do is speak my truth.

It was almost a month after I started chemo in October 2015. I decided I needed help processing what was happening. I’ve always been a big supporter of therapy and support groups. I’m a talker and like to talk things out. At that time, I didn’t know any other 39-year old’s going through this. I needed support.

I went to the Cancer Support Community in Atlanta, GA. In order to join a group, there is an intake session with one of the staff members. I had spoken with her on the phone and was really looking forward to meeting her. I was already fatigued, nauseous and had worked a full day by the time I arrived. I was expecting to feel relaxed and heard.

The woman, who was white, gave me paperwork to fill out. Once done, I handed it to her, and she reviewed. This is where my frustration begins.

She asked, “Are you sure you’re not triple negative?” I was puzzled by the question. I knew what my diagnosis was, and it was stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer. Maybe she couldn’t read my writing, even though my writing is very neat and specific.

She asked again, “I just want to double check. Are you sure you’re not triple negative?”

This time I was annoyed and responded back sharply, “No, I wrote my diagnosis. Why are you questioning my answer?”

She said, “Well, most African American women who get breast cancer are triple negative. It’s very prevalent in your ethnic group.”

Now, her questions would’ve have been appropriate if I didn’t know my diagnosis or specifically asked about what type (s) of cancers are prevalent in the black community.

Only, I specifically wrote my diagnosis and verbally told her what I had, yet she still questioned me like I didn’t have a clue of what I was talking about.

It was that moment I realized she didn’t see me as a cancer patient. She saw me as a BLACK cancer patient. Understand the distinction?

Every question from that point was about race. I was there to talk about cancer and not the black experience. I left shortly after that exchange.

Cancer does not discriminate, so why was she?

Let’s fast forward to today.

Many cancer patients, whether in active or post treatment, spend much of their time going to the pharmacy to pick up medication. This pharmacy doesn’t have a drive thru. I was at Target. I needed to pick up my refill of the arthritis medicine. Yes, I have arthritis in my knees and hands. That’s a story for another day.

Though I was only there to pick up my medication, I got a cart to lean on since my fibromyalgia pain is a 12 today. There was a line and no place to sit down.

There was a white mother and her young son in front of me acting up.

She said, “See this BLACK woman? If you don’t hush, she’s going to hit you with her cart.” The kid starts crying. I’m speechless. I saw first-hand how racism is taught. 

Now that little boy will associate black/brown women as harmful, cruel and punishing.

I was paralyzed and slowly backed away and went to another part of the store for a bit before circling back to get my meds. Keep in mind, there was a white woman behind me who witnessed this whole thing. She was conveniently looking down at her cart, not wanting to get involved.

I’ve experienced lots of racism but never in front of an impressionable child where a mother is saying because of my skin color that I would hurt her child.

I’ve even had the same thing said to me at a different pharmacy but that white woman said, “See THIS woman? If you don’t be quiet, she’s going to hit you with her cart.” That happened earlier this year.  

What is it about threatening kids with carts?

I did say something in that instance, and she did a double take when I said it was not okay to say that.

This time was different because this white woman specifically mentioned my skin color. That’s why I felt paralyzed.

I posted this incident on my social media this afternoon. I received many comments of my friends, many white, saying they would’ve stuck up for me and said something to that racist woman. If I were a white woman, I think I would’ve said something.

As a woman of color, I knew to keep my mouth shut and walk away. There is no reasoning with people who have that mindset of hate.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

State of Acceptance

Yes, I’ve stared the cancer beast down and still gracing the earth with my presence, but at what cost? I get asked all the time, “How are you feeling?” and “Feeling any better?” and “Aren’t you happy to be alive?” and “You beat breast cancer!”

The cancer beast still has its claws digging into my flesh, my very existence. The number of health issues and pain I now live with are a direct result from my cancer treatments. I grow tired of the saying, “Make lemonade out of lemons.” At this stage in my life, I’m having to grapple with so much permanent physical change that I constantly feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m gasping for breath yet yearning for control.

For me, I can’t just close the 22-month long breast cancer volumes and move on. Why? It’s because I wake up every day in horrible chronic pain caused by the treatments and surgeries that are currently keeping me alive but not living or thriving.

What throws me for a loop is I was starting to come to terms with the permanent neuropathy in my hands and feet. I was making it work. It was a 1 ½ years after being declared NED that a different and more excruciating type of pain started seeping into my body.

I kept going to my primary and different specialists asking where this pain in my lower back was coming from. Then I noticed my pain would shift without warning to my arms or upper back or legs. A friendly pat on the back or arm would cause me to wince. I started getting frequent headaches. I would tell this to my doctors, and they would say I’m just healing from all the treatments and surgeries. They ran blood test after blood test, costing me hundreds of dollars and each one came back negative.

I knew something was seriously wrong.

I went to a pain management center, but all the doctor wanted to do was put me on opioids. I didn’t want to go that route. I still didn’t feel like I was getting to the root of the problem and felt they were trying to mask the pain.

It wasn’t until October 2018 that I met an amazing rheumatoid specialist at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. I researched rheumatoid specialists online and came across his name. His reviews are stellar. His background impressive. I decided to try one last time to be heard and see what happens.

It’s an indescribable feeling when a doctor actually hears you and sees you. That’s exactly what happened in his office in that first visit. By this point, I was crying every single day from the pain, all while continuing to work. He looked me into the eyes and said, “We’re going to get this figured out.”

After more in-depth blood tests, they came back negative. It’s at that moment he mentioned Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a neurosensory disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue. The condition is chronic (ongoing), but pain comes and goes and moves about the body. The disorder is often misdiagnosed or unrecognized and is and often complicated by mood and anxiety disorders. Exact cause is not known.

It has been described as Central Pain Amplification disorder, meaning the volume of pain sensation in the brain is turned up too high.

I’ve been pouring over blogs, articles and abstracts relating to chronic pain during my two-month medical leave from work. Before I could accept what’s happening to my body, I had to first understand how and why fibromyalgia was triggered.

The onset was triggered by the hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo oophorectomy I had on 2/15/17. I never fully comprehended on how major of a surgery it was or for my body to handle after going through breast cancer. It caused so much additional trauma to the body that it triggered the fibromyalgia.

Then after more research and watching the fantastic, heartbreaking and informative documentary Unrest on Netflix, I went even deeper and have determined this chronic pain would’ve made its presence known eventually. Though my case isn’t as severe as those in the documentary, it did give me a greater understanding of my body and reframe my mindset.

I had trauma to my system from birth. I was born three months premature and weighed 1 lb. 5 oz at birth. My mother had ovarian cancer during the pregnancy. Her medical team predicted we would either both die or only one of us would live. We defied the odds, and both lived. Aside from extremely low birth weight, my lungs collapsed, grand mal seizures and benign tumor on my right leg. I still have that scar.

The pain and trauma I experienced at birth remained dormant until the major surgeries shocked it back into existence. Of course, I would’ve preferred this happen in my 80’s rather than my early 40’s. At least now I can make more sense as to why I’m dealing with chronic pain now.

I’m finally, finally in a state of acceptance and acknowledge my limitations. I go back to work on tomorrow, July 8th with accommodations requested. I have to do what I must to keep working but also protect my delicate immune system and keep my pain tolerable.

After all, chronic pain never goes away. There is no relief. All I can do is keep it tolerable. It’s mentally and physically draining. I can accept this way of life now, but that doesn’t mean I like it.   

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

What the hair?!

I’ve been on cloud nine since my mother gifted me an early birthday present (b-day is July 3rd) of getting my hair blown straight 2x per month for a year. I’ve hated and still don’t understand the chemo curls. Then it hit me as I stared at my reflection this morning after washing my hair and seeing the curls form again. I no longer understand my hair curly OR straight! WTF?!

I know the chemo curls look darling and such. To me, it’s a constant reminder of how unnatural they are and what they represent – the 4 AC and 12 Taxol that nearly killed me. I suffered extremely painful side effects during that hellish five months. Fellow warriors kept telling me the chemo curls were temporary because they had them and then went away. I’m three years post-cancer. Why are they still here? Are mine truly permanent?

I used to have super thick straight hair pre-cancer. It was almost to my shoulders. I could do so much with it – French braid, French twist, ballerina bun, pigtails, ponytails and the list goes on and on.

During that first week of my hair blown straight and seeing the length, I could not stop beaming! I had stopped flinching when I saw my reflection. I recognized this straight hair. I couldn’t believe those tight curls were this long straight.

It is this second week when I realized this straight hair is completely different, too. It’s so much thinner than before. I’m rusty at using my flat iron and products to keep it smooth. The sides are still short. How do I style it, so I don’t look old?

I purposely haven’t worn a fascinator in my hair for two weeks, which has been my trademark with the curly hair. I’ve just worn some snazzy headbands, barrettes and combs. I wanted to see how different I looked without them.

I wanted to feel like ME again.

I wanted to look like ME again.

I can’t even believe I’m saying this but…I STILL don’t recognize ME. I thought wearing my hair straight again would feel natural and complete. My hands can barely hold the flat iron because of the neuropathy. I couldn’t even remember how to braid a few strands. This straight hair is different too.

I will never understand those warriors who say hair doesn’t matter. They completely invalidate the emotional toll losing hair creates and when it grows back entirely different from what we once knew. It DOES matter.

As I washed my hair this morning, it was strange to feel the curls take hold as the water flowed through it. I went in with straight hair and came out with those chemo curls. When I looked in the mirror this time, I still saw a stranger.

Now I fully see that I will NEVER physically look how I did pre-cancer. I’m not the same externally. My weight is up again. My face is fuller. My thick eyebrows are gone and must be drawn. I deal with chronic dermatitis on my eyelids. The corners of my mouth are often dry and cracked. I still have dark circles under my eyes. My lashes aren’t as long as they once were.

That’s a harsh dose of reality I wasn’t prepared to swallow this morning.

Me pre-cancer
Curly vs Straight post-cancer

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie