A Cancer Story: The 5-Year Mark

It was five years ago today that I had my breast cancer surgeries at Northside Hospital Women’s Center in Atlanta, GA. I have officially reached the five-year mark, which is apparently a big milestone. I’m flooded with memories on the days leading up to my surgery day.

I had a blood transfusion two weeks before to help boost my system for the surgeries. To this day, I am pleased as punch to know my blood type is B+ and not O. I thought it was hilarious and would yell out “I’m B+” in my cheerleader voice. In fact, I still do it. Maybe it was watching too much True Blood on repeat, but I felt special knowing my blood type wasn’t the common O. Of course, I nearly vomited when I got the blood transfusion – two bags of blood. Those suckers were huge! I had one bag of O and another bag of B+. It’s a strange and thick feeling having someone else’s blood infused into you. I had many thoughts whirling in my mind.

What somewhat brought me down from feeling like an actress on Grey’s Anatomy was thinking about whose blood I was getting? I hate to say that my first thought and fear was what if the donor was a racist? Then I paused again and thought what if the donor was a serial killer? After six hours of having two bags of blood slowly infused, I was shocked when I saw my reflection. Had I become Bella from Twilight? My face, neck, and chest were flushed red. What freaked me out for a minute was seeing my eyes red. I kept looking for Edward on my way home. My humor has always remained intact.

Now it was surgery day. It was outpatient with no overnight stay. I was only a little nervous because I had complete faith in my breast cancer surgeon and plastic surgeon. They worked exceptionally well together. I can honestly say I still have a total girl crush on them. My breast cancer surgeon has major personality and humor, plus brilliance! She really helped me push through the last three chemo treatments when I was ready to give up. My plastic surgeon is the gentlest doctor I’ve ever dealt with and has magic hands. I never felt uncomfortable with him. As he came in to draw on the areas on my chest, his voice was so calm and gentle. He talked me through everything he was doing and made sure I did not look in the mirror. Smart move.

As I was being prepped for the surgeries, I had another laugh because the nurse put this silver aluminum foil looking blanket and cap on me. I looked like a bloated baked potato!

The only thing I remember before the anesthesia knocked me out was asking if I could keep my favorite chemo hat on underneath the baked potato cap.

Lumpectomy of left breast

Sentinel lymph node dissection

Reduction of both breasts

Reconstruction of both breasts

I wish I could say I woke up feeling just groggy. Nope! I woke up in excruciating pain and terribly nauseous. Then, one of the tubes I was hooked up with came loose because I felt something wet on my back. When I turned…the sheets were covered in blood. I got hysterical and started screaming. It took three nurses to calm me the fuck down. So, I was moved to a different bed and the pain went to a high that I pray I will never experience again. After two hours, the nurses were still having trouble getting the pain managed. They almost had me admitted into the hospital, but I managed to talk myself down from the ledge. I just wanted my own bed and my cat Nathan Edgar (Baby Natey).

This cancerversary brings mixed feelings that I will get into another time. I will say it felt good to write again since I have been on a hiatus for a few months. I definitely feel a much needed therapeutic release.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Rage Runneth Over

I have really neglected my blog which upsets me because it is one of my major coping mechanisms to keep pushing forward in this insane world. Writing is a way to gauge my mental health. That aside from a busy work schedule due to my fulltime job, multiple freelance jobs, and volunteering for multiple events last month, I did not make the time to write out my thoughts.

I am sure I am not the only one who sometimes packs their schedules so much that it leaves no time for self-care. I know I intentionally did not make the time to write.

I did not want to feel.

I did not want to think.

I did not to acknowledge anything.

Today is the first time in a while where I am not obligated to attend a Zoom or run errands. I honestly do not want to write out the flood of thoughts that have been whirling in my head for the past few months. Writing it down will make it real.

The darkness.

The sadness.

The hurt.

The rage.

I am currently taking a six-week journaling class through a young adult cancer group to help process and release some of these thoughts and feelings. In this class, we are given a prompt and journal whatever feelings arise, then write feedback to what we wrote, and then share with the class. I took it last year and loved it. However, this year is different. Though I’ve had many truly amazing and exciting things happen this year (see my About page),the stress of living in a divided country where I’ve had racist encounters and racists comments directed toward me in places I thought were safe has thrown me into the sunken place – if you watched the Jordan Peel movie Get Out, you’ll understand that reference.

So, I wrote just a snippet about the rage that is boiling over within me and read it out loud to the class. There was the uncomfortable silence one gets when talking about race to a sea of white faces. The journaling therapist asked for everyone to hold some space for me and give words of support. Though I get what she was trying to do, it only made me more upset because no one was being authentic, except for the one guy in there who I talk to on a regular basis.

To this day, I remember posting my blog piece from last year called Cancer and Race in one of the lobular breast cancer groups. A white woman responded, “Race has no place in the cancer space.” I have never forgotten how her ignorant comment gut punched me. Then I think about talking with other people in other cancer organizations and one of the first things typically said is, “We work with black organizations that we can connect you with.” Why does my color make you so nervous and uncomfortable?

I am never seen as just a writer, speaker, cancer survivor, chronic illness haver, or patient advocate. Add the word Black in front of each one and that is how people see me first. Always.

If I want to be part of Black only groups or organizations, I know where to go. It is beyond insulting when a white person tries to segregate me, especially within the cancer space. Stop trying push square MEG into a round hole. It cannot be done. Ever.

Why can’t anyone see ME?

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

When Your Safe Space is Bulldozed

Have you ever been involved in a group or with a person you considered safe? They created a safe space for you to be authentically you. What happens when that safe bubble unexpectedly bursts?

That’s what happened to me recently. Without going into too much detail, once I know someone’s true stance on an issue that I find absolutely appalling, I can no longer share digital space with that person. Though it was brief, and the subject was quickly changed, I cannot unhear it. I had such a visceral reaction which let me know that I must protect my state of mind and permanently remove myself from that space.

As I’ve begun to explore, research, and learning to love my blackness, I must be even more careful of who I share space with. You know that saying, it only takes one bad egg to ruin the carton, rings true in this situation. Fortunately, I made some great friendships that have continued to develop outside of that space.

So, what do I do now? I lean on those who I know have the same values and opinions on hot button issues. I fill that time doing more to enrich and uplift my spirit and passions or just rest. My safe space is my Zen home and writing with my cat Nathan Edgar by my side.

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of receiving the biopsy of my left breast. It hit a bit harder than usual because it truly was the last time of being just a regular patient. After that point, cancer will always be a permanent word in my medical history. Even though I have no evidence of disease (NED) at this time, I’ll never be just a regular patient.

While some cancer warriors don’t like to think about their cancerversaries, I do. My experience was utterly traumatic. I can’t get away from what I experienced and the permanent damage to my body.

I remember everything about getting the biopsy. The doctor who performed it looked like she was 12 years old and her name is Dr. Grey. Initially I laughed because I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for years and told her I’m sure she’s sick of the jokes. The laughter broke the tension for a few minutes.

As I was lying there with the nurse on my right side holding my hand, I couldn’t take my eyes off Dr. Grey’s face. I watched her facial expressions and could see she found something, but my mind refused to think it would be cancer. I’m a great reader of facial expressions and body language, so I can see subtle changes that most wouldn’t notice.

To this day, I jump when I hear sounds of a stapler and especially hearing a staple gun. That’s what it sounded like with the tool Dr. Grey used to gather the tissue samples. It was so loud and echoed in the room. The nurse kept asking if I was in pain because I was squeezing her hand so tightly. No, I wasn’t in any pain, but the sounds were traumatizing me. I was counting each sample. She took more samples than she initially said she would.

I needed a safe space yesterday to talk things out and relieve some anxiety. I created one by calling a friend who never fails to crack me up and driving around just to feel like I had gotten away for a bit. I came back home feeling calmer with a half-smile on my face instead of a full-on frown.

I’ve mentioned before that ever since cancer, I’m incapable of tolerating bullshit. If someone bulldozes your safe space, know that you are strong enough to create another one for yourself.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Times of Disruption

It has been an extraordinary time filled with opportunities I never dared to dream of. My confidence level continues to rise. I’ve lived more in that past few months than I’ve lived since moving back to Georgia from Los Angeles 17 years ago.

Even with these fabulous professional and advocacy wins, including a new full-time job that I’ll begin August 17th and multiple freelance gigs, there are still feelings of uncertainty. It’s not uncertainty about my abilities as a marketing and writing professional, it is an uncertainty of my body.

Chronic pain is not something I would ever wish on someone. It’s why my cancer journey takes so many gut-punching twists and turns over rocky terrain. I’m in the body of a mummy from the neck down.

There is never a moment where I am not in pain.

There is never a moment where I forget I’m in pain.

There is never a moment where I don’t curse this pain.

As much as I stress about a possible recurrence or metastatic cancer, I stress just as equally about how long I can keep pushing with pain levels that range from 6-20. I remember a telling moment at my 8th and final surgery related to my original breast cancer surgery that I had June 3, 2019 at Northside Cancer Center. While the nurse was prepping me with an IV, she asked what my pain level was at that moment. I told her it was an 8, and she just looked stunned. I was matter of fact and told her about my pain range and that an 8 was tolerable. She just started tearing up and said, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering so much.” It was honestly the first time any emotion had ever been shown by medical staff and I found it oddly comforting. For once, it wasn’t dismissed or even questioned.

My chronic pain is multi-faceted. I wish it were only from fibromyalgia. When you add severe neuropathy in my hands and feet, my senses become overloaded. Then add a herniated disc with a tear near the nerve where I desperately need another epidural steroid injection because the first one didn’t take, then I almost can’t think because the pain is beyond horrific.

It’s a disrupter of time.

It’s a disrupter of sleep.

It’s a disrupter of peace.

So, when others think my cancer story should be over, I simply say no. It never will be because I am reminded at every moment of every day what my cancer treatments and multiple surgeries did to my body. My body is gone. I don’t know this current body. We will always be strangers and never friends because it hurts me on too many levels. Others might be able to move past it, but I cannot. 

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie