The Cancer Call

Once you receive the “cancer call,” your life is never the same. Every plan and dream become frozen because you’re no longer the person you once were. That one call changes the course of your life.

My cancer call was 4 years ago yesterday, 9/14/15. I didn’t think I would be contacted so quickly because I’d had my biopsy on a late Friday afternoon on 9/11/15. It felt wrong and scary to have a biopsy of the mass in my left breast on such a nationally tragic day. Yet, I wanted to have my biopsy on a late Friday afternoon so I could go home afterward and not think about work or anything else. I was told the results would be available within 24 to 48 hours. Since I was the last patient of that day, I was expecting results either Tuesday or Wednesday.

So, when my cell rang at 3:05pm that Monday, I instinctively knew I should answer it even though I didn’t recognize the number. When I flashback to this memory, it’s like I’m suspended above my work cubicle watching everything unfold.

I see myself running down the hall into an empty conference room.

I see my eyes filling with tears yet widening in disbelief.

I see my hand shaking while holding the cell.

“Megan-Claire, you have Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. We don’t know the stage yet. You need to get a pen and paper and take some notes because time is of the essence.”

Those words changed the course of my life.

Much has happened since that day. I had started to make a list but got nauseous as the list went on and on and ON. Some have an easier cancer path than others. Mine was not and is still not easy.

I’ve blogged about survivors’ guilt in the past, but it’s never far from my mind. Once you’ve received a passport into cancerland, you meet other patients across all types of cancers that you never would’ve met in your non-cancer life. I will always be grateful for the friendships I’ve made and continue to make.

The part I still can’t wrap my head around is death. I’ve posted numerous pictures of me smiling through the pain and giving a bird’s eye view into cancerland. The one view I’ve never shown is seeing a fellow warrior die from their cancer. I’d never seen death up close and personal outside of family until then. That’s why I struggle when people tell me I should be happy I’m alive and not let cancer define me. Heck, I hear those comments from other warriors, too.  

I have friends who have died and are currently dying. Some have years or months. Others have weeks or days. I carry a little piece of them with me. They have become part of my story, too.

Then I have friends outside cancerland who I never would’ve crossed paths with if it hadn’t been for my cancer diagnosis. Some are still in my life and others are not. Like that saying goes, some people are meant to be in your life for a moment, a season or a lifetime.

I’ll never forget the days leading up to and the day of my cancer call. It forced me down a path I wasn’t ready for and continue to fight.

Don’t Thin Yourself

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, you become increasingly aware of all the different cancer awareness months for all the different types. Just because I had breast cancer doesn’t mean I’m only aware of my type of cancer. If anything, I want to learn as much as I can about all the different types of cancers now that my body is open to a possible secondary cancer down the road.

I take this time to constantly educate myself and talk with others in cancerland to better understand their type of cancer and experience. The more I talk with others outside of the breast cancer world, I find more community, acceptance and humor. Though our cancers are different, there are many shared experiences which is comforting.

So, as PINKtober looms around the corner, I start getting requests to help with breast cancer awareness.  It’s difficult when people notice a skill that makes them want you to volunteer for everything breast cancer related. Instead of it being fun, it starts to feel like work, draining and stressful.

That’s how the thinning of oneself begins. People mistake my bubbly personality and upbeat voice as ready to take on the world. It’s almost like they forget that I’m still working fulltime with increasing responsibilities, which means using even more physical and mental energy during my 8-10  hour workday. So, driving to a volunteer meeting that adds another two hours to my day takes momentous effort.

The reality is most of the time I just want to stay home munching on peanut M&Ms while watching Dateline, Snapped and some other thrillers with a handful of dramas, a dash of comedies and a pinch of romance.

It’s fantastic to be noticed but at what cost? My body can’t handle stress the way it used to.

It needs more rest.

It needs more calm.

It needs more deep breaths.

Now that I’m in palliative care to help with pain management, I can’t do as much as I used to force myself to do before. Fatigue is overwhelming. I think people outside cancerland can’t fully understand that many of us aren’t just tired. When you’re just tired, it’s implied you can sleep and feel recovered the next day. Fatigue, with the added layer of pain, means there is no recovery or waking up feeling energetic. It’s another night of tossing, turning, groaning, never finding a comfortable sleep position and waking up feeling even more drained and quite cranky.

Time to speak up and say NO. Making myself a priority feels odd and selfish. I’ve had to retrain my thoughts to accept this is true self-care and not selfish.

I was at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Blood Cancer conference yesterday. I went last year and was blown away by the keynote speaker Dan Shapiro. So, this year, I wanted to bring my mother in the hopes of learning more about her rare blood cancer and give her the sense of community she craves but won’t admit she needs.

My naturally bubbly and talkative self couldn’t help but engage with others and the vendors. After all, I want to start getting more speaking engagements and writing opportunities that will lead to paid ones. One of the vendors asked why I was there because she noticed my favorite breast cancer ribbon barrette in my hair. I told her I was there for my mother and am a three-year breast cancer survivor and dealing with severe chemo induced neuropathy and fibromyalgia.

She said, “You don’t look unwell. You look just full of energy and healthy.” I always find that comment interesting, especially at cancer events. Don’t they realize the sheer effort it takes to appear energetic and “healthy?”

As much as I try to take my expressive nature down a few notches, I always end up thinning myself out. Naturally being a tad extra is exhausting once I come down off the high.

It’s just another reminder for me to practice more self-care and make it routine. I’ve only committed to a few events for PINKtober instead of everything like I’ve done in the past. Thinning myself out can easily mean another trip to the ER or with pneumonia like I was in April and May of this year. I’m not looking for a repeat of that.

Saying NO to volunteering for cancer events is our right and not selfish. Don’t let anyone guilt you into saying yes either. Be firm because you’re the one who must deal with the after affects and not them.

My Reflection

I somewhat freaked out some fellow coworkers when I showed up to the work happy hour on Friday. Why? Well, I had my hair pulled back. My chemo curls were blown straight last week. I had been wearing it down at work with my usual hair accessories. I had discovered on Friday that my hair is just long enough to pull back if I use a tiny clip and a million bobby pins to hold the sides in place.

So, when I walked into Taco Mac, no one recognized me at first. The looks of surprise were apparent.


No headband. 
No fascinator. 
No hair clips.


Just pure ME.

So why did the bulk of them freak out? One of my male coworkers said he hoped I wear a tiara or flower in my hair on Monday because then I’ll “look like royal one they all know.” I confess I was taken aback by the comment. I thought I looked smashing. I looked like the ME I remember. Then I thought about it and get his comment. I believe he was trying to say the hair bling fits my big personality.

I always wore my hair up or pulled back since I was a kid, teen, young adult and as an adult. Wearing my hair in a ballerina bun, French braid, French twist, pigtails, etc. is very much a part of ME. I used to be svelte and statuesque. I loved brushing my hair and deciding which classy or cute style I would create each day. Then when I added my glasses, I was often described as the “sexy librarian.”

I’ve been working very hard to claim back some parts of ME. I’ve been recognizing my reflection more and more when my hair is blown straight. I finally see the length.  The thing is, others I’ve met post-cancer don’t recognize me this way. They don’t know what I really look liked. Everyone at work knows I’m a cancer survivor because I don’t hide it anymore. So, they either forget these are chemo curls or think they are natural.

Someone commented on my Instagram when I posted a little about this. They said, “Interesting that you don’t see your curls as feminine. I see you as very feminine, but from my view, it’s not the hair but the face.”

To me, I…and I will repeat…I think I look like a chia pet on steroids. The chemo curls make my head look huge! The height of the hair really bothers me. I can’t wear hats when it’s like this. I don’t want “big” hair. I’ve never wanted curly hair. EVER. That’s why I started wearing the hair accessories because I can’t do anything with those chemo curls. The curls are so tight, that I can’t style it. So, I added the bling to feel feminine and give myself the variety I crave.

As a birthday gift, my mother is paying for me to get the chemo curls blown straight 2x per month. Any time I mention this, I always get those saying to get a keratin treatment or sending me pictures of the hair tools they use. Well, I don’t have the physical strength to blow these suckers out. They are TIGHT curls. It takes a lot of arm strength, technique and patience that I don’t have but my stylists do.  

How come no one sees I’m playing a character when I wear my bling? The character of a cancer survivor who doesn’t recognize herself or her body.

I’ve never once felt feminine with the chemo curls unless I have a hair accessory. Notice I never say ‘my’ when I refer to them. To me, they aren’t natural. Poison changed my hair chemistry, not me. It wasn’t MY choice. Why can’t others get that? I’ll say it again. It wasn’t MY choice to have curly hair.

I get sooo many people telling me how cute they are. If they were loose curls, maybe I would agree. I always feel the need to tell people what I used to look like and show the pictures as proof. I wasn’t always this overweight woman with a tight, curly ‘fro. I was fit, classy and stylish.

Am I happy my hair grew back? Of course, I am. Did I think it would grow back entirely different from what was my norm? No. So, I can’t stop being surprised and dismayed every single time I look in the mirror when the chemo curls are there. It’s not what I know.

I’ve always been a tad extra from birth. Adding a hair accessory doesn’t change that. It’s strange the more I’m starting to look like ME with my hair blown straight, no one else seems to recognize me.

My life on the cancer train lately is confusing, painful and disappointing. Yet, it’s also been liberating because I am beginning to see a reflection that is familiar.

I am seeing ME, even if no one else does.

Craving My Truth

As much as I love to socialize, I’ve been craving solitude more and more. I have limited energy. In some ways it makes me sad because I do love to talk, but my naturally expressive personality now wears me out. What many people don’t realize is cancer ages the mind, body and spirit.

My mind has been in utter chaos as I’ve tried to process my cancer experience. I wish I could forget the ugly parts of my cancer path. The thoughts and grief refuse to be swept under the rug. They continue to bubble and boil to the surface.

I still can’t fully verbalize all I’ve experienced and continue to experience. That’s why I write and started blogging. All I can do is continue to raise my voice and shed light on the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis. The fear, anxiety and anger never fully disappear. It sometimes moves to the backburner, but never gone.

I had become dependent on Ativan for sleep. My psychiatrist at the time kept enabling me. It took me two years to recognize that fact. Instead of helping me process, she was trying to keep in a sedated frame of mind. I finally saw the light this year and terminated the sessions and weaned myself off the Ativan. It was difficult and definitely caused additional stress to my immune system.

After I finished chemo in February 2016, I was shocked by how old I looked. Dark circles like a panda, pale gray skin and lines like a turkey around my neck. Heck, even my hands looked old. My baby face was gone. What I noticed most was the look in my eyes.

They looked haunted.

They looked pained.

They looked scared.

I still don’t recognize this body. So much has physically changed. The chronic pain wears on my patience. I can’t just get up and go, go, go like I could in the past. Every move is slow and deliberate. I don’t want to fall. I have a permanent handicap sign thanks to neuropathy.

My spirit has also taken a beating. I don’t ask why I got cancer. It was inevitable, especially after looking at my family history. I ask more why did I get cancer under 40 and still alive? I see others whose cancer has metastasized with significant others and families. Why have I been spared – the single cat lady – and not them?

Life post-cancer continues to be a daily struggle. There always seems to be a new pain or issue or unforeseen medical bill popping up.

I crave stability.

I crave my truth.

So, I wrote a poem that was originally crafted using a writing prompt from the Unspoken Ink Writing Class through Lacuna Loft. I finished it this morning.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie