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

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.

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