7 Unexpected Things About Breast Cancer That No One Will Tell You (But I Will)

I'm helping one of my sons study for his big history test. It is strictly drill-and-kill time in our living room. So while he's sitting next to me cramming (I'll grill him in 10 minutes) I've been thinking of a few things I didn't know about before I got triple negative breast cancer. It's been hard to type lately because I have terrible neuropathy. That means your hands and feet are numb. But lately I'm just ignoring the pain. I can't hold a pen to sign my name very well but I like writing too much to stop typing completely. So here are seven things:

1. Taking steroids will make you have new questions for Barry Bonds: I can't sleep. I feel angry. I want to eat ice cream. Is this how Barry Bonds felt? What about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire? 

If so, they probably felt super angry one minute (I hissed at someone today) and depressed (I cried 13 times today) the next. Don't judge, you'd be sobbing too if you had to do chemotherapy tomorrow morning like I do. It's effin horrible. Let me repeat that with all caps: It is HORRIBLE. 
But back to Barry Bonds and crew--how do these athletes voluntarily take something that causes you to feel like this every day? That seems way crazy to me now.

2. You will be really happy when October is over: Pink pullover. Charity cream. Hero hair. Eff that ishtar. No one will tell you how much you want to drop kick companies that are trying to burnish their brands' image through supporting breast cancer walks and selling pink ribbon candies. That is CAUSE MARKETING, people. Companies know we will think highly of their brands if they get behind Breast Cancer awareness. I don't want to see another pink ribbon again ever unless the company agrees to donate ALL PROCEEDS to cancer prevention and a cure. By the way, pink socks are still a yes in my book. Coffee mugs with pink ribbons and NFL logos with pink ribbons on them are a hell no. Along those lines...

3. After you get educated about the breast cancer industrial complex, you'll be pissed: This highly informative, often enraging and shocking documentary, Pink Ribbon$, INC., will help you learn about gross things like Kentucky Fried Chicken putting pink ribbons on buckets of chicken. No time for a documentary? Visit Think Before You Pink and learn about their "calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions."

You can also learn how the pink ribbon was seemingly hijacked from a 68-year-old woman named Charlotte Haley who had created a peach colored ribbon that came with a card that said, "The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon." That's sure not the purpose of that ribbon now.

4. You will want to slap people who can not shut up about their miracle cures: Listen up, folks. When someone in your life gets breast cancer, and then the chemo is actually working, that is not the time for you to tell that person to stop their treatment (because you think Western medicine is nothing but an effin conspiracy theory) and tell them to go to Mexico and smoke weed. I mean, really, this was my face:
Also, folks can also shut up about how the breast cancer patient should just do (insert wack idea here ______) and she'd be saved. If it was so simple, so many women would not die from this disease. Just zip it. Keep it to yourself. 

5. People will actually tell you to just be positive: NEWSFLASH, this ain't the disease equivalent of being at a Depeche Mode concert. I would like to be positive 24/7. But when it gets to that point in the month where I can't really walk unassisted (that'll be this coming weekend, thank you very much) my Rakim face is on and nobody's smiling. 

No one tells you before you get breast cancer that there will be people who will tell you to "just stay positive" after you've told them how you are only just hanging in there physically and emotionally.

You want to know how awful chemo is? It is totally insane to think this, but the thought of dying sometimes seems preferable. Not often, but sometimes. I had terrible headaches this weekend and I also have blood clots in my veins from the chemo. I wondered if I was having a stroke. I was a little like, well, if I do and I die, at least no more chemo. Like I said, HORRIBLE. 

Don't get me wrong if I cringe or my eyes glaze over when you tell me to "stay positive." Getting your head right is always a good thing. I love positivity. I don't believe it's helpful to cry all the time and fall into depression and sob about "why me?" I don't sit around all day every day thinking I'm gonna die, or that the cancer is gonna come back even if it goes away for awhile. That isn't good for your body or soul. But I have those thoughts sometimes. That's just real. And if you ever get breast cancer (1 in 8 women do these days), you might really want the emotional reality deniers who have drunk the cheerleader happpy, pink ribbon flavor of breast cancer Kool-Aid to just STFU.

6. You quickly find out who your real friends are: The people who start fundraisers for you (I damn near fainted this morning when I opened up a bill from UCLA so thank you to everyone who has donated) and bring you veggies and fruit and hook you up with chai. The people who send you little notes of encouragement and socks with peacocks on them. The people who say prayers for you and text you hugs and send you flowers. The people who call just because they miss your voice and want to see how you are doing. The people who drive you to work, pick you up from work, and take you home. The people who let your kids spend the night so the kids don't have to see you vomiting and unable to get off the floor. The people who take your kids to tutoring, who take you to lunch on that ONE WEEKEND A MONTH when you feel kinda normal between chemo treatments. The people who text you jokes to make you laugh, who come over to visit you and spend time with you. Yep, those people are amazing and you will remember who they are.

7. You might feel like a fraud when you go out in public. I was joking last week that I was gonna post a before and after picture of myself--me before I put on makeup and a wig, and me after. You actually might not think it's the same person. The magic is all due to a "Look Good, Feel Better" class hosted by the American Cancer Society. They get makeup artists and hair stylists to teach cancer patients how not to look like a cast member from The Night of the Living Dead. I paid attention like my life depended on it and I learned some super helpful tips--like how to draw on my eyebrows and how to maximize concealer and blush. 

The downside of knowing how to hide an illness: Sometimes when I come out of the house, people tell me I look great or that I don't look sick, and that can be disturbing. I don't want to be told I look terrible, but that's not really the problem. A few times folks have said, "Well, you sure don't look sick," to me in a tone that sounds like they think I'm lying about how terribly chemo lays me out. 

It makes me feel like I should come out with my horrible bags under my eyes and my raccoon eye dark circles just so those folks can check their "Here Is What a Cancer Patient Looks Like" biases. Yes, I am sick. I feel like shit most of the time. Ahem, that is NOT my real hair because all my hair fell out. 

Still, I try to get up and handle my business like I'm not someone with cancer who is voluntarily putting a poison called chemotherapy into her body so she'll be alive at this time next year. I am getting better at covering up how absolutely horrid I feel. And gosh, it takes me SO LONG to get ready in the morning now. I still miss my own hair so very much. Missing it will never go away. Looking at pictures of my hair from this summer makes me want to cry again.

And on that note, the studying boy keeled over on the sofa long ago. Time to try to go to sleep even though the steroids (and anxiety over having chemo tomorrow) have my brain racing. 


Unknown said…
You are absolutely amazing!
Anonymous said…
Sending you love!
- A longtime fan of your blog.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thank you for the love--it's appreciated. :)
Liz Dwyer said…
Aww, thanks--just taking it one day at a time in hopes of one day feeling amazing again! :)
Anonymous said…
I learned so much here. your writing/righting is so awesome and your wig/makeup skills are pretty damn impressive too (you look like a model!) wishing you wellness, sending love and healing prayers to you and sending "step the f off" energy to all malevolent cells and/or we'll meaning goofballs. I hope u don't mind me stealing the riri gif. i will use it in loving memory of my extremely "positive' sis-n-law who opted for a miracle juicing regimen over chemo...
Liz Dwyer said…
Go on ahead and steal that riri gif but oh no does that mean your sis in law did not survive? :(
BlackLiterature said…
Long time reader. Still wishing you much much good fortune and sending love and hugs!
Toni Campbell said…
I'm sure that the steroids provide the type of crazy that allows baseball players to accurately hit a spinning ball flying at you so fast. Also, I hope that AFTER your last chemo treatment, that you get to go relax in Mexico and smoke weed.

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