“‘But you don’t look sick.’
This is a phrase I heard over and over again after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A 30-year-old mom of four running around at soccer practice with her kids is not the typical picture we have in our heads when we hear breast cancer. No, we think someone older, someone that visibly looks like they are fighting a disease, but that is not always the case.
No one in my family has ever had breast cancer, I tested negative for a genetic mutation, but sure enough, triple positive Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and DCIS was my diagnosis. I remember having the conversation with my mom after my second biopsy. She said, ‘There is no way, the chances are so low, statistically it would be very rare.’ And she was right. The risk is less than one percent, but I fell into that percentage.
I never wanted pity after my diagnosis, it actually took me a long time to tell anyone what was going on. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone until it was time to shave my head which was two weeks after my first round of chemo. My doctors and people around me kept trying to ease into the fact that I would lose all my hair. I had very long straight hair, that by the way people were acting to me, I was supposed to be very attached to. I thought I was attached to it too. I thought my long hair somehow defined me, I mean, I had it for quite some time. But really when it came down to it, I didn’t care. I cared about living. I cared about attacking the cancer with every drug known to kill it.
I did lose all my hair, and my eyelashes, and my eyebrows. Did I look sick now? Did I now walk around looking like a cancer patient? To some, to others I was told my look was bold! Daring! Edgy! In some ways I liked that people didn’t automatically think cancer because I didn’t want to be defined by this disease. I wanted to still have normal conversations without someone telling me how they knew so and so who died from cancer. That is never very reassuring to a cancer patient.
I never wore a wig during my treatment, it was a personal choice. I didn’t want things to be confusing for my kids. They were all very young, my youngest daughter being two at the time. I didn’t want them to see me look like myself with hair at one moment, and then rip the wig off and relive the shock of a bald head all over again. For me, I wanted to own it.
I wanted to own every part of this journey, to look at it in the face every day and be able to see how far I have come. It wasn’t easy. So much so that I had family members that told me they ‘are sorry for not visiting you but it was too hard to see you go through this’ or that seeing me in person would make it ‘all too real.’ It is real, it is still very real even one year after treatment.
The anxiety is still very present. My hair is growing back into a pixie cut that some go to their hairdresser and ask for. With clothes on, all my scars are covered. If you didn’t know me while I was going through treatment you would never in a million years assume I went through 6 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, axillary node dissection, 18 rounds of Herceptin, 25 rounds of radiation, and multiple surgeries after that. You would never know I take a targeted therapy drug every day to prevent a reoccurrence, or that I am on hormone therapy that took me from a 30-year-old to a 60-year-old overnight. Hot flashes, mood swings, anxiety, bone pain, constant trips to the bathroom. ‘But I don’t look sick.’
Life after cancer is hard. I know what I have gone through. The people around me know, but to anyone else they would have no idea, and why should they? I don’t always want to tell people that my short hair is because of chemo because then they feel bad. They get sad and say, ‘but you’re so young!’
You never truly know what people are going through. Some of the strongest people are the people that need to be checked on the most. The people that didn’t let what hurt them break them until it was all over. Until they came out of survival mode and took a deep breath, but that breath wasn’t a sigh of relief, it was a gasp for air.
But you have a choice, we all do, to sulk in the disaster, or find beauty in the ashes.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelsey Bucci of Savannah, Georgia. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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