I breastfed my three kids for six years (not each, sillies…but all together) and naively thought that made me immune to breast cancer. This is an arrogant way to think: to be so pious to assume others with cancer brought it on themselves and you are somehow above that because you ran marathons or breastfed your babies or didn’t eat sugar.
Cancer doesn’t work that way. That’s the problem with risk factors – they are only factors, not absolutes. And even if this is all my fault, does that mean I deserve any less treatment or compassion? Think about that for a moment. If you believe that, I might be able to sell you a membership to the Republican party.
So when I felt a lump last October, I didn’t become alarmed until the lump resulted in a mammogram and then an ultrasound and then a long biopsy at the end of January. And then, sure enough, a diagnosis of breast cancer followed a week later.
(Note for my friends going through the same process: 80% of biopsies come back benign. If 1 in 9 Canadian women get breast cancer, consider me your ‘1’ out of 9 women you know, including yourself. I’m taking that ‘1’ for the team).
Believe me, I’ve heaped enough blame on myself: I’m soft as opposed to firm and I do enjoy a regular glass of wine. Both are risk factors that I calculated in my darkest hours probably wiped out any advantage from all that childbearing and subsequent breastfeeding.
Then I moved to blaming the environment – hormones in my food (but wait, this meant I didn’t make healthy food choices – damn) or growing up in oil-loving Alberta, with refinery dust settling on me as I biked to elementary school. Since my dad has had two different types of cancer and he worked at the oil refineries, my muddled brain attached itself to this explanation.
(Don’t fear, Alberta friends, this is made up in my head – see this Cancer Report from the Government of Canada for actual facts).
Of course, this is all speculation, also known as the blame part of grief. I went through the same process when my son was born with Down syndrome (My eggs are old and wrinkly! It was the refineries!) to no avail.
As far as a philosophy, my dad, in remission from both leukemia and prostate cancer, says simply, It is what it is. This seems useful.
A friend, who has had a lot of shit happen in her life, says equally profoundly, Shit happens.
Even Science magazine chimes in, saying, “66 per cent of mutations that contribute to cancer are due to unavoidable DNA-replication mistakes.”
Now I have a son with three copies of his 21st chromosome and I’d never consider him a mistake. I have always felt he has a chromosomal difference, not a disorder, and that he is a part of the natural human fabric just like everybody else. Me with my cell-mutation – well, true, it will kill me if I don’t treat it, so that’s a problem. But these things happen.
But in order to inch towards acceptance, I’m going to conclude that shit happens and it is what it is so that I can shut off my monkey brain and sleep at night. In this pre-treatment time, I am attempting to be as kind to myself as possible in order to find a little peace in my heart. I have a sense that I’m going to need to draw upon this peace for some dark days ahead.