Stages of Grief Aren’t Linear

January 17th 2021

On January 13th, after the zoom meeting ended with the good doctor talking with me about my upcoming radiation therapy, I found myself feeling angry…

#FuckCancer!

I looked at my wife and said, “I am angry; and I am okay being angry today. I do not want to do this and I have no choice.”

I am going to have what is called “whole breast radiation”; and I do not want it.

I do not want to spend four weeks starting my day on a table exposed to strangers positioning my arms over my head with breast exposed to the rays, which must hit my body the same way every day for maximum benefit. I must hold my breath because the treatment is on the left side of my body closer to my heart; and to reduce the risk of compromising my heart from the radiation, I must hold my breath for 25 seconds for each zap of radiated rays.

I do not want to do this and I have no choice.

I do not want the increasing skin irritation that will feel like a sunburn, nor the increasing fatigue that comes from the rays of radiation that may (a) cause my breast to get bigger or (b) cause my breast to be smaller 0r (c) cause my breast to get harder. I don’t want the nausea; and I sure as hell don’t want the possible side effects that may take years to show up, such as lung and heart problems.

I do not want to do this.

#FuckCancer

If I want to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, which I DO want, I must have “adjunctive therapy”:

For women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy has been shown to be as effective as mastectomy without radiation for removing the cancer AND minimizing the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence). Doctors call radiation therapy given after surgery adjuvant radiation therapy or adjuvant radiotherapy. 

~Radiation after Lumpectomy at BreastCancer.org

That opening paragraph goes on to report the compiled results of 17 studies involving 10,000 women where half were followed for at least ten years:

In the 10 years after surgery:

19.3% of women who got adjuvant radiation therapy had a cancer recurrence

35% of women who didn’t get radiation therapy had a recurrence

So what does radiation get me? A statistically significant reduction in the risk of cancer recurrence, but folx there is simply no guarantee the cancer won’t come back as the rate of cancer recurrence is also statistically significant! (Which is why I will also be engaged in systemic therapy – a.k.a. hormone therapy to further reduce the risk of cancer recurrence)

#FuckCancer

I do not want this; and I am okay letting myself feel my anger today!

I have felt the shock. I have experienced the numb disbelief. I have withdrew from others withholding from sharing I had the diagnosis. I have shook with fear.

Today. Today is anger. I don’t like feeling anger. Anger is no fun, but it is how I feel today; and I am committed to honor my feelings as I become aware of them…no stuffing, no denying, no hiding what I am experiencing because this entire shit show sucks. Suppressing one’s emotions does have adverse impact on the body’s health and wellness, such as potential strain on the digestive system and cardio system.

A healthy goal is to “feel what you feel” so that one may move closer to the mind-body-spirit balance of “acceptance”.

Let the women with breast cancer speak

I have been very open with people about my diagnosis but find that many probably well meaning people mention how “strong” I am and how I will conquer this thing then cut me off from sharing more

Cancer is a sneaky bastard that is something you will have to live with for as long as you can, and even if in remission there is a constant nagging that it will/ has come back

People do not understand that we are struggling for our lives. Do you know how many times I’ve been at the cancer center and then on the speaker system they start saying code blue code blue because someone has coded during their Chemo

I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to have breast cancer until it strikes them. Most folks are well-meaning. They think it’s better to say something even if they are not quite sure what.

I am SO tired of everyone telling my how strong I am as if I have to be strong for them because they don’t want to hear how I really feel inside

All I want to hear is, “I’m here for you.” Some people whisper, “Oh no” when I tell them. That scares me – like they know I’m going to die. Others are glib: “You’ll be fine.” Really? How do you know?

excerpts from a CLOSED Breast Cancer Social Support Group

As I went through my day, I allowed myself moments of privacy between client sessions to honor my feelings and recognize the anger. Self-compassion today was about honoring the anger inside…letting it out in a healthy way; and then….

And then she said what she said…

After my day ended and I left the office to settle down for the evening a well-meaning person reached out to me and asked me how I was doing; and believing I could be open and honest told them I was giving myself permission today…honoring myself with how I was feeling angry.

They cut me off before I had a chance to finish my sentence with declaring “Oh, I am surprised! I thought you would be past that stage by now?” In stunned silence as they continued, “I have never been a person prone to anger, but, well, I don’t have cancer so I don’t know...”

In that moment it took all of my control to not unleash my anger at cancer on them and their dumbass comment! It had been exactly two months since I read the radiology report on my ultrasound that said BIRADS-5 with 95% probability of malignancy. Two months!? It had been only two weeks since I had my lumpectomy and I am still healing. Two weeks!?

All that I could say that did not include the words “and Fuck You Very Much…” was…

Stages of Grief aren’t Linear

I’m gonna honor how I feel today

Today I am angry!

I ended our conversation promptly.

Waking the next day, I found myself still angry about the cancer and, now too, the dumbass comment. Seriously, do not…do not…do fucking not tell people with cancer how they are to feel. In fact, don’t tell anyone how they are to feel about anything!

Stages of grief are simply not linear! And it is possible to “accept you have cancer” while “not being in a place to accept the treatment of cancer.” Accepting one part of the invasive world tilting of cancer into one’s life doesn’t mean one will do well accepting each part of the process…there becomes cumulative experiences of loss that add up and may even multiply with emotional intensity over time.

One does well to allow each milestone of loss and milestone of emotional processing of the loss to stand on it’s own…honor and recognize that this journey isn’t an all or nothing “unwanted adventure”…there are stages and steps; and sometimes there are falls and detours toward the healing goal of acceptance.

Our culture doesn’t process grief well. We often rush the grieving process for ourselves and for others. Two weeks. Two months. Two years. How much compassionate support do we give a person to grieve the loss of a parent, a partner, a child, or a pet (a.k.a. – fur-baby)?

My grandmother never ever stopped grieving the loss of her first born child who died in their early 30’s from an accident. Many grew impatient with her; and all the while as a little person, I would go with her to visit their grave…she never needed to stop grieving this loss…rather how she grieved changed over time. I have never stopped grieving the loss of my dad – twenty years later – or of my grandmother 7.5 years ago…how I grieve changes over time; and I imagine this will be true with me and how I will learn to grieve with cancer being a constant presence in my life.

Each person has the right to process and name their emotions based upon their experiences, but yea, the women in the breast cancer support group are correct in their posts in that many (most) do not know what to say and by shutting us down they don’t have to deal with their own fears of mortality.

Same is true with the death of a loved one…many people want the grieving person to move along so that their own grief isn’t stirred up. We can stuff grief down inside of us placing stress on our body just like we stuff down anger…pushing away the emotions pretending we aren’t human.

I learned a long time ago…do not tell a person how they feel, but rather ask a person how they feel…and then, let them talk if they wish to talk; and if they do not wish to talk in that moment simply be with them assuring them they are not alone.

Each person has a right to name their own experiences…to interpret their reality, engage the struggles and if they haven’t found meaning yet, then being silently supported as they wrestle with their God or their demon.

The next day the person reached out to me again with a comment meant to be supportive in letting me know that God’s Hand was in all of this and that we can’t know God’s purposes…as if God’s plan was for me to have cancer.

<insert BIG OLE SIGH here>

I don’t get how folx are okay with believing in a God who does shitty things to us just cuz…I call #BullshitTheology

I do believe shitty things happen to us and God is with us in our suffering, which I understand to be #CompassionateGod

Job’s friends were most supportive when they simply sat with him in silence after all the losses and calamity he had just experienced.

Later that day as I sat next to my wife, I shared with her that honoring my anger has felt right to me because this journey requires I spend a lot of time in the medical world as the “patient”, which I hate because having worked 30 years in the medical field as a professional, I am fully aware that some medical staff suck at their job and suck at patient care.

I dislike both the real loss of power and the attempts by other to disempower me into becoming a passive patient.

I dislike that lack of control. I dislike knowing that every day I will wake up and at some point during the day “cancer” will remind me it is in my life one way or another for the rest of my life.

I also looked at her and said, I know I have felt emotionally “short and impatient”. I apologized for any time I came across as short toward her. She acknowledged hearing it in my voice, yet not internalizing it. Knowing my anger was real has allowed me to walk further toward my path of accepting: I am a breast cancer survivor. I am living with breast cancer. Both are true; and will be the remainder of my days upon this earth.

After giving myself a couple of days to feel my anger at cancer, I found I was ready to move on because being in angry isn’t an emotion I care to spend time in…it can take a toll, but it can take a toll not being real with oneself.

It also helped that Thursday night was my first ever D&D Adventure. A long-time friend of mine who has been nothing but perfectly supportive (and thankfully, I have many perfectly supportive folx in my cancer boxing corner), upon learning that I had always wanted to play D&D pulled together a team for me to join.

She is the Dungeon Master; and she recruited seasoned D&D members who are all willing to start a new adventure with this totally clueless novice “virgin” Dwarf Ranger! After the first gathering ended and I got off the ZOOM screen, I felt myself feel lighter…for now, the anger has passed. It will return, but for now, it has passed.

And I am okay with that.

Published by Dykalicious

Queer, Irreverent Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer during COVID's Second Wave...Seriously, WTF 2020! These musing are me wrapping my head around the sudden turn in life's journey...hopefully they may be helpful to someone else finding themselves in unfamiliar space.

2 thoughts on “Stages of Grief Aren’t Linear

  1. If you ever want to talk about laying on a radiation table, hit me up. And please be mad, sad, or whatever the eff you want to feel.

    Also, I’ve been using D&D to distract me from my medical issues for years. I approve wholeheartedly there. Does your ranger have a familiar!? 🙂

    Like

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