Be forewarned: This is a breast cancer rant.
I don't usually give in to the level of fear and obsession I've been feeling lately, but I want to get it out and onto paper so that I can move on.
I think about cancer every day. I worry that I'll have a recurrence every day.
The fear sits in the back of my mind, lurking in a corner, coming out to haunt me right as I'm about to fall asleep or when I'm feeling most vulnerable when I wake up in the middle of the night. I am so sick of thinking about cancer and the possibility of a recurrence, that I have to put it into words to get it out of my head.
Fear is a strange companion. It's been growing in me, kind of like the cancer that started in my left breast 4 1/2 years ago, and is festering in my mind.
I can't seem to avoid thinking about cancer. I see it around me every day, everywhere. There are articles about cancer every day in the news, there are multiple postings about it every day on Facebook, Twitter and online.
It seems every day there's another article about how to prevent cancer, or what causes cancer, or what you should eat to prevent cancer, or what you shouldn't eat to prevent cancer, or what age you should have your kids so that you won't get cancer, or where you should live so that you won't get cancer, or where you shouldn't live so that you won't get cancer. There's so much information overload that it's overwhelming.
Before I had breast cancer, I thought I was healthy. I ate well, never had a weight problem, kept active, didn't drink or smoke, had tons of energy and hardly ever got sick with anything more serious than a cold or sore throat. So I was really surprised when I found the lump that turned out to be breast cancer.
But in retrospect, I realize that when I was younger, my life wasn't as balanced. During college, I spent one entire summer stripping toxic paints (and breathing in toxic fumes) off the walls in the dorms as a summer job. Those same dorm rooms had asbestos (a carcinogen) ceilings which I breathed in for a full year in my junior year.
I drank alcohol about 3 nights a week in my 20's and 30's, which could have contributed to my getting breast cancer. I smoked almost a pack of cigarettes a day for about 2 years in my mid 30's; no explanation needed.
I had my kids late in life, which has been shown to have a direct correlation to breast cancer. I live in New Jersey, one of the most polluted states in the union, with who knows what kind of toxins floating in the air that we breathe and I currently live in an area of the state known for the high incidence of radon (another known carcinogen) naturally found in the earth.
I obviously did something, ate something, ingested something, smoked something, or imbibed something to get cancer. It's a slippery slope trying to figure out why my body turned on itself but I can't stop my brain from trying to figure out what I did or what I didn't do, that contributed to my getting breast cancer.
I guess what I'm saying is that I somehow feel responsible and at fault for having breast cancer. And afraid, because now, 4 1/2 years post treatment, I really don't feel like I have a clear understanding of what I should be doing to try and prevent it from ever coming back because there are so many conflicting schools of thought.
As a layman, I have no real understanding about what causes breast cancer, other than what I read. And after all the reading, what's clear to me is that no one really knows with any certainty what causes cancer or how to cure it. In a hundred years, we'll probably talk about chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy the way people now talk about blood-letting and leeches.
So I try to do the right thing, although I'm not exactly clear on what the right thing is. I eat pretty healthily but I never feel like I'm eating exactly the right foods, I'm always second guessing myself. When ever I eat something "bad" for me, like ice cream which I adore, I feel guilty. Or if I have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, which I also love, I feel like I'm tempting fate.
Man, it's exhausting. I've been trying to stop thinking about it, but it's been really in my face lately.
In the last week, I've finally come to a sense of calm about it. I am who I am. I live the way I live. I have tried and will continue to try to live as healthily as I can, but I can't monitor every single thing I eat, or restrict myself from never having a glass of wine with dinner or completely cut all sugar, dairy, meat and wheat out of my diet.
I finally decided this week that I'm just going to cut myself a break and realize that I didn't technically bring this on myself, it's a pretty random occurrence; stuff just happens. Life is short, I'd rather spend my time enjoying it than worrying about every single thing I do, or eat, or don't do or don't eat.
Claudia Schmidt blogs at http://www.myleftbreast.net
You can also reach her on Twitter @claudoo
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