"The Big C" and feeling like a fraud

Yes, I am BRCA positive, but no breast cancer here

A storeroom full of gifts made me feel like a fraud tonight. I was watching the season finale of “The Big C” on Showtime and yes, I felt like a fraud.

I know it’s just a story on cable television, but the show captures what many families, many women, go through when cancer strikes. But here I am, I’ve gone through this horrible process to try to eliminate the possibility of certain cancers from my life and I’m looking at the story of Cathy Jamison -- a character played incredibly well by Laura Linney -- and I feel like a fraud.

I didn’t have breast cancer like my dad’s mother and sister who both died from this genetically infested disease. Nor did I survive breast cancer twice like my living sister has done. We’ll never know if my eldest sister would have gotten breast or ovarian cancers because she died as a passenger in a car long before the age when she could have had any form of our family‘s version of the “Big C.”

Regardless, surgeons advised it would be optimum for my health/future to cut off my tits and strip away my overies -- both being my cancer factories -- before slicing open my belly like some gruesome torture scene from the Dark Ages or the “Saw” movies to transfer my stomach skin and the blood-carrying muscles underneath to reconstruct breast mounds made of belly fat.

I can’t say I’ve experienced the emotional range my sister has had to handle throughout her cancer treatments and recoveries. I had my mini-breakdown not long before my big prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and TRAM Flap reconstruction; but my experience, my future, is polar opposite to that of my sister who lives on her own and is only responsible to herself.

Still, I know how it feels to want to just say “fuck it” to the world; that’s how I felt when it seemed my only options were: you need to be sliced apart and put back together, or…you’re likely going to get one or both of these aggressive cancers (if not some other random cancer) so you may as well kiss you life, your peace of mind, your husband, your family, and most significantly, your children goodbye if you avoid reality and allow your body to turn into a cancer time bomb. “Wait! Can’t I just be like those lifelong chain smokers who never get cancer?” I know that option wasn’t in my cards.

Cancer depression and "fuck it" moments

 My sister has had a few of those “fuck it” moments, but hers’ appear more serious than mine. During this process from time to time, I had wanted to hand over all the thinking to someone else; there were too many big decisions to make and too many unknowns. Clearly, I‘m still dealing with those unknowns 18 months after my big surgery, but as my mother often reminds me, I’ve never faced what my sister has. To me, my mom’s message is, no matter what I’ve been through, I don’t have the right to complain. I struggle with her sometimes dismissive message.

Regardless, I never reached the same depths of depression as my sister such as when she was rolling into surgery for the first of numerous times. My parents left the curtained area; my mom was crying and they both feared the worst. My sister told me to wait and pulled me close to her face -- suddenly red and contorted by crying -- to tell me as quietly as she could manage through tears, she didn‘t want to wake up from the anesthesia. She felt her life was useless and no one needed her; not that she wasn‘t loved, rather, she didn’t feel needed.

At the time, she made me promise I wouldn’t tell our parents any of that conversation. She bestowed that burdensome message on me, her younger sister, prior to the several hours of waiting for her to wake up and before we’d hear more bad news from the surgeon.

But before she was knocked out for the surgery, it was up to me to convince her not to give up. Entering an operating room with the will to die is not the healthiest approach to any surgery.

I need you,“ I convinced my pain-in-the-ass sister with whom I’ve always had a rocky relationship. Her tears flowed like streams when she heard my words but she looked up at me with intensity. The terror and loss in her eyes warmed slightly with my reassuring and heartfelt words, but I knew she still might give up the fight. Mom will go off the deep end if she loses another child so you cannot give up, I sternly ordered. You are loved by your family and you can’t give up. You are needed, I stressed and her face relaxed more before they came to wheel her away.

Once she was out of the pre-op room, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I cried for my sister’s pain; I thought about Renee, our older sister who had died and knew I wouldn’t be able to recover from another sister dying and being left alone. I remained in that room, standing in the space where her bed had been only moments before trying to pull myself together and calm myself so I could face our parents in the next room.

We all blame her depression on the cancer eating her insides, depriving her body of energy and devouring her spirit during that time when she had what’s commonly described as, “cancer brain.”

Help me with a click of your mouse

If you've read my blog, you know I have too many medical bills from my various surgeries and not enough money to support them (and any upcoming surgeries). If you go to my YouTube video "My post surgery body" and click on the ad that pops up over the video and in the box on the side, I make a little money every time you click on those ads.

So, please, click away and tell your friends and family to do the same. My cousin didn't actually want to watch the video because it is "sad," but as long as you click on those ads, you'll make a TRAM girl very happy.

Thanks for reading!

Joelle

A question of guilt

Is it ridiculous that I feel guilty? (please read to the end of the story before you answer)

  • No. You had tough choices to make and you proceeded in order to avoid the inevitable.
  • Yes. You didn't join the cancer club, so you shouldn't discuss any of these issues.
  • It's not a matter of guilt. It's a matter of surviving for your children so you don't have to set up a room full of gifts for after you are dead and gone.
See results without voting

A dash of brazen with a cup of guilt

I didn’t go through what she did. I didn’t die like my father’s family did. I found a way to spare myself and those closest to me the anguish that accompanies cancer.

And yet. I feel like a fraud. Every time I must explain to someone why I took such extreme measures when I didn’t even have cancer, I feel this twinge of embarrassment and I just want to hide away from the confused stares. When people, strangers, say I look like I’m in pain, I want to disappear into another life, another body, and again I question my preventative actions.

I reinforce my choices calling on my high odds of getting cancer because of my mutated genes. I try not to think of that tiny chance that breast or ovarian cancers may never had entered my life. If I allow myself to consider those small numbers, I may just go mad considering a full spectrum of “what if” scenarios. I must reign in myself otherwise I’ll disappear in my mind and away from living life. I must not get angry because I was told to do palettes prior to my surgery which screwed up my shoulder (rotator cuff) terminating swimming my usual 80 to 100 laps per day -- I guess losing my favorite exercise was the tradeoff for eliminating these cancers.

I tell myself, fuck that storage unit filled with presents to a child who isn’t going to grow up with a mother who has terminal cancer. It’s a fantastic, sentimental display of love by anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation wherein death is imminent, but I’m not filling up a storage unit any time soon with presents to my children; let’s hope, I now never have to because of the choices I made.

I did what I thought was best so I can be around for my children to hand them presents at birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, the birth of their children, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days. I hope I will be around to witness all of those special days, and if necessary, I’ll be there to show my love and support on the days they find themselves in a hospital making the same decisions I had to. I did what I had to so I can hug them on all their important days or simply because they walk into a room.

Does that make me a fraud for having not been challenged by breast or ovarian cancer? My body may reveal similar scars, but I’m not a member of the cancer club and I hope never to be included. I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty every time someone finds out about my surgeries, says “Oh” with sad eyes and asks, “You had breast cancer?”

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Comments 1 comment

angrby 5 years ago

Glad I found your youtube video when I finally wanted to know EXACTLY how they did my tram flap reconstruction - eeewwwww! I also have the BRCA gene (BRCA2) and had the bilateral mastectomy with tram reconstruction on Jan 19, 2010. Followed by a total abdominal hysterectomy on April 15, Abdominal repair surgery on October 29, and then I was having so much pain they found gallstones and took out my gallbladder on December 30. My poor abdomen! I've struggled with "did I do the right thing" since I didn't have cancer, but it always comes back to giving my children their mother (mine was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26, she died when I was 11 - nine years later) When I was having the surgery to create my nipples the nurse who was preparing me gently took my hand and said, "I am a breast cancer survivor, too." I didn't bother to correct her. Thanks so much for sharing. :o)

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