Feeling betrayed by the body is something that most cancer patients have experienced at one point or another in their journey. For it grows so silently until something makes us aware of it’s presence. My initial suspicion stemmed from dreaming that I had breast cancer, and then I found the lump. While I often wondered if I would get cancer because of my family history, it was still a shocking discovery to find. In between the time that I had the dream and went to the doctor, it grew to a noticeable lump when I would look at myself in the mirror.
In retrospect, once I had the official diagnosis I began to recognize that for about 6 months prior I had not been feeling quite myself- my generally unflappable energy had been waning and there had been a quality of unease inside my skin that had been persistent, even though it had not been shouting until the dream.
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is an aggressive, fast growing version of breast cancer. My amazing breast surgeon showed me a spot on the mammogram prior to diagnosis, which had been taken less than a year earlier, that ultimately was the cancer in its infancy. She said she could appreciate why it had not raised suspicion, in particular because my cancer grew in an atypical way, yet it was now clear that it was in fact cancer. This was the first betrayal, feeling the power of a stealthy assailant inside of your body, and wondering if you would be fortunate enough to destroy it.
The second betrayal that I experienced was when I heard the pathology results from the double mastectomy, which happened after undertaking 5 months of intense chemotherapy. While my tumor and my body were being battered by the effective and destructive chemotherapy, they found breast cancer cells in the other breast. I was shocked and pissed off, internally yelling WTH!?! It’s scary to think that even though I have worked hard to cultivate this understanding of my body, I am not omnipotent. While I have deep appreciation that ultimately a double mastectomy was the appropriate course of treatment to address this very early stage cancer, it was deeply jarring at the same time.
Moving forward from the treatment phase, we are faced with deep vulnerability about our future, because while you are going through treatment you have limited capacity to fully examine what is happening and actively treating an issue is daunting yet empowering. It is so important to say present to our body’s communication yet reach down deep into the earth to stay grounded when the fear of re-occurrence causes us to quake in our boots. Processing the feelings of betrayal that we experienced as a result of being diagnosed with a life threatening disease, is at the heart of building our resiliency for weathering any storm that comes our way.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions in person or via Skype, as well as workshops and this weekly blog. Please visit our website to learn more: www.creative-transformations.com.