Beverly McKee MSW, LCSW

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A7As I emerge from a year of treatment from Stage III breast cancer, I have twelve new scars. They vary in size, but every scar tells a story of survival. I’m humbled by how much my body has endured this past year in the name of beating a disease that does not discriminate.

As my physical scars continue to heal, it’s important to acknowledge the hidden scars of breast cancer. The scars that you cannot see often take longer to heal and have the biggest impact in our lives. My fellow breast cancer survivors will relate to these hidden scars:

 1.  Loss of innocence: The worst hidden scar of breast cancer is the loss of innocence....about everything. An unexpected breast cancer diagnosis put my life on a course that I never expected. One day I was finishing a 5K, healthy and happy. A few months later I was staring death in the eye, in the midst of a year of treatment.  Every time my boys hug me, it sparks a determination to be here to hug them every day of their childhood and watch them grow up and some day hug their children. My innocence was stolen the day I was diagnosed and my life will never be the same.  I know that I'm not the only survivor that feels this way.

2.  The big bad wolf of recurrence: The fear of recurrence is an ever present being in a cancer survivor's life. I describe this fear as the big bad wolf. If I have a new ache or pain, I can feel him breathing down my neck, causing sheer terror and overwhelming anxiety. Most of the time, he is lurking far away in the woods...I know he is there but I don’t worry about him. I know that he will never leave, but I look forward to the day when he moves to a distant forest, leaving only the occasional footprint as a reminder of his presence.  My friends who are long term survivors assure me that it does get better with time.  

3.  Research based paralysis: Knowledge is power, but too much knowledge can be paralyzing. I miss the days of sharing a bottle of wine with friends without hearing the statistics in my head, “Consuming more than one glass of wine per day is associated with breast cancer recurrence.”

Women throughout the world have changed my diet to avoid feeding their hormone dependent cancer.  Trying to wade through the conflicting research is challenging because in all honesty, the researchers don’t really know what causes breast cancers to recur.

4.  Chemo brain: There’s an old saying, “Of all of the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” It’s meant to be a joke, but anyone who has been through chemo knows that mental clarity should never be taken for granted. Our brains become Swiss cheese, full of holes, causing us to randomly lose words and our train of thought.

5.  Early menopause: Hot flashes, moodiness and insomnia...OH MY! The hormonal impact of chemo, a hysterectomy and estrogen-suppressing medication create a multitude of hidden scars.  It can be challenging not only for us as survivors, but also our loved ones.

6.  Financial repercussions: Breast cancer treatment is expensive. Even with great insurance, there are deductibles, co-pays, medications and procedures that aren’t covered. Specialty items such wigs, mouthwash to prevent mouth sores during chemo and creams for radiation...the list goes on. Lost work, sick days and decreased productivity due to sleepless nights directly impacts paychecks. I made the mistake of calculating the cost of my year of treatment. Sometimes that number bounces around in my Swiss cheese brain and I wonder how any of us survive financially.

My blogs are usually positive so I won’t end this saga without searching for the rainbows through the storm of breast cancer. The losswomen hope light ribbon.PURCHASED of innocence can create a new appreciation for little things in life, like every hug from our children or the vivid beauty of the changing leaves.

The big bad wolf of recurrence and research paralysis often puts us on a course to live a healthier life. Personally, I feel better physically because of it.

Chemo brain is annoying but we can learn to work around it with notes and reminders. We have a built in excuse when we forget things and everyone is forgiving. As far as menopause, it happens to every woman at some point in life, so maybe we're not so special after all. Last but not least, the financial impact is burdensome but if you're reading this, you've come through breast cancer alive...who wouldn’t write a blank check to save their life?

The scars of breast cancer, both hidden and obvious vary from one person to another. We can sit behind closed doors viewing them as tragic or we can wear them proudly as a badge of survival.  The choice is ours to make!

Join us on Facebook to share your thoughts about the hidden scars of breast cancer!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW

© Copyright 2012-2013 Beverly McKee. All Rights Reserved

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