Guest Post from “Hazel Flatchest”

Here is a guest post from a woman who reached out to me.  Obviously her name is not Hazel Flatchest, but she wanted to remain anonymous. 

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Breast cancer, you say?  Well, it is October…. That month when you walk into the grocery store and it looks like someone vomited Pepto Bismol all over the aisles.  So of course we want to talk all about breast cancer and awareness (gag!) and mammograms this month. Screw that.  Cancer is soooooo 2010.  Let’s talk about NOW.

The mastectomy scars have healed.  The port was removed.  The hair has grown back.  Everything should be back to normal, right? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.  I don’t even know what “normal” is anymore.

But for the sake of argument, here’s my new “normal”:  I haven’t held down a full-time job for more than 3 months in over 4 years.  I cry several times a day.  Not out of sadness or depression (although I’ve experienced my fair share of both of those in the past four years…), but mostly out of sheer frustration.  I often feel as if I have lost my mind.  It is shrouded in a haze of chemo fog that has affected my ability to solve even the simplest of math problems or puzzles.  I can no longer multi-task without feeling stress and fear rise up from the pit of my stomach.  I am, quite simply, a hot mess.  And the worst part?  Having to accept that this is now my new “normal”.

A recent article on NBC News regales that “Women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer may end up unemployed for a very long time.”  I am living proof that this sentence is true.  And discussions with friends who also went through chemotherapy for this asshole disease only seem to uphold this statement.  Even friends who were employed throughout treatment and still hold those same jobs whisper of negative performance reviews and fears of losing their jobs.  So what the hell?  Seriously.  WHAT. THE. HELL?

Here are some observations of my own situation since I did 16 rounds of conventional chemotherapy and 2 years of Herceptin for my stage 2, asshole Her2 positive breast cancer:

1)    I get frustrated (and cry) easily.  It really doesn’t take much.  Just hand me a pile of things to do.  I used to be a consummate multi-tasker.  Now I just look at the pile and can’t figure out how to prioritize it into a reasonable workflow. So what do I do?  Well, sometimes I just cry.

2)    I am crippled by difficult problem-solving.  I recently took an aptitude test that included a “spatial reasoning” section – lots of puzzles and shapes where you figure out what comes next in a series of shapes and symbols.  After much consternation and nail-biting, I had to call a spade a spade and realize I was freaking myself out instead of arriving at the answers.  I actually could not finish that portion of the test.  I was just too stressed out to do it.

3)    I am extremely forgetful.  I have learned to write things down if they are important and need to be remembered.  This has been particularly hard for me to accept because B.C. (before cancer), I had a mind like a steel trap.  Now my mind seems to be riddled with giant holes that allow information to escape at record speed.

4)    I am socially inept.  This is an area of life that represents a true paradigm shift in my behavior.  Before cancer, I was a social butterfly and easily made friends.  Now I am unsure of myself and hesitant to start conversations with new people for fear I will appear stupid or desperate.

And that is just a short list of things I can come up with off the top of my chemo-addled head.  I am Jack’s chemically altered brain.  I am constantly frustrated, ashamed and humiliated by these changes in myself.  And horrified that they are getting in the way of me getting a job and putting back together some semblance of “normalcy” in my life.  Is this cancer’s dirty little secret?  Does anyone else feel the way I do?  Bueller?  Bueller?

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Second Half Marathon

Today I completed my second half marathon, and I’m very happy to report that I beat my previous time by a lot.   My goal was to achieve a time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.  I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 13 minutes.  Hot dog!   I guess not running with extreme IT band and foot pain really makes a difference.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100 percent injury free going into this race.  For the past two months, I have been working hard on renovations in my house with an emphasis on scraping glue and wallpaper off walls and ceilings.  Hours upon hours of moving my arm up and down or above my head, all sorts of repetitive motions.  Right now, I am nursing some pain and numbness in my right shoulder, and sometimes during a run, my shoulder will pop.  Dr. Google suggests that I might have some tendonitis in my right shoulder, but I will be seeing an actual doctor to try and figure out what exactly is going on.

I arrived at the race early, and I really didn’t need to, unfortunately.  Because I got there so early (well, on time), I ended up waiting around two hours before the race began.  It was cold and misting, and I shivered quite a bit.  I seriously need to remember to do the trash bag before races in the fall and winter.  This isn’t the first time I have came to a race under dressed.  One of these days, I will learn my lesson.  One day.

Around mile 5, my shoulder felt tight and popped – just once, thank goodness.  The bigger issue that came up was the giant blister on my left foot.  I blocked out the pain by totally people watching the other runners.  “What the hell is she wearing?”  “The runners who carry the American flag are bad ass.”  “That woman has a shirt saying ‘Run like a grandma.’  I can’t let her pass me…. crap, too late.  Go grandma.”

Before my half marathon, I contacted Metavivor to see if I can fundraise on the organization’s behalf.   They said yes, and I was able to raise around $700 for Metavivor!   I wish I could have raised more, but this won’t be the last time I’ll raise additional funds for them.   I want to raise more for them than I ever did for the evil Susan G. Komen Foundation.  I’ll right my wrong!

As of right now, I’m sore, hurt but feeling very proud.  I achieved a goal, and an amazing organization received money that will go to metastatic breast cancer research.  I feel actually more pride in that fact than hitting a PR.  I didn’t just write a blog saying: “Pinkwashing is bad, and money should go research.”  I’ve written many blogs saying just that, but this time I helped to raise money for just that.  All the people who donated to Metavivor hopefully learned more about the organization and might feel inclined to donate to them again without any provocation from me.

I run to help reduce my risk of a recurrence.  I run to quiet my demons that like to tag-a-long with me.  I run to keep myself in the best shape I can.  I run to get those endorphins released into my body.  I run to be something I never was before the age of 32: an athlete.  I run to hang out with all the awesome and wonderful friends I have made.

I run because I’m not out to prove anything to anybody but myself, and it’s freaking fantastic.