Just for Co-Survivors: Stuffing Down Every Feeling
By Sarah, Co-Survivor
This is one of the things I excel at. I have been putting off the task of writing this entry for a few weeks now. It isn’t because I don’t want to write it. It’s because I don’t want to dig deep and set loose a bunch of feelings I’ve tried to push down.
My name is Sarah, and I am a Co-survivor. This title isn’t one that I wanted. I didn’t even know it existed until recently. My wife and I lead a very simple and quiet existence. Work, come home, take care of the animals and house chores, find food, wash ourselves, video games. See? Super chill.
Two years ago, in June (right when Covid-19 was kicking off real strong), things got a little more complicated for us. Crystal hd found a lump in her left breast. Our regular doctor found another lump in her left breast a little lower than the one Crystal found.
This in turn called for mammogram and then an ultrasound. The mammogram and ultrasound led to an appointment with a surgeon. The surgeon found a spot on the right breast. This called for another ultrasound. This led to a biopsy on all spots. The biopsies came back with a positive cancer result on the right side. This cancer in particular was HER 2- noninvasive ductal carcinoma stage 1.
Crystal then went for an MRI which found another spot on the right side. Another biopsy. Result: cancer again. This one is different. This is HER 2+ invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2.
After this, decisions are made which led to her port getting put in, 6 rounds of chemo, double mastectomy (no reconstruction), 12 more rounds of chemo, a surgery to have Crystal’s ovaries out, 3 more rounds of chemo, and finally she rang the shit outta that bell baby.
Ok, I know that was a lot, believe me. Let’s go back a bit.
Crystal was at work when her surgeon called. I was at home when I took the call. I said ok, stood there for a minute, felt my heart rate speed up, and tried to process what I just heard. I could not.
When we got off the phone, I stood there still. I had been immobilized by the sheer weight of what I had just heard. I have an unquiet mind in the first place, and it just got worse. My mom walked into my room, and I started to cry. She hugged me, but I felt no peace.
Crystal and I talked later, and I decided the best thing I could do was the thing I knew how to do. Shove it down. Way way down. Like dangerously far down and just move forward.
This is how my unraveling started, right at the beginning. I just didn’t know it yet.
Instead, everything I felt was about her. Get her through it. Keep her going. Myself be damned by my own hand.
Time passed. We did alright for the most part. Crystal was brought up on perseverance. She was an athlete all through her school years. She’s tough when she has to be. When she couldn’t bring herself to it, I stepped up. Get behind me baby, I’ll get you through.
She started to have some side effects from treatment. Her immune system weakened. This led us to mask in the house and ask everyone else to mask in the house when we were out of the bedroom. We mostly stayed in the bedroom.
Like I said before, this happened at the beginning of COVID. We were dealing with two big C’s.
0/10. Do not recommend.
Chemo also came with a smell. People have a smell. I like my wife’s smell. Kiss her on the head and take a hit. Get in the neck real close and breathe her in. Chemo made my wife smell not like my wife. She also started to not look like herself. Her eyebrows fell out. She gained some weight because of the medicines and chemo. It was more like water weight by the look of it. She was puffy almost.
All fine by the way. Don’t come for me. I’m just simply stating that there are changes. What once was your normal has been intruded upon. So here you are, getting used to your new normal. It’s not like it happened overnight either. This happened over time.
I watched. I saw everything. I could do nothing to help.
Double Mastectomy. The big event. I mean the whole thing is a big event, but this surgery by itself was the thing that essentially got rid of the cancer. Sitting and waiting. That’s your job. Sit, wait, words of affirmation. Do not deviate from the plan. Crystal went back to surgery, and I sat and waited. This was hell for me. My mind runs afoul. Intrusive thoughts that lead to anxiety which leads to more shoving down.
Surgery went great. No more cancer. Also, no more breasts.
This was a decision that Crystal made and that I supported wholeheartedly. Sure, it was going to be weird. She used to have breasts, now she didn’t. Crystal didn’t want to go through any more surgeries in order to preserve aesthetics. You go girl. Also, she gets to take her shirt off in the summer now outside and we live in Georgia. Big winner.
It wasn’t all high fives after surgery. With mastectomies comes drains. Wow, did I almost pass out at first. Those were the hardest parts for me to deal with. It was a banner day when those things came out. I also almost passed out when they came out. Also, when they did her biopsies. I never did, but I got close. Just look at your shoes and breathe my friends.
After the double mastectomy came more chemo. These rounds were not as hard on her as the first ones. She’s so badass.
Then, there was a change. The hormone blockers she was on were starting to really make some changes in her personality. Crystal has always been sensitive, but she was coming apart. Emotionally she was on a razor’s edge. She was crying at seemingly nothing. This caused me to rally and do some more shoving down and try and pull her forward. Crystal talked with her doctors about the feelings she was having and was given a choice. Either have her ovaries taken out, or go on anti-depression medication.
She chose to have her ovaries out and not mess with her brain chemistry. I once again completely backed her decision. Her cancer was hormone driven. Hence the hormone blockers. There we were at another surgery. More waiting and thinking and shoving down feelings and thoughts. Once again, surgery goes great. Crystal’s mood drastically improves.
The last of the chemo rounds are completed after this. The hospital she was getting her treatments at has a bell that patients ring after having been declared cancer free. After her last treatment, she walks out with a golden paper crown on, has a bell that her grandmother had in one hand, grabs the cord to the hospital bell in the other, and makes the most joyous sound.
My wife Crystal had just sounded to a small group of family and anyone who could hear her that she no longer had cancer. She is free.
They tell you that while you are going through treatment that you should move around as much as you can. It’s important for circulation. We live in a place that is very wooded with trails that we walk on just behind the house. We would walk it as often as she felt she could. Just the two of us.
Watching her struggle sometimes to put one foot in front of the other damn near tore me apart, but I ask you dear reader, what did I do? You know by now. Shove it down.
While the cancer saga was happening, we were both still working. I was working nights by myself because I didn’t want to be around anyone for fear of COVID and bringing it home to Crystal. I began to feel shaky. I felt like this especially when Crystal was having bad days. I hated not being near her.
I started to have dark thoughts. What if something happens and I’m not there? What if we only have a little time left and I’m here doing this seemingly unimportant task? I began to not be ok. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Anger. Frustration. Fear. My goodness the fear was palpable. I would call her sobbing from work and she, the person going through cancer treatments, would have to tell me it was going to be ok and that I needed to stay and work. So many nights this happened.
These feelings kept happening, and I tried my best to shove and push them away because, in my eyes, nothing was happening to me.
Well, here’s what was actually happening to me. I wasn’t talking to anyone except Crystal, and I wasn’t even really communicating. I was just reaching my limit, getting talked down for the time being and then going on. Since Crystal’s diagnoses, it has been made clear that I will also now go for yearly mammograms. I had one in April. I got in my head about it and in the midst of waiting for my results (phone call if they find something, letter if you’re clear), It happened. I totally lost it. I mean sobbing, noises and all, snot running, body heaving and shaking, the lot of it.
From the very moment Crystal and I talked about her diagnoses at the beginning, I had decided that I had to be the strong one. It didn’t make sense to me to talk about my feelings while I watched my wife struggle for her life. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.
But I wasn’t fine. I was going through a huge change with someone I love. The change wasn’t happening directly to me, but this cancer shit was changing me too.
I now understand that it’s ok, and absolutely necessary, to speak your feelings to your partner or whomever you are going through this with. Get it out before it gets out.
I had some super negative thoughts at the beginning and all through this whole experience. Some were rather dark. Turns out that went for the both of us but at separate times. Negative thoughts are a knee jerk reaction for me when I receive bad news. The trick is not to live in them. Communication is paramount.
Crystal and I are so much closer now having gone through this together and having talked about it. She borrowed some strength from me, and I from her. That’s how we got through then and continue still to do so beside each other. We still walk in the woods on the trails behind the house pretty regularly. It’s different now. It’s not as sad. I do sometimes have a very vivid memory of post chemo walks while we’re up there. I find myself having to shake it out of my head and remember, we’re not there anymore.