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My Journey From Chaos To Calm

by Sandy AzzamSurvivor, Invasive Ductal CarcinomaMay 12, 2023View more posts from Sandy Azzam

My Journey From Chaos To Calm

Kintsukoroi – a Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold. They believe the repaired item is even more beautiful than the original, because of its imperfections. My cancer diagnosis shattered me into pieces, and I am only just sticking them back together, with gold.

Let me start from the very beginning—when I was just 16 years old I felt a lump in my breast. It was a fibroadenoma and I had a lumpectomy. Every year since then, I would get a breast ultrasound. There were lots of different opinions from doctors, some encouraging me to keep testing yearly and others suggesting it was not necessary. I had many biopsies throughout the years, but they were always benign. Thankfully, 20 years later, those yearly screenings helped save my life.

I had delayed my scans a few months due to COVID—I hate to think what would have happened if I delayed them a little bit more. I had my ultrasound done and was called in to do a core biopsy. I had done many of those over the years, so I was not particularly worried. I will never forget the moment I received the phone call. Ironically, I cannot remember the words the doctor said. I had to pass the phone to my husband as I broke down into tears. I had heard about many people getting diagnosed with cancer, I just never thought I would be one of them.

When we hear the word cancer, we think of death immediately. My kids were petrified when they heard the “C word.” They asked me if I was going to die. The look on my parents’ faces when I told them I had cancer was heartbreaking. My father always hoped there was a mistake in the diagnosis. I saw pure love in my husband’s face. I could also see the hurt and fear he tried to hide from me.

I felt like I was on a plane and bad turbulence hit. I normally just close my eyes and pray and then the turbulence stops, except this time it wouldn’t stop. We scheduled countless appointments. I remember the first appointment with my surgeon. He was very thorough. He explained a lot to us, but I just couldn’t process any of it. My husband was always with me; he was on top of it all. I was unable to function properly. I felt like I lost control of my life. Nothing was in my hands anymore. I was a mental wreck. Every prick of a needle would traumatize me. I was so emotionally tired that everything hurt much more than it really should. My pain threshold was zero. I had to take anti-anxiety medication before scans because I would shake uncontrollably.

We had to relocate closer to my parents to make sure our children would be looked after while we fought this unexpected battle. It felt like cancer was in charge. It had already changed so much of our lives and we were still at the very beginning of the road. There were lots of silent tears. I worried that my children would forget me if I left the world when they were still so little. I just kept reminding them how much I love them. I needed to make sure they really knew I loved them, just in case.

The day of my surgery was here. The day I would sacrifice my femininity to survive. As I was being wheeled into the operating theater, it all hit me—this was really happening. It was not just a bad dream; it was actually my reality. I was getting a mastectomy. It was the hardest, most excruciating experience ever. The path to recovery after the surgery was hard, both mentally and physically. I actually could not look at myself in the mirror for a while. I could not imagine ever accepting the person staring back at me. The drains were my absolute enemy. I hated them. My husband would clean my scars and empty my drains daily, and remind me how beautiful I looked. He never made me feel like I was any different. I was so swollen and bruised. I did not realize I would not be able to hug my kids for weeks after my mastectomy. I could not cuddle them. It destroyed me. I think at that point I hit rock bottom. They started hugging me around my legs instead of my chest. They made sure they found a way to hug me and make me feel better.

Then I had to start hormone therapy. It took me many days to get myself to start taking the pills, because I was worried about all the side effects—one of which is cancer itself. I would be taking them for ten years. TEN years. My children wouldn’t be so little anymore by then. I was also going to be induced into menopause. It was hard to grasp the concept that on top of the mastectomy, I would be menopausal too.

I can now finally give my kids hugs but they are not the same. I don’t actually know if they ever will be. There is a numbness and tightness in my chest, it just doesn’t feel like it is a part of my body. It’s a feeling, or should I say a lack of feeling, that is hard to describe. When I was first diagnosed, I thought every time I cried or felt like giving up, I was not being strong. I have actually realized that my vulnerability is not weakness, it is actually my strength. Strength does not mean you don’t get hurt, strength means you feel the hurt but you don’t allow it to drown you. I may look the same to many on the outside, but cancer did break me. I am slowly but surely putting my pieces back together, with gold. The gold has been my children’s kisses, my husband’s hugs, my parent’s love, my sisters’ support, and my friends’ prayers.

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