The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Welcome to the Worst Club Ever

by Seana ShallowPatient/Survivor, Triple Negative Breast Cancer BRCA1 PositiveMarch 28, 2024View more posts from Seana Shallow

Long before the cancer tried to kill me, being blunt and upfront has always kind of been my thing. Having been raised by Irish parents who always taught me to be honest and to stick up for myself, this really comes as no surprise. So that’s how my attempted advice to welcome you into the Wort Club Ever may come across in the next few minutes, but I promise it’s all from experience and said with tons of love.

My thick, hard exterior was broken into a million pieces the day before my 27th birthday. It was around noon on a Tuesday in June when I learned on a phone call that I had an aggressive tumor in my breast that needed immediate treatment. While no two people have the exact same experience, I think it’s safe to say that each one of us in this club will express that you are forever changed after hearing your cancer diagnosis. There aren’t enough words to describe just how you may feel at that moment. For this part and most parts thereafter, there is no right or wrong way to react. Let yourself feel it, all of it. No matter how impossible it may seem that you won’t be able to get up off the floor, you will.

While each of us is different, there are similarities that most if not all of us in this club have. To start, nobody is going to understand exactly how it is or feels to go through the beast that is cancer unless you have been through it yourself. This is both comforting and scary but what also makes up the Worst Club Ever with the best members. You’re going to cry, a lot. So much so that you didn’t think it was humanly possible that a human being could have that many tears. Do it anyway. Cry in the shower, cry in bed, on the couch, on a shoulder, let it out. I promise you, you’ll be able to stop eventually. Finding the good will feel almost impossible on some days. Try anyways. Make a mental note or list of something good each day, whether it be as simple as the sun shining or about how good it felt to eat a delicious piece of cake. Yeah, eat the damn cake. If your body allows, go on a walk, pet a dog, get a nice cup of tea, and cuddle up into a fuzzy blanket. Take a bath, buy a coloring book, or ten. The list will grow longer, and on days where there seems to only be darkness, like it’s all too much, looking at that list may bring a smile to your face; it may even give you a few seconds or minutes of relief. Hold onto those moments.

People you love will let you down. This one is a hard pill to swallow, and I hope you reading this will be one of those who doesn’t have to go through this part. But, in the case that you do, my best advice is to let those people leave. Having cancer will weed out the ones who were never really there for you to begin with, and while this can be painful to experience when it’s happening, as time goes on, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it ended up being a blessing in disguise. The ones who love you unconditionally, who see you at your most vulnerable, most sick, and still lift you up and make you feel loved, in times when you can’t even be there for yourself let alone them—those are the ones you want in your corner. There is literally no space for negativity on this ride, especially when you’re fighting for your life. Let them go and focus on love.

In hindsight, more people will stay. The love you’ll feel from those who truly care, truly matter, will pick your spirit up and make you laugh on days that feel like everything is falling apart. They will say metaphors, phrases, and sayings that are meant to be comforting, that you may completely resonate with and others you don’t at all. These are usually said with good intentions, but don’t be afraid to be honest with those you love and tell them exactly how you feel. That goes for your medical team too. Write down all the questions you have, try and bring someone to appointments with you, get a second opinion, and third. Listen to your body because you know it best, advocate for yourself and your health. Communication is historically not the easiest thing to do, but it is still important to try, crucial even.

When I couldn’t physically get the words out, one thing I did that helped not only my well-being, but I’m sure those around me, was write. During my treatments at the hospital, where nurses would attach tubes to my port-a-cath in my chest, put warm blankets around my legs as I watched the IV dripping with clear fluids, my tears welling up as tubes filled with red poison disappeared into my body—I wrote. Everything I saw, felt, feared, witnessed is written in various journals. Lugging my huge purse filled with journals around the cancer center became my norm. I tracked which medications I was on, highlighting which side effects I was experiencing, which may as well have been them all. Nausea, constipation, decreased appetite, numbness and tingling to arms and legs, itchy skin, weight gain, anxiety, extreme exhaustion, shortness of breath, depression, pain. I detailed the intense panic attacks that I experienced and those in the waiting room witnessed weekly, along with each nurse’s name that basically held my hand through each fainting spell and transfusion. I wrote of the shame and guilt I felt for putting my partner through all of this, even while he loved me through it, through each impossible day, each unreasonable argument I started, showing up and picking me up, sometimes literally. I would write and write and write, until the neuropathy acted up in my right hand so badly I could barely feel it. Even then, I tried to write. I can’t even fully explain or pinpoint one particular reason why this helped. Maybe because it wasn’t just in my head anymore, it was on paper, tangible. Maybe it helped pass the time. On some days, it was the only thing I looked forward to doing, maybe you will too.

So, welcome to the club. I’m so sorry you have to be here, but I’m happy that you are here. You are not alone, trust me.

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