First guest post – from Tara

I don’t have a nice neat story line to type up, just the typically scattered thoughts of someone who has been sober from alcohol for less than a year. My ability to journal, or to write slightly more formally such as this, has faded from lack of use in the last ten years. Wanting to write about this hasn’t magically made it any easier, but the difficulty seems entirely self-perpetuated. Well, there’s also the fog of chemicals but more about that later.

The basics of my story are simple enough to articulate, at least in a very general way. I am a thirty-five year old alcoholic who has struggled with mental illness for years. In 2008, I suffered a traumatic burst fracture of the T12 vertebra, which resulted in a fusion of the T10-L2 vertebrae. In July of 2012, I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma, and I am BRCA and BRCA-2 negative as well. (I like to call it quadruple negative, but it’s not catching on yet.) There are positives to be found in this diagnosis, such as not having to take any targeted hormone therapy and no increased risk of ovarian cancer. Also, negatives- there are only a few chemotherapy drugs known to work on this kind of cancer, in addition to the tools of surgery and radiation. Having the genetic testing come back negative meant that an overwhelming majority of the research on TNBC is useless in my case. My oncologist actually told me there are no other patients with this combination in the area, so I shouldn’t hope to be easily understood in any kind of support group. How fun to be unusual, right?

At the time of diagnosis, the tumor and necrosis in my right breast was almost ten centimeters, which meant I wasn’t an immediate candidate for surgery, nor were we able to determine if it had spread to the lymph nodes. Luckily, I had a very positive reaction to my first regimen of eight AC-T chemotherapy treatments and was able to have a bilateral skin sparing radical mastectomy in December of 2012. At that time, sixteen nodes were removed on my right side and one was positive for cancer cells. My subsequent diagnostic scan showed no mass, which meant it was entirely up to me if I wanted more chemo. What a tough choice! I did decide to proceed, and just completed four doses of Carboplatin with Gemzar. Everyone on my medical team, and especially my oncologist, has been very clear that this is a WHEN situation, not an IF.

That all said, I would like to talk about a few of the feelings and thoughts that are consuming me at this juncture. My needs, emotional and physical, feel overwhelming and huge. The gulf between what my mind is screaming out for and what I express is immeasurable, as is the gulf between what I ask for and what I receive. Easier in its own way is the habit of shutting down and responding only to the least threatening of companions- my partner and my pets. Socializing almost entirely online, I feel support but also a painful awareness of the distance between myself and others. The people in my life that want to provide the most support happen to be the least able, for a variety of reasons. It’s difficult to avoid developing resentments, and I still haven’t figured out a healthy way to do so.

There is much difficulty in finding perspective, in understanding each new emotion or permutation of thoughts. Not only overwhelmed at times by the prospect of each next tiresome step in this cancer process, I am also despondent when considering the life of sobriety that yawns before me, shapeless as of yet. I’d perfected the art of self-loathing and self-abuse, to change now and to become MORE than the sum of my problems is daunting at best.

And then one begins to approach the long term issues, terrified and convinced of my obvious imminent failure. Is school just a way to expensively delay the inevitable, as seems to be the case with so many of my peers? Does my brain even work that way anymore, or is it too damaged by years of abuse and illness? If I fall into a heap on the floor when faced with the prospect of paperwork, who am I to talk about going to school? If not school, what else- an inexplicably long life of customer service slavery, always wishing for each day just to be over?

I’ve lived that way for almost my entire adult life, watching the clock and waiting. Tomorrow will suck less, or maybe next week. If I just push through this next ten minutes, or ten hours, then maybe I won’t be in pain and exhausted by just the machinations of life. That has certainly stood me in good stead as I deal with cancer, and so I joke that being an alcoholic has made this easier and vice versa. Cancer certainly woke me up, and allowed me to understand that there’s more fight in me than I had come to accept.

No longer drinking is a huge step, and one that can be almost impossible for the active alcoholic to achieve. In a strange way, I think that all the drugs they threw down my gullet caused enough of a fog that it softened the worst of the emotional effects. Or perhaps that all lurks, waiting for me to be able to process? Either way, this is the most intense burst of emotional growth I have experienced thus far in my life. Remembering each day to be grateful, even when I am in crippling pain, is extremely difficult to do but will hopefully become easier with more time and work.

Ugh. More work.

-Tara