Pahlawan : The Emotional Side Of Breast Cancer by Melati Razak
Breast cancer creeps on you, ever so silently. I was shocked to learn of my diagnosis – it was from my concern of a pimple that didn’t go away from my chest for a few months. The specialist’s ultrasound scan that same day, she said it was just an oil gland and nothing to be concerned about. Though, she found 2 other concerning growths in my left breast along the way, which had nothing to do with the pimple. It was sampled and tested, and it turned out to be cancer.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1A Breast Cancer : a 1.8cm Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and a 0.8cm Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS) at 32 years old in June 2015.
That was actually my second attempt of an opinion.
The first time around I completely freaked out. I went with my dad. Mind you, this was five years after my mother died from metastasized breast cancer. I was thinking about her, seeing my dad puffy eyed trying to conceal his tears, in addition to me freaking out being at a cancer clinic, just could not make me continue with the tests that day. I just said to my dad I couldn’t do it anymore, and we ended up having nasi lemak at the hospital cafeteria. That was November 2014.
How could I not think this was leading up to something serious? My mother died of breast cancer. So did her sister. And so did my cousin. I think I had every right to freak out !
When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t prepared for the dark emotional road I was about to face. Some of my family members had stepped forward to warn me about this, but I thought to myself, “How hard could it be? Get it removed, recover, and move on!”.
I underestimated its impact on me. It was when my dad, my brother and my sister-in-law, as well as my sister who flew down from Australia, went back to their regular routines. That was when I found myself flooded with scary thoughts. The main one was death. I had never felt so lonely in my life.
To make it easy to understand how it felt like, it was as though I was already six feet under. The concept of “you were born alone, and you will die alone” played over and over in my mind, and that made me feel extremely lonely.
Breast Cancer And Relationships
Leading up to my diagnosis, I was going through relationship issues of which I knew were going nowhere but still hung on to. It seemed that I had hung on to deeper personal issues. When I was 19, I faced the loss of a guy who really loved me and at the time we had already been together for three years. He died in a car crash on the way to seeing me in late 2002, a day before Hari Raya that year. Since his death, my perspective in life changed completely.
At such a young age, I already understood what it was like to lose someone you loved. I kept this in mind in every relationship I had in the following years. Though I never understood why they didn’t see things the same way as I did. At the time, I made sure that they knew I always was there for them.
Little did I know, always seeming available for someone who didn’t deserve your time depleted the sense of self. It depleted mine.
The last relationship I was in completely broke me. Coincidentally, it was when I was diagnosed too. He wasn’t there for me during one of the hardest times of my life – so I ended it.
I did not see any reason to give the respect to call him about it. In the end, these challenges were the biggest blessings I could ever have. They were my lessons, and I would swear to never repeat some of those mistakes again.
Cancer made me wake up and smell the roses. Yes, that’s right, it was my blessing. It made me wake up, it made me braver, and it made me stronger than ever. Gradually, I came to terms with what I had and accepted what just happened to me.
It made me let go of those deeper personal issues because there was no real point in hanging on to relationships that made you feel uncertain and unsure. It also made me realize that you can never honor yourself if you don’t learn to say no.
Meeting My Other Half
On things I had always wanted to do, I finally signed up for surf lessons in Cherating. This was just 5 months into recovery of my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery – so I had to take it easy on the paddling. Funnily enough, Cherating was where I met the love of my life, who is now my husband !
It was love at first sight/love at first conversation/whirlwind love, whatever you want to call it!
I am married to an amazing man. He showers me with love and respect, and so do I to him. He gets me, and I get him. Within 6 months of knowing each other we were engaged, and after a year – we were married. There were many who were skeptical about us, but our love and our consistency showed them all we were genuine. Though, we didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. We also had been shown whom our real friends were through all of this.
On Life, Love and Friendship after Breast Cancer
I don’t usually put up my cancer story in a public domain. I also do not associate myself with various associations. As you see, it is interconnected with my personal issues and I didn’t want to feel like I was defined by any of them. But in the end, it is how you curate your story. This is why I agreed to contributing my story to Hiba’s blog. I would only do it for her because I trust her completely with holding up my story. Perhaps it could also be because I am ready. It has been two years now since my mastectomy.
Cancer can be an emotional ride. A symptom that something needs to be changed in your life. To be honest, the mastectomy and recovery was the easy part. It was the emotional side which was the hardest. It can become a wild ride. Cancer can be seen as a way to change things in your own personal way. It can be managed, only if you want it to. Work on that gradually. Stress is one of the known factors of cancer. Surround yourself with positive people, who value you as much as you value them, and to never allow people who intentionally or unintentionally want to bring you down. You don’t need to have had cancer to work on this. Work on this now!
For cancer patients, its either the nasty comments of your weight gain from Tamoxifen or chemo, or comments on mastectomies an opportunity for a boob job, or in general people just not happy for you.
Let go of these people or see them less frequently.
It is not worth your time, believe me. I have gained so many new friends from this journey, including Hiba, whom I met through our surgeon (we had the same surgeon), and another cancer patient whom was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Nelleisa Omar. I am so happy that we have connected because we all just get it !
Aside from surrounding yourself with positive people, let go of painful issues from the past and create new memories that you know will not betray yourself.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and let love be your compass. You should never, at any moment, allow anyone to make you feel small.
Keep in mind that they are the ones who are insecure with themselves. And on love, it’s so simple. It’s not that complicated really.
Trust your gut instinct, it is almost always right. And finally, learn to completely love yourself first.
It is never selfish to love yourself first as it is your body, your life, and your soul you need to take care of first before anyone else’s. It is gives a compounding impact to the people around you.