Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

The Breast Cancer Club

continued...

With cancer culture at large focusing on the medical and the cosmetic, the psychological traumas get sublimated, so the person with cancer feels even more isolated and alone. Early in her treatment, Robin went to a support group.

"How'd it go?" I asked.

"Fine," she said, explaining that the women went around — circuit-party style — receiving free massages and yoga instruction. They also got a goodie bag full of beauty products.

"Except my new friend said that one of the worst things about having short hair after chemo is that lesbians hit on you." She paused. "I didn't tell them about you."

At only two months post-diagnosis and still emotionally vulnerable from the mastectomy and a second surgery on her lymph nodes, Robin wanted the other women to like her. They were her living proof that she would make it through. This is probably the most vital aspect of support groups: They remind you that you are more than your disease; you're still who you were before your diagnosis. The trouble is, you are and you're not. This is the schizoid trick that cancer plays. Because the club tends to focus on women regaining their precancer appearance (same breasts, same hair), the implication is that they should regain the same emotional lives as well.

Except cancer changes everything. It's a tsunami that blows the lids off any internal, emotional boxes (and if a woman was living with those boxes packed safely away, cancer will wash them to the fore). She'll be facing more than cancer: She'll be facing every unsaid sentiment, every buried resentment, every tucked-away wound, now raw and ready for reckoning.

For Robin and me, our 14 years had merged us to the point of feeling like we shared one central nervous system. This is safety and this is suffocation, and cancer, sadly, magnified the latter. Yet how do you "fight it out" when one of you is sick? There's a profound imbalance in every interaction — "but I'm sick" being murmured at the edges of every conversation, debate, attempt at reconciliation, short-circuiting them all. So you stuff, you suffer. The club doesn't know what to do about this, nor did we. Ultimately, our relationship didn't make it.

We've got to talk about more than cancer with cancer. As long as it is held up primarily as a medical and cosmetic condition to overcome — and the psychological scars are discussed only in terms of the physical — survivors and their loved ones will suffer.

I hope in the future we can make room for the real complexity of cancer — and for the bald women, the angry women, the flat-chested women, the anti-sisterhood women, as well as the women who need to mourn their breasts. I hope the club (and really, we're all in the club) opens up to the women whose sexuality was forever changed or lost — who can, and want to, live with that. Most of all, I hope it will welcome any woman who doesn't want her journey, her reality, to be "my secret" any longer.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW