Returning from the Edge of a Breakdown
I have always believed that a mental breakdown only happened to those who are weak. A loss of sanity wasn’t possible for “normal” people like me. I have learned on this journey that anything is possible, regardless of one’s beliefs. I have also learned that no one could ever understand how a person feels after a cancer diagnosis unless they have gone through the cancer journey themselves.

My sentinel lymph node biopsy was scheduled for Thursday, February 9, 2012. This would determine if the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes under my right armpit. The weekend before this surgery was long. The previous Friday I had my breast MRI. By Monday I was a wreck. I could feel darkness surrounding me, choking me, sinking me into quicksand. In my mind I knew the darkness was coming from my fear of the unknown. But it was still getting so dark. I couldn’t see. I was blindly reaching for a way out, but I couldn’t find one. I had so many “what if’s” running through my mind. The unknown was beating me up.

I was teetering on the edge of sanity. I felt my life slipping away and any power I had over it. So many questions unanswered. What would the breast MRI show? Is there cancer in my left breast too? What if the cancer spread to my lymph nodes? If it spread to my lymph nodes, where else could it be in my body? Could my body endure what was to come? Am I strong enough? I felt helpless, angry, and out of control. There were so many tears that day. I eventually called Dr. Schwed, my surgeon, and he called in a prescription of xanax for me to help get me through until my surgery on Thursday. I felt so weighed down, overwhelmed, and anxious.

The Monday after my biopsy surgery, I thought I was having another breakdown of some sort. It was February 13, 2012, 4 days after my sentinel lymph node biopsy and 2 days before I had the results of that biopsy. I felt sick all day. The world was closing in around me. I imagined that I was drowning and couldn’t catch my breath. I was getting out of the shower later that morning and I felt so weighed down. When I stepped on the rug, I collapsed on the floor resting my forehead on the edge of the tub. I broke down and just let the tears fall. I prayed for strength, I prayed for courage, I prayed for guidance, and I prayed for hope. I was so very angry, sad, and confused. I didn’t know how much more I could take. I felt so fragile as if I could break in half at any moment. Looking back, that may have been my lowest point in this journey and possibly my entire life.

I did feel that my prayers were answered. Something happened between the evening of February 13th and the morning of February 14th. I can’t pinpoint it or explain it. It was almost a shifting of the earth inside my psyche. It happened to be Valentine’s Day, but that date didn’t inspire anything in me but renewing my love for my husband. But this one was different. I worried the day before because I had nothing to give him except my love. He said it didn’t matter to him, but still I felt guilty. He always finds a way to spoil me and at times I feel like I don’t deserve it.

When I woke up that next morning, for a minute I forgot it was Valentine’s Day. In the kitchen, I saw a jewelry box, a small box of chocolates, and a black t-shirt on the counter. The t-shirt was the item that caught my eye. Typically with Bob, it is jewelry or a gun. Yes, a gun. I am an avid hunter as well as he is. He has given me a gun as a gift several times over the years. I picked up the t-shirt and it said “Fight Like a Girl”. At that point in time, I truly realized how much love and support I had just from Bob. I knew he had always been there for every step along the way, but somehow he knew what I needed at that exact moment in my life. I temporarily forgot about the jewelry box and the chocolate. Something switched in my mind and I felt better both emotionally and psychologically. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. My anger subsided. That t-shirt started my courageous journey back to sanity. I decided that day to have my long hair cut short and donate it to Locks of Love. That was the first step in taking back control of my life.
Karen M. Fries
August 6, 2012

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