by Katie Poole
I ran my hands gently across our new boxer puppy’s dark fur. He was so soft, but I knew in time his brindle coat would grow wirey and scratchy. I plucked at a spot on his neck, testing how bad he might shed as he grew older. A few short, dark hairs landed in my palm. My breath caught in my chest, my eyes fogged up, time stopped.
It was like it was happening all over again – I could picture myself in our old living room, gently pulling at the hairs at the base of my neck, only to find that each day they came out a little bit easier. I was back in the salon chair, rubbing my hands across my new buzz cut. I was in the shower, finding handfuls of the tiny dark hairs each time I used shampoo until there were none left. My mind raced. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t have a dog who reminded me of that each time he shed. He nestled his head into the crook of my arm, his sad brown eyes looking at me lovingly.
PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s what they call it. Post. It is over. I am healthy. My body is not being invaded. Traumatic. Can I describe those months following my cancer diagnosis as anything but traumatic? Being poked, prodded, tested, and scanned. Stress. Waiting for results every week to tell you if you were living or dying. Breaking the news to your family. Starting treatments that attack all of who you are. Disorder. I can’t help it. I can’t stop it.
Like the brave soldier who dives under the table at the sound of a loud bang, like the abused child who flinches at the raising of an arm, like the survivor who cries at the sight of lost hair–it sounded ridiculous. I hadn’t even mourned when I lost my hair.
It had been almost two years since cancer threatened my life, but here I was, numb in the passenger seat of my husband’s truck, tears billowing in the corners of my eyes. It had been such a hard time–from the diagnosis to the surgery then on to treatment and maintenance. No part of it had been easy. I’d seen it, felt it, lived every part of it. I’d been the diagnosed, the sick, the patient.
If you had seen me then, you would have seen that I was stronger than I ever thought I could be. From the day I started treatment, I had been brave. Always positive, always smiling. You could ask me anything about my journey, or tell me anything about yours. I wanted to hear it, because I wanted to help. If you had seen me then, you would not see the days I couldn’t move out of my bed, couldn’t step out of the shower, couldn’t stop my thoughts. You would never see those moments.
During my treatment I longed to be empowered. I wanted to see brave women who had fought before me. I needed to gain encouragement from them, to see how they were thriving! I wanted to hear them say, “Oh, how God has pulled us up from the depths of such despair, such sadness and fear. How thankful I am for all that I have been given, for the life I am able to lead, for my wonderful family and friends!” Their messages helped me through my treatment and reminded me to stay strong, be thankful, and remain faithful.
Now, two years later, I want to know I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one who still battles with the fear of a sore rib. I’m not the only one who panics when I find a few stray hairs wrapped around my fingers. I’m not the only one who struggles with PTSD after a cancer diagnosis. I am not weak. And you, dear sister, are not weak.
For the woman who has overcome, who puts cancer on the back burner, I have a message: You are not forgotten.
For the woman with long hair and beautiful eyebrows, who doesn’t look like she was ever sick, I want to say: What you endured is not forgotten.
For the woman everyone expects to have moved on, to be fearless, to be happy, you need to know: You are not alone.
Do you need to connect with overcomers in your area? Do you want to encourage women in the midst of the battle? Find a Compassion Community in your area or volunteer for an event with Compassion That Compels.
Katie Poole serves as Compassion Coordinator for Compassion That Compels. She is a breast cancer OVERCOMER who was diagnosed when she was 23 years old and lives in Braselton, Georgia, with her handsome husband who is her greatest gift from God!