IMG_1596I’ve just returned from a vacation. I was really hoping to have both a mental and physical time off. Away from all of this stress I have in NYC. I didn’t want to think of cancer during my vacation. But as I was walking around California, I realized that I have some cancer associations that might follow me around for a while. Hopefully there will be a time when I can let these things go. I mean, it’s not like I get panic attacks when I make these connections, but they always make me think of cancer.

Here are some of my cancer associations:

1. My phone ringtone: I haven’t turned on the audible ringer on my phone since I got “the phone call” about my cancer diagnosis. Any sound my cell phone makes bothers me, but especially the Verizon “Kingdom Dream” reggae melody that played that time my phone rang. I’ve avoided hearing it since. The good news is I can still enjoy Bob Marley songs.

2. ATM: Now this is kind of messed up! It’s not like I can avoid automatic teller machines, unless I hide my money under my mattress. My mutated cancer gene is called “ATM,” but it didn’t come with any cash. Now, any time I see a sign for an ATM (they are everywhere), I think of my gene—especially the sign that says “ATM inside.” Really? Couldn’t my gene be called something like XQñ, which is less common? I don’t even know if those initials exist which def. would have allowed me to forget about my gene during my time off.

3. Veggies with “clear margins”: Ok, so you might think I am crazy. It took me a year to stop thinking of a bad spot on a veggie and not relating it to cancer. Whenever I would see a brown spot on an avocado or a pepper, I would remove it carefully so “to get it all” and I would run to my honey and say, “look, I got clear margins!!” There are still times when I think about it.

4. My mother’s bedroom: I spent most of my chemo days in one of my mother’s bedrooms. Whenever I visit her place, I avoid entering that room. And when I have slept there since, obviously I can’t help but think of those months.

5. Mini Argentinean sandwiches: Mini white bread triangle sandwiches with a thin slice of ham, cheese and a spread. Yuk! I can’t eat those anymore. The sad part is that I used to love them, but my mother fed them to me a lot during my chemo days because she was working and wanted to make sure I had some food I could tolerate. That tolerance didn’t last too long. Instead, I stuffed myself with pea soup every single day, almost. Luckily, I still love my pea soup.

6. Graham crackers: My hospital has these available in the waiting room, in little plastic wrappers. I simply hate them now. They remind me of not being able to eat during chemo. Even my honey, who accompanied me to my appointments, and ate a lot of those crackers, makes the association, saying that he never wants to have to see another wrapped graham cracker again.

7. My breasts: I kept both of my breasts because it was the right decision for me at the time. I was too overwhelmed with the information and the treatments I was already getting for my cancer. But, truth is, they remind me of cancer now. I sometimes try to play dumb, pretend they aren’t even there. But they are size D so it’s a bit of a challenge to fully ignore them, ya know? No guys, I was referring to the fact that they sometimes get in my way. And yes, this has affected my sex life, too.

8. Every test/scan: Obviously, every test I get now—blood work, sonograms, or self-exam, has me focused on cancer.

The funny thing is, even when we haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, doctors often recommend these tests to rule out malignancies. However, these cancer conversations never take place until the doctors have found something. Then you can’t deny talking about it and dealing with it.

9. Winter: I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I know some of you expect me to be transformed after cancer. To suddenly love all life has to offer, including winter. Or else. I have come to appreciate things more passionately, because now all my emotions seem to be more raw. It could be the hormones, Tamoxifen, getting older, “maturing,” life circumstances…whatever. Let’s not give that credit to cancer please.

But anyway, moving to the states from an island was difficult enough for me, but on top of that, it now seems that I receive all the bad news during the winter: my cancer diagnosis, my grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, my great aunt’s terminal diagnosis, my aunt Rossy’s leukemia diagnosis. Now I have a bad association with this season, which sadly includes the Holidays, too.

How about you? Do you have any unusual associations in your life that now remind you of cancer?

I already need another vacation.

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
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17 Responses to Associations

  1. Carrie says:

    I’ve come to realize that cancer is a trauma and, no matter where we go, we are going to take part of that with us. I can’t tell you how badly I want to escape to somewhere far, far away but I know that won’t help. It’s going to be a long time before I don’t think about cancer constantly. I don’t know if I have any associations. I’ll have to think on that one.

    • thesmallc says:

      I hear you, Carrie! This is why I have “almost” come to terms about accepting the fact that my body hurts itself. I feel that if I try too hard to separate myself from cancer, it would just make things more complicated for me. After all, these are all my cells: the good and the bad ones. It’s my body and I can’t replace it.

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  3. bethgainer says:

    An excellent post that really resonated with me. The clean margins on the veggies: even though I don’t have that association, I totally understand. I have many, many reminders of cancer, as well. Scans, yes, and believe it or not, winter for me as well. I first heard I had cancer in the winter, had surgeries in winter, got a scare in winter, prophylactic double mastectomy in winter, etc. I associate winter with cancer, although I try to enjoy winter. Wonderful post!

    • thesmallc says:

      I am sorry you have many cancer associations too. It’s just one of those things we really can’t leave behind us. We only have one body and we are now too aware of our reality.

      Glad you find ways to enjoy the winter. I am still trying to find a way to do that as I mostly fear more bad news.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  4. scottx5 says:

    Something triggered my anxiety last night as I was writing on the internet and for some reason the source wouldn’t reveal itself to me. The anxiety is a legacy of my heart problems and I take medications for it because it just flattens me.
    Knowing what sets it off helps a bit but what is strangely more helpful is that it marks a need for change. Like an alarm, it’s warning me of something in need of attention and that’s usually to do with not caring for myself by hiding from something.
    Sorry if this isn’t clear. These things are irrational and hard to explain, these association things. My psychologist says they are survival strategies and I agree, only with the provision that they seem mixed up a bit.
    So how was California? Grew up there and moved to Canada in 1975. Haven’t gotten used to winters here yet.

    • thesmallc says:

      I understand you completely! It is an interesting way to look at it. I can see that for me as well. One of the reasons I have avoided eating certain foods, like meat. But this is not an association I have because I don’t have evidence that foods can cause cancer. But my tumor was estrogen + which means I avoid eating foods that can trigger my estrogen level to increase.

      California was amazing, thanks for asking Scott. I always wanted to live there but now it is a bit more challenging. Maybe one day I will.

      I love Canada, especially Montreal which is easier for me to get to. We visit there every year for the comedy festival. I wouldn’t mind moving there either but I don’t speak French. And as you can see from my cancer associations, I wouldn’t like the winter. I hear it is tough!

      Hope things are well with you Scott, now that you’re done with treatments.

      • scottx5 says:

        I don’t think we should be too critical of how our mind works under extreme conditions. The hallucinations after my second heart operation were so real I conversed with the hospital shrink for days as two people. The imaginary one was was far more rational than the real me that was scared and didn’t know what to do.

        If I ever went back to California I think I’d try around Salinas. Inland but close enough to the beach and not as pricey as Monterey. I lived west of Bakersfield for a while and Leslie grew up in LA but northern California is our preference. Our daughter lived in Montreal and it’s interesting but better in the summer. Northern Alberta is insanely cold and we’ll probably go back to BC when Leslie retires.

        Nice to be done with the chemo. The whole thing was a mess and it feels like I’m coming out of it better than expected. Finally feel ready to see my psychologist again. She’s Plains Cree and doesn’t play around with Christian guilt or forgiveness topics–just life as it plays out. Sometimes bad and sometimes good. The other stuff is too complicated.

      • thesmallc says:

        You are right, Scott. I tend to be too hard on myself – expect too much from me. I wonder who creates the pressure. Sometimes we are responsible.

        My sister lived in Monterrey for 2 years. When I visited her I thought it was a lovely place, but too pricey.

        And I like your psychologist already! Forgive me but the pressure created by religion is awful. Went to Catholic school and it was painful – no offense to any religion of course, just how I feel.

        Good luck with everything! I believe days will get better.

  5. Kimberly says:

    What a great post! Yep, I have associations too! Nuts Over Chocolate Luna Bars, Whataburger grilled chicken salad, which I pretty much lived on during chemo, and like you, my ring tone. Had to change it. Got so tired of feeling sick to my stomach every time the phone rang. But I refuse to let bc destroy my birthday month of June. But yeah, don’t love the summer so much anymore.

    • thesmallc says:

      Hey Kimberly!!

      Food associations can be difficult. I am sorry about summer. Ugh! We can’t help it — how can we forget?

      You have an upcoming Birthday!! That’s wonderful. Let us know the date.

      Thanks for your comment. xoxo

  6. nancyspoint says:

    Oh my gosh, I have so many cancer associations it’s unreal. But hey, this is my life now. I’m sorry this is part of your life now too. Time softens some of them and I don’t talk much about mine any more. This is one of the great benefits of blogging and reading blogs like yours. Always nice to know we aren’t alone in any of this stuff.

    • thesmallc says:

      Nancy, I know what you mean. If it wasn’t for other people with similar experiences, I would have been a mental health patient by now (not that there’s anything wrong with this…you know what I mean).

      Time has helped me with some of these associations, but not with all. I am glad things got better for you.

      Thank you for the comment.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I went to the diagnostic imaging center to get an MRI of my shoulder about a year and a half after my mastectomy and when I walked by the sign that said, “Nuclear Imaging” I felt like I was going to puke and/or pass out. Completely unexpected, and just writing about it here gives me heart palpitations! A few months later, I had to go for a pelvic ultrasound, which took place at the Breast Care Center…same reaction. I also have a lot of breast-related dreams and am completely out of sorts afterwards, sometimes for days. I believe the cancer experience is a trauma, and traumas have their triggers. These are just a few of mine.

    • thesmallc says:

      Jennifer, I just had a horrible nightmare this morning about my cancer coming back. I have those evil dreams too, and like you, they haunt me for a few days sometimes.

      Some of these associations are inevitable, like the one about “nuclear imaging” you mentioned. I see those at least 2x a year and they make me a little nervous too. I also can’t handle being inside the MRI machine but I have no choice.

      I am sorry you’re dealing with some of these too.

      Thank you for commenting. xo

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