*WARNING: The last image on this page is pretty disturbing — and gross — so be careful as you scroll down the page if you don’t want to see it.*
I am writing this post in response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic “Signs.”
While I know this isn’t what Sara at The Daily Post had in mind, taking the post in this direction is what feels right to me. Rather than compiling a handful of hysterical sign photos (I do have a few!), I have decided to abandon my first inclination and leave funny at the doorstep. Instead of happy and light, I’ve opted to share a few photos that capture my physical state just months before my diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer.
Now, before you run off in the other direction, I’ll tell you that I won’t go as far as posting photos of my breast with its visible lumps. But I will post more benign shots that really were not benign.
I was 33 in these photos and had lost about 10 – 15 pounds without changing my eating or exercising habits [I didn’t exercise]. It may not show, but I was thoroughly and completely exhausted. I had been tired before, but this was the first time I would hit a wall where I couldn’t, regardless of how hard I tried, force myself to keep going.
I was so sick.
I had infection after infection. Bronchitis. Pneumonia. Eye infections. Etc. Etc.
My lymph nodes were swollen.
My skin was dull and grey. I was breaking out in rashes and developed acne-like bumps. I had sores in and on my mouth. My lips were peeling and cracked, swollen and often bloody.
I had been growing my hair for ages so I could again donate to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs for kids going through cancer and chemo (and other serious illnesses). But I was afraid they wouldn’t accept it this time because it was so dry, dull and lifeless. And it was falling out.
And I was falling. On one of the occasions when I blacked out and fell down the stairs, I hit my back and head so hard that I ended up in the emergency room.
I was experiencing a constant tingling throughout my left breast, similar to the “let-down” feeling I remembered from nursing my twin boys. But the pain in the breast, from the surface to somewhere deep inside my chest was just as concerning. The pain in my armpit was also making me wonder.
And there was more. But why bore you with the details?
I knew something was gravely wrong. And I knew that if I didn’t find out what it was soon, it would kill me.
And I was right.
While these photos are not pretty or well done, they are real. They may not look like much if you didn’t know me before all of this, but for me these photos illustrate clear signs that cancer had engulfed my breast and lymph nodes and that it was trying to go further. I just wish I had recognized them for what they were. I wish I had paid attention to the signs sooner.
The two photos that follow were taken on Christmas Day, 2009, just under 4 months before my diagnosis. I was so ill and had been for a while. And other than pneumonia and very swollen and sore lymph nodes and these recurrent infections in my mucous membranes, etc., no one knew what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t leave these infections and illnesses behind. These were two of the rare photos I was in that Christmas:
Just a warning: the disturbing photo is coming after the photo below. Last chance to turn back!
You probably thought I would share a photo of my breast or axillary lymph nodes here, but I promised I wouldn’t do that to you! The disturbing photo I am sharing is of my eye, my skin, and my swollen (and bloody — though you can’t see the blood here) lips. Both of my eyes looked like this quite often near the end. They were as painful as they looked and were infected over and over again. I knew something was seriously wrong with me because this wasn’t normal. But no one sought to get to the bottom of my symptoms — I’m sure having no insurance at the time had something to do with this lack of action.
Thanks for making it to the end. Even though this photo montage isn’t pretty, I think it is important to my story and I appreciate everyone who was willing to see it through.
And I promise that the next photo challenge post I do will be filled with beautiful images of people or places I hold dear…