March 27th 2018 is my third ‘cancerversary’. Three years ago my world as I knew it permanently changed, and around this time each year I spend time thinking about my experience and reflecting on the changes in my life.
Three years ago I was told I had stage 2 breast cancer and would need many major surgeries and possibly chemotherapy and radiation.
I endured a brutal year of stress, appointments, tests, surgeries, recoveries, endless physical therapy and still managed to make sure my boys were at soccer practice on time, had clean clothes, and had healthy food in their tummies (obvi)! I made it to the ‘other side,’ so to speak.
But the other side isn’t how I envisioned it at all.
It’s sometimes lonely and scary over here, and at times it’s simply terrifying. Life now feels more fragile, more urgent, more intense… but more alive. I do not put off things I need and want to do. I love more deeply (honestly, it’s borderline creepy how much I hug and kiss my boys, who are turning into little men before my eyes), I laugh more loudly and live more urgently.
Sometimes I even dare to imagine their graduations, weddings, and children. Of course I’m positive. I have to be. I couldn’t possibly have a recurrence. I have to believe that. Right? But the fear and that reality are always at the back of my mind. Of course my cancer could recur. Any day.
You see I’ve learned too much. I’ve experienced too much. I’ve seen too much. I’ve lost friends, mums have left young children behind, and I’ve seen people on the brink of death. Cancer is an arsehole, and doesn’t care about your dreams. Your future. Your hope. Cancer can take your hope and future, and smash them into tiny pieces at any moment.
Even with a fantastic medical team, no one can predict the future. Each person is unique, and how each body handles breast cancer and treatment is truly a mystery (even to my genius specialists). It’s all a numbers game. Many people beat the odds, while others ‘with the good kind of cancer’ simply don’t make it. There’s no sense to any of it.
I’ve tried to ignore my fear but it comes back even more intense, as if saying F-you, you’re not in control of anything. I’ve learned to accept the days when I have anxiety, tamoxifen rages, feel negative and scared, and just pray that the next day I’ll feel differently.
It’s a constant reminder when I have to explain that I’m ‘good’ until I’m not, when well-meaning friends ask how I’m doing. And explain that cancer isn’t cured after five years or even 10 years. Even when it’s no longer visible in your body, you carry cancer in your mind every single day. Some weeks it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep, and some weeks I barely think about cancer.
I’m trying to be hopeful for my unpredictable future, but living with cancer is also just really, really hard. I don’t like to talk about those feelings or be a ‘Debbie Downer’, and I censor many parts of my new reality.
But please don’t feel sorry for me… honestly… I’m not pessimistic, thinking the worst and spiraling into depression simply because I’m scared. My hope is still there and I look forward to every day.
In a weird way, I think I might even be happier now. You see I almost had my tomorrows taken away. I honestly thought I wouldn’t see my boys begin their 9th and 5th grades. Yet here I am three years later. I have been given three more years (and counting), and I’m grateful for each day. I want to embrace each day and hold tight since I don’t know how many of them are left for me. I hug my boys tighter than perhaps I should at their ages. I crawl into bed each night and rub their backs feeling grateful I still get to be their mummy. I belly laugh so hard with my girlfriends, when making inappropriate jokes while drinking tequila. And I’ve never been one to shy away from dancing on the tables!
It’s good. No, it’s amazing that I’m still here. So instead of feeling pissed off that cancer paid me a visit, I feel I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to celebrate another day.
I also know there are no guarantees. For any of us. There never were. And yes, I worry about ‘recurrence’ more often than I want to. But I keep reminding myself we’re all here temporarily on borrowed time.
So let’s make a pact to live life large every day we’re here! Who’s with me?