Hey, me again… I’m still here! It’s been four years since my world was rocked. I’m a four year breast cancer survivor. Naturally I’m terribly pleased, but it’s not like all of a sudden I’ve reached utopia where I relax and let my guard down. Life after cancer is filled with silent lonely battles.
I’m one year away from that ‘magical’ five year mark. This is a term doctors and researchers use as a benchmark amongst themselves to compare cases, not predict individual outcomes. So who knows what that really means for me. What I do know is I can’t escape the constant reminders of what an arsehole cancer is.
March 27th is the date I officially received my cancer diagnosis. After a surreal four weeks, I had my double mastectomy which erased cancer from my body on April 29th. This time period is pretty insignificant for most, but this four week period sends me spiraling back to those dark days. I probably have PTSD to be honest. And I think this is probably normal.
The constant nightmare of being a breast cancer survivor is not something we simply ‘put behind us’. Our appointments, communications with doctors and constant monitoring of our bodies are the difference between survival and recurrence. Living and dying. Seeing your kids graduate and not seeing them graduate. And no child should have to care for mom as she battles this horrid disease.
As I reach my four year ‘anniversary’ (which sounds far to jolly for what I’m commemorating here), there are a few things on my mind.
- Without fail at each appointment, my chatter about warm blankets, free coffee and the sweet nurse drawing my blood, is just me trying to fake myself out and pretend things are normal. Pretending this is a regular doctor appointment. If I pretend, I might actually believe these appointments are really no biggie. The reality that one elevated tumor marker will send my life spiraling is just too painful to think about.
- Hot hubby doesn’t quite know what to do with me during this timeframe. It seems that everything he says is wrong because he ‘just doesn’t get it’. And the truth is, he doesn’t get it. Unless you’ve lived those terrifying weeks with death wrapping its arm around you, you don’t truly get it. My only choice is to sit with these feelings. It’s a time of reflection (did that really happen to me), celebration (yippeee I’m still here), and I might allow myself the occasional pity party (why did I get it?)
- I don’t like to talk about my cancer because I want to protect you and me from an uncomfortable conversation. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer’ or a bore because ‘I’m still here’. I can’t bear the discomfort in your eyes and voice. The truth is I’m riddled with medical problems: hormonal mood swings, intense joint pain, insomnia, chemo-brain, menopause, fatigue… all caused by daily medications. That I get to take for ten years. It totally f-ing sucks to be honest.
- I’m so happy to be alive. I mean really happy to be alive. I’m grateful for each milestone I celebrate with my children. I can’t help thinking how these milestones would have looked had I died. I spend more time with them, cuddle them, kiss them (which is a challenge now they’re teens). I tell them I love them many times each day, and it’s annoying to them. But I don’t care. I want to teach them everything (Sebastian learned how to make roast chicken and roast vegetables last week). The truth is I want to teach them everything, but may not get that opportunity.
- I’m incredibly grateful to share life with Hot Hubby. He loves me. I mean really loves me. Don’t get me wrong, if I had died someone would have snapped him up quickly and he’d be living his best life right now with a 30 year old Sam version 2.0. But I know deep down he would never choose that. Regardless of his terribly timed jokes, he dropped everything to nurse me back to health. Showered me. Fed me. Changed my bandages. Administered medications. Drove me to each appointment. He tells me he loves my (new, scarred, and plastic) body, and that I’ve never looked more beautiful to him.
- There is no ‘getting back to normal.’ I have a new normal. If you’ve haven’t faced the possibility of death, it’s hard to comprehend what that feels like. My new normal has a deeper urgency, a deep feeling life is precious and should be treasured every single minute.
- One of the blessings of this ‘club’, is the opportunity to help other women with breast cancer. However in the spirit of honesty, sometimes being around other cancer patients and survivors can be difficult. I’m often triggered by their stories and spiral back to my own nightmare.
Yet being around women who know what it’s like to worry about leaving their children without a momma, hoping to see them graduate, or wondering if they will have a recurrence, makes me feel safe and understood. I will always be there for others walking this path… regardless of any personal pain it may trigger. Cancer survivor’s need each other. We’re in the same club.
- Do I have cancer cells waiting to parade through my body? Am I exercising enough? Will my semi-plant based diet prevent cancer cels from growing? Will my love of tequila cause a recurrence? Who the f**k knows… it’s all a big mystery. As a breast cancer survivor I live with this uncertainty forever.
- I pretend I’m not, but I’m often really scared. Fear hits me when I least expect it. I held steadfast and strong for four weeks, preparing my mind and body for an invasive-9hr-life-altering surgery, yet I often fall apart if the nurse can’t find my vein at my oncology appointment. My fears are bottled up inside and fall out when I least expect them. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to cause a scene. I wish I could control this.
- I thought once I finished my treatment and the surgeries were healed, I’d be on ‘the other side.’ There is no other side for a breast cancer survivor. My life is split into two parts: life before I was diagnosed with breast cancer and life after cancer.
We all die. It’s inevitable. I’m not afraid to die. Having stared death in the face, I’m now more afraid of not living each day with purpose. With passion. With love. With gratitude. And I vow to live each remaining day I am given with purpose.