It’s been 7 years since I was unexpectedly diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. As a 42-year-old mother of two young boys, the news was devastating and my only concern was whether I was going die and leave my young boys without a mother. I had both breasts surgically removed during a bilateral mastectomy, a personal decision I made to increase my chances of staying alive with my particular type of cancer. The first two years were rough, facing things I’d never imagined.
The seemingly endless rotation of tests, surgery, recovery, treatment, repeat, all while trying to raise a family and face the world was gruelling. I quickly mastered the art of ‘putting on a brave face’, when I was falling apart inside and felt alone, broken, and vulnerable. I guess I thought if I pretended my cancer was no big deal, then I’d somehow will those cancer cells chomping through my body to be no big deal. But they were a big deal. Any active cancer cells living in my body would determine whether my boys would grow up without a mummy.Learning to live as a woman in a society that seems to place the ultimate value on physical appearance was not easy. I conquered feelings of self-loathing and self-pity, when I emptied drains hanging from my body, and gingerly unwrapped bandages for the first time to take a look at what I was left with. I think this was the most devastating moment for me as what I saw in the mirror was unrecognizably horrifying, and brought me to my knees.
It took years for the raw, angry, 7 inch scars to heal into my new normal implant pockets where my breasts used to be. I have learned to convince myself it’s not a big deal as I remind myself that my breasts were trying to kill me. Yet it is a big deal. We rarely hear about this part of breast cancer – most women suffer in silence at the risk of sounding ungrateful that they are actually here and didn’t die.
When I finally decided to wear my (many) scars as a badge of honor, I felt a shift. I’d been given the gift of perspective and gratitude, and I needed to hold on tight as I fought hard to recover.
Looking back, I find it hard to remember all the details, which is so strange because it literally consumed us. I say ‘us’ because when cancer pays a visit, it impacts the whole family. My poor boys suffered so badly; that’s what is most upsetting. I was unable to protect them from worry, sadness, fear and anxiety. Nothing can ever prepare you for your baby asking, “are you going to die mommy?”
Now I’m a 7 year breast cancer survivor I don’t live in constant fear of recurrence. My oncology appointments are always filled with apprehension and anxiety, yet I know now I can face any challenge or blip in the road. Fear of recurrence is normal and I’ve decided to not be consumed by something I cannot control. I agonize with survivor guilt each time I hear someone else passed from this dreadful disease. I wonder why them and not me?
No matter how many days I have left on this earth, I choose to live a grateful and active life. I realize how quickly life can be taken away. I don’t assume tomorrow will come, instead I choose to live and love hard, and not take anything or anyone for granted.
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.
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