Today is a very special day for me. Ten years ago I had my first breast cancer surgery. There were more, but it was my first.
I am presently cancer free.
Why did I get cancer? Why did I get to survive? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and even though I’ve spent hours contemplating them, I know I never will.
What I can tell you is that I am grateful for these ten years and intend to never take being alive for granted again.
Facing death does that to you.
The ten year milestone is significant. They say that after ten years any cancer you get is not related to the first cancer. I am finally out of the shadow of the big C. I am so lucky.
So on this milestone day, I’d like to thank all the doctors and nurses who treated me with gentle care and dignity, as if I were the only person to ever have the disease. I’d like to thank the researchers who continue to look for answers. All these people are saints in my book.
But I especially want to thank my husband and daughters who stood by me through it all and my friends and siblings who cheered me on. And I thank God.
In honor of this occasion I’ll share with you the first entry in my cancer journal, Dancing in the Jaws of the Dragon.
“I’m afraid it’s not the news you wanted to hear,” said the surgeon over the phone. He paused, “You have breast cancer.” He didn’t actually say the word, “cancer.” He used precise medical terms, but no Latin word endings could soften the impact of what he was saying. My brain registered: I have cancer … I could die. I gave my husband the thumbs down sign and struggled to follow the details from the pathology report being explained to me. It was hard to breath. The doctor stopped talking, and I heard myself say that I would come into his office the next day and that, yes, I would bring someone with me. It was maybe a three-minute call, but time stopped for me that night. I had been dealt the “Cancer card,” and my life would never be the same.
My grown daughters had been anxiously waiting for six days for news about my pathology report, and now I had to tell them that it wasn’t good. I didn’t want to disrupt their happy, young lives. But I had no choice. Life was not giving me, or any of us a choice. I knew that cancer doesn’t affect one person in a family. It affects everyone in a family. You board the cancer roller coaster together not knowing where it will take you and you hang on. I held on to the hope that we would get through this, whatever “this ” turned out to be, together. I phoned. They were supportive, loving and … hurt.
That night was long, unbelievably long. Time does that. It stretches with fear and worry. In the darkness of my bedroom I was tormented by an overwhelming sense of helplessness and crippling fear. I tossed and turned, and tossed again. I had maybe two hours sleep by sunrise. I tried deep breathing, meditation and mentally kicking myself in the butt, techniques that usually worked for me, but nothing worked that night. I couldn’t relax. The “what-ifs” would not let me go. I’m someone who likes to feel in control. Cancer stripped me of that comfort, and I felt more bare-naked than I had ever felt in my entire life. I felt like I’d been tossed into the wind with no idea of where I would land, like a dandelion seed in a storm. I thought the night would never end, but it did.
A week later I had my first breast removed. Later I would lose the second and have reconstructive surgery. They call me a survivor, but I don’t feel brave, or noteworthy. I feel extremely fortunate.
There’s no moral to this story. It’s just a slice of my life.
In the last ten years I retired, reunited with my brother, traveled to Europe, which was something I had dreamed of doing all my life, and best of all, have been blessed with five (perfect) grandchildren.
I think it’s important to not let a disease or misfortune claim me, or define me in any way. I don’t want to be known as a survivor, or one who endured “whatever”, because let’s face it, we all struggle in life. I’m not different from anyone else. We are all survivors.
But still, today, for me is sacred.
Cat Picture – Pixabay
Meme created on Canva