Cancer is with you forever.
This Saturday, April 6, marked the anniversary of my mastectomy. The test results are in and, once again, I’m a one-year survivor. It’s a funny place to be. You might think it would be all champagne and roses. Or a fist pumping, “Whoo hoo! I kicked cancer’s ass!” But it’s not either of those.
It’s a quiet sigh of relief for having good news this time around.
It’s gratitude for having made it through one of the hardest years of my life, and for all those who’ve been on my journey with me.
It’s a renewed commitment to continued healthy living.
And, it’s a time of reflection—what I’ve learned and continue to learn from the experience of cancer. What I want to pass on to others who are traveling the same path or who love someone who is.
Breast cancer is definitely a “Yes, AND” experience. YES, I’m grateful I’m cancer free for now, AND cancer has changed my life forever in negative ways and positive ways. YES, I’m learning to live with my new normal, AND I want my old life back.
The reality of being a breast cancer survivor is that you’re never really done with it, even when you do every single thing you can. In January I had an elective partial hysterectomy, called an oophorectomy, to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes—just in case. Now, at least, I never have to worry about getting ovarian cancer.
And I’m on a medication called Letrozole that’s supposed to help prevent recurrence. Side effects include, but are not limited to: hot flashes, hair loss, dry skin, joint/bone/muscle pain, severe muscle cramping, arthritic symptoms, fatigue, unusual sweating, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, mental/mood changes such as depression and anxiety, and insomnia.
I’ve had a number of these, mostly the joint/bone/muscle pain and muscle cramping. And fatigue and insomnia, which go hand in hand. But, hey! Letrozole can help save my life, so I’ll keep taking it as long as necessary.
As for other people in my life, it’s been a year and many assume I’m all better. The short answer to that is “no,” I’m not all better. I’m still grieving, and I live with the fear of recurrence. I’ll never be all better, but right now I’m cancer free. Right now, I’m good.
A few posts back I wrote about lessons I’m learning from cancer. This is lesson three: (Warning: It’s not all cheerful, but it’s true!)
Cancer is a thief. It robs you of whatever body parts need to be lopped off or maimed in the interest of stopping it. It robs you of your dignity. It robs you of your appetite, sleep, energy. It robs you of your joy and peace of mind.
Cancer robs you of your zest for life. It steals your creative energy, robbing you of the joy you once found in your art. It robs you of your dreams. Plans. Possibilities. Play. It steals your sense of humor.
Cancer robs you of relationships, when those who love you cannot bear to reach out, because of their fears of losing you. Or confronting their own mortality. Or when you have no energy to reach out, or back to those who are reaching for you.
Cancer is exhausting—physically, mentally, emotionally. It robs you of the energy necessary to complete the most mundane of activities. You barely shuffle where you once danced. You search for ways to quiet your mind—which will not be still. You fight fears and tears—or you give in to both.
Cancer robs you of certainty. What was once a “hell yes!” Becomes a “maybe,” or “we’ll see.” It robs you of confidence—in your appearance (I look like hell!)—in your ability to make promises or plans you aren’t confident you’ll be able keep. You become tentative. Will I feel well enough? Will I have slept? Will I be too tired? All valid questions.
Mostly, cancer robs you of innocence. We all know we’re going to die—in some abstract, vague, “one of these days” kind of way. Cancer puts a hard stop to any thoughts of living long. Instead, it fills you with trepidation and “what ifs.” Cancer insists on your reckoning with mortality.
YES, it’s all true, AND I’m ever determined to take back whatever I can!
What I long for most is to regain the feelings of robust health, vitality, and joy I had before all this began. YES, I want to be able to seize the day and experience life to the fullest, AND I get so tired and now have a hesitancy I never had before.
AND, I will keep trying. I’m still meditating, exercising, and eating well. I’m still loving and taking solace my work. Now that I’ve passed the one-year mark, I’m making travel plans I didn’t dare make before.
And, thanks to an angel working overtime on my behalf, I’m back at Ragdale, my home away from home. I’ve been given the extraordinary gift of time and space and I’m gratefully using it well. Already, in a week, I’ve written more than I have in the past two years. Orchard Road, my novel in progress, is taking shape nicely.
YES, it continues to be an arduous ride, AND I’m grateful for every moment I have left. I’m not all better, but I’m determined to be more than okay.