Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Life Goes On ...

If you had told me five years ago that cancer wouldn't dominate my every waking moment, I would have told you that you were crazy.

If you had told me I wouldn't be constantly planning and recovering from surgeries to heal and repair the damage cancer had done to my body, I wouldn't have believed you. If you had told me that pain and pain management wouldn't be an ongoing part of life, I would have said that's impossible.

But here I am. Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day I got the diagnosis of breast cancer. It was a bright, sunny summer day, but it quickly turned dark when I received the phone call from my doctor and then had to sit my family down and tell them that life was about to get very complicated.

I honor this day because the five-year mark is an important milestone in cancer recovery. With each passing year, the likelihood of the cancer returning diminishes. I'll celebrate on Oct. 21, the fifth anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy. That was the day I began to get well.

The months that followed were trying ones. Pain and fear are terrible weights to carry. I still vividly remember removing the bandages from my chest to take my first shower after surgery. What I saw made me feel ugly and deformed. "This is what healthy looks like," my husband reassured me. The subsequent reconstruction confirmed what he already knew - I am strong and beautiful. (For more about my husband, click here. ) The surgeon who performed my reconstructive surgeries told me that in about 18 months, my new implants would feel like a regular part of my body.

Here I am.

I got through it.

My reconstructive surgery has long been completed. The scars have faded. In fact, if you saw me changing in the gym locker room, you would have to get very, very close to me to realize I have implants. I see my surgeons annually, my oncologist every six months. I am vigilant in taking the anti-cancer drugs she has prescribed. I eat a plant-based diet, I exercise most days. In short, I am living my life.

During those early months, writing this blog was therapeutic for me and, I hope, helpful to some readers. I drew much strength from reading similar blogs of women who had gone before me. But I have been quiet for some time. As I said, I've been living my life.

But as I reflect, I wonder how I had the strength to get through that experience. "You did what you had to do," a friend told me. Everything since then has seemed easier, changes easier to cope with.

Me seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. The smile says it all.

There have been many changes.

  •  I've gone from parenting a teenager to parenting an adult. I saw my son off to college, where he is thriving.
  •  I took a new position in my job, one that is very challenging, but extremely rewarding. My colleagues are the best group of people and I am blessed to work with them.
  •  I met a group of refugees from Bhutan who now live in my area. Together we started a community garden at my church.
  •  I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting London and Paris. I wasn't sure I was ever going to see these beautiful cities, so it was an emotional experience to be able to see Buckingham Palace, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.  

A magical last night in Paris
I will continue to look for new challenges in life. All of us will face obstacles and hardships in the future. But my message is this: You will get through this.