Tuesday, February 12, 2013
It is hard to believe a full year has passed since my diagnosis on February 10, 2012. What a year it has been. I think back over the last 12 months and feel so incredibly grateful and truly blessed. So many people have made a difference or had some sort of influence in my life. I was surrounded by people who truly cared about me and my family; who rallied around us as we made the tough decisions regarding treatment and surgery. During the Super Bowl game (where my hometown of Baltimore won by the way) a friend asked if I felt like it has been a dream now that it’s pretty much behind me. My immediate response was, “yes, a very bad dream.” But then I started thinking, and it really does feel like a dream. In the moment, my treatment seemed long and stretched out in front of me as I moved through my treatment process from surgery, chemo, more surgery, to radiation. It seemed like there was no end in sight as I moved through the process. Then, all of a sudden here I am, one year later, with just one more surgery in my future. I remember feeling sick, being in pain, and having no energy, but it all seems like a long time ago. As I was reflecting on this dream feeling, I realized just how quickly I have returned to a “normal” place in my life. A place where I feel I can plan a future and where my personal world is not standing still. A place where I get up every morning, take Char to daycare, continue on to work, leave at the end of the day to go home, and spend time with my family and friends. Weekends are starting to fill back up with plans and events as we spend time with friends. I take full credit as being the “planner” of our little group of friends, who in a lot of ways are a little family unit. During my treatments, I stopped making plans and we did not all get together as much as we had in the past. One day (I think in December or January) I realized, ok let’s start making plans again. I am pretty sure in one day I had sent 10 emails (this may be a slight exaggeration, but it was a lot all in one day) to the group making plans for girls' weekend, group dinners, movie nights, 2013 vacation plans, and group trips. If I thought about something fun we could all do, I wanted to know who was in. Not everything was met with the same enthusiasm as I was feeling, which I totally get. Their lives had continued as planned, and Steve and I were the only ones in that stall pattern. So, yes, I feel like I have a “normal” life again in the sense that I can make plans and my daily routines are somewhat consistent again. As far as feeling “normal,” I am not so sure.
I somewhat equate having cancer to becoming a mom for the 1st time. Aside from the end result and the best thing that has happened to me, childbirth is painful, exhausting, scary, stressful if you breastfeed, and requires a recovery period, which for some women can be long and unpleasant. You have faith that everything will work out and that you will be a good parent. Your life is never the same after you have a child. Everything changes...from your daily routine to your relationship with your spouse. You now have a new member of the family, who will be there throughout the rest of your life. You will worry about them and care for them until they are able to take care of themselves. There will be a few nights during those first months where the baby cries for no reason, and it might last for hours or all night. You are literally helpless in those moments, especially as a new parent. These moments create tension and fighting since neither of you can comfort the baby properly, and you each feel like you can do a better job. As the months/years pass by and you settle in with the new baby and your new “normal,” you forget about the pain, long recovery, stress of breastfeeding, crying, sleepless nights, etc. It feels a lot like a dream. Even the struggles of being a new mom that seemed like such a big deal at the time, seem to fade away and you think, I could totally do this again. No problem. Let’s have 5 more. Obviously, having a baby and the joy it brings can in no way compare to having a cancer. You just get caught up in the moment, and those memories become fuzzy and faded. For me, what I have been through is slowly turning into the dream feeling I have when I think back to having a baby and those first few months. In the moment, it’s full of pain, exhaustion, stress, fear, and faith. I remember feeling sick, having no energy, preparing for more chemo, then radiation, and the feeling of dread that it might never be over. I had faith that my doctors were making the right treatment path for me. I remember, but as time passes, it becomes less painful of a memory.
Cancer is now a part of my life. I in no way want to forget about what I have experienced. Could I do it again? If I had to? There will always be an increased chance that I might be asking myself this question at some future point in my life. But if I had to? Yes, I think I could do it all over again. Will I want to? Probably not. Will I decide not to? Possibly. I carry the possibility of recurrence with me for the rest of my life. I take comfort in the fact that it will keep me grounded and focused on what is truly important. Just like my priorities changed after having Charlotte, I now have new priorities. I have a completely different perspective on things now and what I think is important. I try to stop and enjoy the moment and the little things that happen day-to-day. This day will not be a day that I celebrate, but will be the day where I reflect and remember back over the difficult road I traveled.
My relationship with Steve has endured, and we are creating a new and changing relationship. Going through what we have has not been an easy road. We continue to work through our changing relationship. A lot of aspects are different now, and we have to adjust to make it work. But, we are in it for the long haul and as time passes, I know we will get to a new “normal” here also.
I know there are a lot of individuals out there who have not come out of this tunnel to the light I now am beginning to experience. So many people reach the place where treatments are over, but they still have active cancer growing and spreading throughout their bodies. Too many men/women are dealing with stage IV cancer, where their treatments have become about the quality of life and are no longer being told their treatments could be successful. I in no way intend to take this next phase of my life for granted. I am fully aware that breast cancer can and does come back. There are women out there who have gone ten plus years being cancer free, but one day they are facing the same diagnosis, but this time around it's spreading and becomes metastatic. So many people tell me I am so brave, inspirational, strong, etc. But, the men and women who are facing cancer for the rest of their lives are the individuals who should be viewed in this way. What I went through will be over in about 18 months start to finish. Sure, I have pain and discomfort that might never go away, lymphedema prevention I have to worry about for the rest of my life, scars, Tamoxifen side effects, etc. None of this seems so bad when you think about all the other people out there right now looking at an indefinite number of days, weeks, months, or years with cancer. The shout out really goes to them. Not me. They should be our inspiration and the stories that are told.