It is an over the top bodacious day on the eve of a celebration for me. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the squirrels are romping as are the children who have the day off thanks to Super Tuesday. The world is smiling and I am enjoying the warmth.
Everyone handles a crisis differently and I chose not to publicly talk about my battle with breast cancer. I told only those who needed to know. The support and love of family and friends was overwhelming and carried me through some heavy days and trying moments. I felt guilty for putting my daughter and husband through all the worry and stress. Whatever was going on in their heads they were pillars of strength on the outside. It is their battle as well but I couldn’t change the fact that I was the one with cancer. I had the surgery, the chemo, the radiation.
I always said that I would be furious if I were diagnosed with cancer in my sixties after escaping all those years. I was 58 and I didn’t have time to be mad. Once I was diagnosed my doctors raced me through the food chain of tests, appointments, surgery and treatment. If a doctor said “jump”, I jumped. There was little time for tears or anger. I refused to let fear creep in. A friend gave me excellent advice. Once you left a test or doctor’s appointment you could have a pity party until you arrived home. If that meant driving around Northern Virginia for 4 hours that was fine. But once you walked through the front door pity be gone! That is good advice for any day or circumstance.
I only had one freak-out moment(that I remember). For most appointments and tests you are required to have someone with you. You need another set of ears to keep track of all the information that is being thrown at you. No one should be driving after being poked and prodded. The one time I went to an appointment alone was the one time I lost it. Before starting chemo I attended chemo school. To their best the oncologist and her staff tried to prepare me for the next 20 weeks of my life. Chemo is administered through a port which is surgically implanted in your chest. In my mind I envisioned a tiny device. I was shown what looked like my dental floss container and I could feel the color drain from my face. I did not see a tiny device. I saw a huge box. While I appreciate the purpose of the port I still refer to it as the alien in my chest. Driving home that day I was stopped at a traffic light and had a fleeting thought to let my car ease into the path of the oncoming cars. Just having that thought quickly jolted me back to my senses. I don’t think you can go through an illness without having at least one dark moment. That was mine.
I was blessed with amazing doctors and nurses. I had top medical care but it was so much more than that. I do not know the name of the nurse who held my hand during a test because she knew it was painful. I will never forget her kindness. My breast surgeon is now retired but our children went to the same high school and she was an instant friend. The ease of our conversations removed the dread of our appointments. I spent a lot of time with my chemo nurses and the radiation technicians. They became an extended family who extended compassion beyond the requirements of their medical duties.
There are unexpected surprises along the way. I really do not care for jokes and I can be a bit too serious. During my cancer treatment I found a sense of humor. I realize now that was one mechanism for dealing with the fear and uncertainty. I try now to remember each day to lighten up and laugh. I lost some “friends” along the way. I also found my way back to some friends from earlier years. A crisis really does define who is a true friend.
I almost hesitate to talk about the final surprise. I have shared with one or two people and it is hard for an outsider to understand. Cancer sucks and chemo is the devil incarnate. It is hard to believe that you can be ravaged by the one thing that is supposed to save you. Ironies of life. The other irony is that to this day I consider my chemo treatments to be one of the most peaceful times in my life. Each session I had a private room and one or two nurses assigned to me. I packed my chemo bag with water, snacks, digital toys, a pillow, blanket, reading material. My blood was tested to make sure my levels were high enough to have chemo. They were many touch and go days. And then you can watch the drip, drip of the chemo bag. The chemo blurred my vision so I often just stared at the same page without reading. I texted friends and family. Some sessions were almost 4 hours. I didn’t really sleep but I rested. I didn’t dwell on the disease or the drug being injected into me. I jokingly called it a day at the spa. I just rested peacefully.
March 2, 2015 was my final day of radiation. Tomorrow I will celebrate the end of treatment one year ago. What a difference a year makes. A clear mammogram in July! And the little things like eyelashes and hair are back. I have my life back and there are days I do not remember that I had cancer. Thankfully it no longer defines me or my days. I am a cancer survivor and tomorrow I will celebrate.
Every day is a gift. Celebrate!