On this day, 9 years ago, my life changed forever. I can remember so well the day I discovered the lump and how it made me feel. I was going about my normal daily routine and suddenly, everything changed. In a split second, I was overcome with fear. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. It felt like my world was spinning out of control like all balance had shifted.
I went through the motions visiting one -ologist after another. Tests were run and surgeries were done. Things seemed to move at lightning speed and didn’t slow down until I’d completed radiation treatments. That’s when I had time to think. I thought about the past and the present, about all the things I’d done but also all the things I still wanted to do. I reconsidered hopes and dreams. I compiled a bucket list.
I had no idea what the future held but knew I was going to do the best I could to live each day to the fullest. At first, it was a struggle. I wasn’t feeling great. My energy was zapped and I was struggling with a lot of body image issues. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of those things were normal for someone who’d just experienced a major trauma like breast cancer.
There was no instruction manual. I read all I could. I watched YouTube videos and read online blogs. Everyone’s story was different in many ways but much the same in others.
I felt like I’d been thrown into a sea of pink and had to learn to either swim or sink. So I let my will to survive take over. I knew the water was deep and dark. I didn’t want to sink, so I began to tread water. In that vast sea, the struggle lessened as I moved my legs slowly back and forth. I was staying afloat. It felt good.
Days passed, and my broken body began to heal inside and out. I tried to stay active as much as possible. It was a challenge learning to listen to my body. When I was tired I slowed down or stopped.
I learned to process my emotions and gave myself permission to feel. I learned it was okay to cry, laugh, scream, or be angry. Sometimes feeling one emotion at a time, and often feeling several at once.
Back then, everything was so scary and new. Now, I don’t think about cancer as much. There are annual reminders, like National Cancer Survivors Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month that always sneak up on me, but I usually make it through unscathed.
The scars have faded some but I can still see them. When I run my fingers over my chest, I feel the smooth, raised area where my skin was sliced open.
My arms still swell, especially in the summer, from secondary lymphedema, a condition caused by the cancer and removal of lymph nodes in both arms.
All in all, as I reflect on my situation, I can say I’m blessed. Cancer is a great teacher. I’ve learned more valuable life lessons over the past 9 years than I have in my 65 years of life. And since that’s the case, I can honestly say I’m thankful. I’m thankful I was deemed strong enough to handle the trial of breast cancer. I’m thankful I have weathered this extremely unexpected, very difficult storm with dignity and grace. So many of my friends and family have not fared as well.
Today, I look in the mirror and see a breastless woman but I also see a brave, determined, resilient person who will forever be treading water. I don’t waste energy struggling against the tide, I’ve learned to relax and go with the flow.
Right now, I’m cancer free. I hope to continue to be able to say that for many more years to come, no, I want to be able to claim it until the day I die, but who knows? I’m a realist. Cancer could come back again. I have a friend who fought breast cancer and thought she was cancer free for 22 years before that ugly monster reared its ugly head again and took her life. If something like that happens to me, I imagine I’ll be angry at first, but then I’ll accept it and do the best I can. That’s all any of us can do when cancer finds us.
Taking one day at a time, one moment at a time is the only way to make it in the world of pink.