It’s only fitting that my birthday and cancer free anniversary are days apart from one another. A celebration of my birth followed by a celebration of overcoming the possibility of death, back to back reminders of how grateful I am for life. But it never was put into perspective quite as much as being told you have cancer, then Stage3 cancer, and on the verge of spreading. If I had waited another year, month or maybe even week, my outcome might have been so incredibly different. Yet, this year has brought about more questioning, not only about my own life, but about so much more.
It’s been hard, to say the least, to lose someone to cancer, and a bit more surreal if you’ve survived it. Each year brings about another loss. Whether it be someone who has been fighting it for years or someone who discovered it too late. Questions like, why me? What makes my life more worthy than someone else’s? Did they get the same treatment? Did they ask the right questions? Questions that have no answers, yet constantly are asked with every reminder that I’m still here and they aren’t.
Then there’s side effects. My right arm had 24 lymph nodes removed (8 were cancerous), parts of a system that are taken for granted but without them, can throw your entire body and livelihood out of whack. The scar tissue damage from the lymph node removal tightens up over and over again if I go days without stretching and tearing the tissue on a consistent basis. I have to wear a tightly fitted sleeve every time I fly to keep the water retention down. But a flight over 4 hours makes my entire arm down to my fingertips painfully balloon up so much that only being patient for more than 24 hours eases the discomfort (and elephant man effect). Then there’s my boobs. Ahhhh, my boobs. While they do look amazing, the right one (always and forever the right one) hasn’t quite settled into the implant and is much tougher than the left. Luckily one can only tell if you stare at me while naked or try to feel me up. And luckily Graham’s always a bit preoccupied …… that’s another blog ……. so it’s not a problem. Now that it’s summer again, I run into the problem with forever looking ‘cold,’ but again – not really a problem. And I never felt like I was sick or had cancer, so the extent of any other side effect is merely mental.
And boy is it ever mental. Will it come back? Do I really need to go to that check up? Has that mole gotten bigger? Have I always felt this way in my back? Is this headache because of stress or is there a tumor? And then there’s the mental side effects from the Tamoxifen. Luckily, I’ve learned how to cope with those, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
So yes, another year cancer free. I’m grateful. Your life never turns out exactly how you planned. Surprises are always bound to turn up along the way. It’s only how you deal with those surprises that defines who you are. Several years ago I was that same bossy boots brown that overstepped boundaries, took control, and had a hot temper. And in some ways I am still that person. (Just ask my husband) But now I’m learning to care a little less about things that truly don’t matter and care more about people who do. Today is yet another reminder to put my priorities in place. And another day to give thanks, especially when others can’t.