On July 16, 2020, I received a phone call at 8:04 pm that would change our lives forever. The phone call was from the Breast Center, with the results of the biopsies done after my annual mammogram showed two suspicious masses in my right breast. With dense breast tissue, I had routinely been called back for additional imaging, always getting the “all clear,” and told to return in a year. With no history in my immediate family, I never considered myself at risk for developing breast cancer. But since then, I have learned that you can never say never. I am the 1 in 8 that the statistics talk about.
In the 2.5 years since being diagnosed, I have had 100+ appointments with at least twelve doctors, 35+ scans, tests, and non-surgical procedures, and 4 MAJOR surgeries. I lost every organ that made me female. I have had to cope with the grief that comes with those losses, and I am still learning to accept my body and its changes. I am on multiple prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Some to counteract the side effects from the prescribed meds.
I am NOT the same person I was on July 16, 2020, and I never will be.
A cancer diagnosis forever changed me. In some ways, it has been positive, but in other ways, a negative. A cancer diagnosis brings your life into perspective and causes you to separate the IMPORTANT from the TRIVIAL. It has forced me to face my mortality and to be hyper-vigilant about my health AND my husband’s & boys’ health as well. There have been many times that I sit at night in our family room watching TV with my husband and wonder if I need to start writing things down for him & the boys, just in case. YES, it does cross my mind. Statements that I usually prefaced with “if I ever get hit by a bus….” now get prefaced in the back of my head with “if I die from breast cancer.” I have never had a medical directive until my mastectomy surgery. Now I do. It is on file with the hospital, a copy lives in our safe, and a copy with my sister in New Jersey. Again, just in case.
In the months after my mastectomy surgery and the shock of my diagnosis, I worked very hard to refocus my anxiety and fear of recurrence. Cancer survivors have told me those feelings lessen over time, but people say that about grief, too, so I’m not sure if it’s true. I have met many amazing people and made great friends through the breast cancer community. I draw strength from their stories of survival, resilience, and hope. I try my best to live a hopeful life and not let the little “what ifs” in the corner of my mind come out too often.
I look for the silver linings when I can. Whether by paying it forward to other breast cancer warriors or making a connection with another woman in a different part of the country, all because we both have a similar diagnosis and treatment path. I appreciate the little things more. A pink sunset, my husband & boys wearing a “Hope is Stronger than Fear” bracelet 24×7, my boys wearing pink ribbon socks, or a beautiful pink hydrangea blooming in our yard for the first time. I focus on being kind to myself and remember that cancer is not a one-and-done disease. It is a never-ending story and a part of my life forever.
The day that changed my life was transformative. From it was born the NEXT me because I am not NEW, I am different both physically & emotionally, and I am forever changed.
I quietly acknowledge the anniversary of my diagnosis and celebrate my “cancerversary” (the day I was considered NED) with my husband and my boys. Some people may wonder why cancer survivors celebrate these dates. But they are milestones on the path of our lives now and dates that will always have meaning, whether good or bad.
I haven’t gone through as much as some women do regarding treatment. However, I have always been open and willing to share my experience regarding my journey because it is my story to tell. Breast Cancer forever changed me, and I feel driven to make a difference. Do I know what the future holds for me? No….do any of us? I am just grateful for each day I am here and that I can wake up and enjoy another day.