December 4, 2016
Today marks a significant date in my life. Today is commemorated by the marks I bear on my body, scars left as tribute to my battle with cancer and the mastectomy I had one year ago.
I struggle with that word ‘battle’. I did not, in fact, have much to do with the fight, strictly speaking. After watching a suspicious change in the breast that would not heal (not a lump, as it turns out—these things do not always manifest themselves in lumps), I scheduled an appointment with my doctor at the behest of my husband. She then scheduled a diagnostic mammogram, and suddenly I was on a roller coaster I didn’t sign up for—the hurry-up-and-wait of meeting with doctors, biopsies, waiting for lab results, and ultimately, surgery. Even then I didn’t know that the surgery, December 4, 2015, would be the first of four…and counting. All that being said, I didn’t do ‘battle’; I was led through the heretofore completely unknown behemoth of cancer care by a skilled and knowledgeable team of physicians and nurses. I trusted that they knew what they were doing.
But battle? Trust me, I know I got off easy. I was not subjected to chemotherapy and radiation. I did not lose my hair. I did not struggle with depression and crippling fatigue and illness due to treatment. I did not face a prognosis that challenged my hope. I was—am—one of the lucky ones. I feel like I was one of those people who was supposed to be on an airplane that crashed, but for some reason didn’t board the plane at the last minute. Does that make me a survivor? Does that make me a fighter? I don’t know. It does make me lucky.
I do bear scars, though. A year ago today, doctors wheeled me into a room and permanently disfigured my body to excise the cancer growing there. I had no idea what to expect when I woke up—how I would feel, both physically and emotionally. I worried, of course, about the danger of something going horribly wrong during surgery (“a slim chance,” they said, “but always a possibility”), and about whether or not they would find it had spread to the lymph nodes. I worried that they wouldn’t get it all, or that it might return. Truth be told, I still worry about that last one.
The doctors have done a fine job of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, so to speak. I am three surgeries into the reconstruction process, and although we’re still not done, I’m pretty happy with the status. I don’t look like I used to, but I don’t cringe or look away from the scars like I thought I might. That’s just a part of who I am now.
Life has finally pretty much resumed to its normal state now, something that many breast cancer survivors fight way harder than I have to regain. Sadly, some of them never do. I am thankful and I am grateful to be where I am and to see the future stretched out before me. I guess I worry that others who have had it so much worse will feel I am an imposter when I say I am a breast cancer survivor, or that people will feel I shouldn’t talk about it and just move on because the impact on my life seems so minimal compared to others. And then I look at those scars, those marks on my body, and I remind myself that I am allowed to claim my journey, to mark this date in my own way. And this is how I choose to commemorate it.