Monday, December 4, 2017

Cancer Free Anniversary

December 4, 2017

Today’s an anniversary for me—a celebration.  Today I am two years cancer free, having undergone a mastectomy to rid my body of the cancer lurking there on December 4th, 2015.  It was probably the scariest day I’ve ever experienced, because of the unknown. 
The biggest unknown--would they find it had spread to my lymph nodes?  When Mom went in for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her kidneys years before, they found one of the kidneys 90% consumed and the other 40% consumed with tumors.  Worse?  The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she’d need chemotherapy and radiation.  Less than 9 months later, she was gone.  Now, I had been assured that my cancer was caught early and it was highly unlikely that it had spread, but still they said they wouldn’t know positively until they got in there and tested the nodes.  Of course the other looming unknown was what would it feel like to wake up from surgery and be literally missing a piece of myself?  It’s a surreal notion to contemplate.  I mean, there are certainly people in this world who lose limbs to disease or accident, and the impact on their lives is immeasurably more than it is for one who loses, in essence, a large area of fairly non-utilitarian fat (post-child-bearing years) from the body.  Nonetheless, it was a piece of ME, and a part of me I’d been accustomed to living with for a great many years.  When the landscape was thus altered, would I awaken to still look like me? Would I still feel like me? Would I recoil at the scars left behind and feel less whole?  Finally, there was the unknown of how all of this would affect the people I loved.  I know my husband, my kids, my sisters and brother, and my friends were worried.  Would my husband still look at me the same way?  Would my kids be in constant fear of a recurrence?  I found that as I was reassuring them all that this was just a blip on life’s radar and that it would be an inconsequential bump in the road, I was really just reassuring myself.  Everything was going to be alright, because it simply had to be.
It turns out I was one of the lucky ones.  The cancer was caught early enough, and it hadn’t made its way into the lymph system.  There was no radiation or chemotherapy, and my team of doctors has been wonderful as I have navigated the path toward reconstruction.  To be honest, I am sometimes sheepish about even calling myself a “cancer survivor”, because I didn’t have to endure the grueling and often brutal effects of the aftercare that many of my counterparts have braved.  I got the easy way out.  The scars are there, a permanent mark from the past, but I am otherwise unscathed from the attack.  With an incredible husband who never left my side and has cared for me after each of the five surgeries I had, and with an amazing network of family and friends who have cheered me on and supported me in innumerable ways, I look ahead to celebrating this milestone for many, many years to come.  This day will always be a quiet marking of “Before” and “After” for me, but it isn’t the day that defines my Life Story.  It’s just a milestone along the way.

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