Six months ago, I received the most terrifying news I never could have expected. Even right after the doctor said the words, "it's cancer," it still didn't hit me. I had no idea what I was getting into every step of the way. Looking back, it's difficult to wrap my brain around what I've actually been through, but I did it. I had strength within me in every possible way that, otherwise, I never could have believed existed. The emotional ride is so much rougher than the physical one, and that is saying a lot. I can simply say that I'm proud of myself for getting through it, and for doing a pretty good job of acting like life was all good when it truly didn't feel that way.
This week, I had the surgery I knew would follow after treatment. I'm scared and elated to say the scans and surgery confirmed that I had a complete pathological response to chemotherapy. There's a heavy, gratitude-filled sigh of relief that escapes me every time I say or write this. It's like getting the wind knocked out of me from a larger-than-life, divine pat on the back for a job well done, but mostly it's like a six-month, long-awaited exhale. I want to pick up and squeeze my almost one-year-old daughter, but my incisions are still healing, so... to be continued.
For the past few months, I've basically gone silent and avoided writing these words because I didn't want the pity. This is hard to say, but now that I feel like I'm on the other side, I decided to write them anyway because someone out there is feeling this and they can't express themselves to their friends or family properly to have them even begin to understand and empathize.
I know what this diagnosis means for myself and many women (and men), although I prefer to remain highly optimistic. There are endless worst-case scenarios, some more obvious than others, and I don't want to go there. I'll always be eternally grateful to have had my daughter before any of this happened, but there are thousands of women who can't say the same. It's a debilitating blow to learn that the only treatment that can save your life is going to potentially rob you of so much of what you thought you had in your control, that you otherwise could have had in your control. I keep a box of tissues on a nightstand next to the rocking chair in my daughter's nursery because some nights when I rock her to sleep, I need to protect her sleeping face from the stream of tears that follow my most obtrusive thoughts: the guilt for not being at my 100% best for half of her life, whether or not this is my last chance of being a mother to a baby, and the absolute fear of what the future holds.
Even though I finished chemotherapy a month ago, my body hurts more than it did during treatment which is likely the result of no longer taking steroids. My fatigue hasn't subsided, my muscles ache, and my joints feel like they're giving out. I feel like I'm 3x my age. I'm tired of feeling intimidated by the thought of taking my daughter to the park or the beach by myself. Only time will mitigate this, in the meantime... patience.
What gets me through this is the unwavering optimism I get from my mom and my dad. I could focus on statistics and the "reality" of my type of diagnosis, which is 100% what the old me would have done, but the new me is allowing myself to find comfort in the optimism and to truly believe that positivity can alter the chemical makeup of my outcome. My family and close friends "feeling" when something isn't right, when I've been too quiet, and reaching out to check on me changes the game. It's not even close to an exaggeration when I say that. In the best way, they force me to dwell on the good and pull me out of my funk.
I feel like I'm close to closing a chapter of my life that was hellish, but necessary. I can't bring myself to say I regret that this happened to me because what I've gained from this experience far outweighs the challenges. I'm still riding that high, but I know it won't always be that way. I could say that I will only focus on the blessings in my life and swat away fear with the flick of my wrist, and believe me when I say I will try my hardest to do just that, but I'll have dark moments that will suck me in and I hope I'm strong enough to pull myself out. The same way I've questioned almost daily for the last six months what caused the cancer, I'll likely continue to question for the rest of my life if what I'm doing is going to cause it to come back. Such is the constant mental struggle for every survivor.
I'm not even sure if I'm ready to use that word, "survivor," but the new me isn't going to dip my toe into the pool of celebrating myself, my milestones and accomplishments. I'm diving in. Scratch that, I'm cannon-balling into the deep end. I believe more and more that I can single-handedly power the boomerang of positive energy and abundance into my life. I'm not tip-toeing around what I "should" do, being so careful not to shatter it with non-compliance. As terrifying as it is, I'm going to live day by day making the decisions that make me happiest with the full confidence that life will look favorably upon me.
Next up is taking a breather and enjoying the holidays. Then, the new year brings the next phase of this journey which will be comprised of radiation, determining the next steps after that with my oncologist, and continuing increased social distancing which is a whole other layer of difficulty on top of everything else. (. . . p a t i e n c e . . .)
To the real ones who have weathered this ride with me, you've earned my gratitude and loyalty for life.
(Please enjoy this baldie from July. My hair has grown in since then, but the steroids haven't been kind. Maybe someday soon I'll get the courage to post an updated one.)
If anyone has come across this after scouring the internet and skimming blog posts for answers like I did in the beginning on how to get through it, it's not much more complicated than this: faith, hope and believe. (I think "belief" makes more grammatical sense, but if we're strictly speaking Home Goods decorative desk art right now, let's let it slide.) Yes, there is actually a much deeper significance to the glittering GIFs best loved by the maternal baby boomers in your life. I hate to admit that in the beginning, this was more of a fake-it-till-you-make-it concept for me, but deep roots grew over time. Maybe you're the same and it won't make sense until it does, but trust me, it will. Have faith, don't lose hope, and believe you will make it through. It's so simple it's almost laughable, but incredibly powerful.
I am radiating love, strength, positive wishes, and brighter days for your journey.