It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since my diagnosis. Part of me feels like this all just happened yesterday yet it also feels like such a lifetime ago.
I had been lying in bed one night when I had a sudden feeling to do a self exam, never thinking in a million years I would find anything. The moment I felt the lump in my breast though, my gut feeling knew what it was but I naively hoped I was too young. After being sent for an ultrasound followed immediately by a mammogram and core needle biopsy, I was given the news the day after my 34th birthday that I had breast cancer.
I hiked up Maple Mountain that day to reflect on the news of my diagnosis. Even though I had a strong family history of breast and pancreatic cancer, including my 37-year-old cousin who was battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I never thought this was going to happen to me. I was angry that my body had betrayed me, mad at myself for not finding the lump sooner, and fearful of what my future now held. But two years later, I made it a mission to hike up to this same spot, albeit a little more out of breath (thanks chemo and radiation), and celebrated my survivorship, being here, and being alive.
So where do I stand today?
We often hear about what it’s like to go through treatment and surgeries etc. but the one thing I wish I knew more about was what life after cancer was really like. I struggled hard post treatment and still deal with the physical and emotional side effects of treatment everyday. The chemo fog that plagues me even as I try to write this and find the words to say. The fatigue that hits me so hard that I can’t muster the energy to get out of bed some days. And the anxiety that comes out of nowhere at the least expected times…while I’m out grocery shopping, driving, or even just hanging out with family and friends.
But yet in some ways I feel the healthiest and happiest then I’ve been in years. Prior to cancer, I was reaching a point of total burnout working long hours, skipping meals, and stressing out about things that looking back seem so petty. But now I spend more time focusing on my health and putting myself first than I have in years. And no longer balk at silly things like getting older. I just finished celebrating my 36th birthday this weekend and see aging as such a gift now.
I’ve learned the importance of self care and being able to say no to people and not feel guilty about it. And I have opened my heart up to a community of survivors and thrivers that get it and who have provided me hope for my future. The fear and uncertainty still linger in the back of my mind but I have learned not to let it overrun my life. I acknowledge its existence and kindly ask it to take a back seat so I can get busy living my life.
Well, the next big step coming up for me will be finally returning to work after being off for almost 2 years. Leaving work in the midst of building my career was a difficult choice but looking back now, I know it was the right one. I needed this time to heal. And even though I don’t think I will ever be fully “ready” to return, I feel like I am ready to give it a good shot. That’s all you can do right?
Fertility, family planning, future? These are all still scary thoughts for me. Treatments have been a bit of a security blanket for me, including hormone therapy, and to go off of it cold turkey is frightening to say the least. But I am keeping an open mind for the future and will cross that bridge when I’m ready.
I don’t want to let cancer define who I am and let it put the rest of my life on hold. I spent these past 2 years living day to day, week to week, month to month, always anticipating the next surgery, scan, or bloodwork. It was hard for me to move on and I still don’t know if I’m ready to let go of the reigns quite yet. But as cliché as it sounds, time has helped with the healing process. And I am looking up towards the sky and hoping for nothing but clear skies ahead.