What a year it has been. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew I was going to have some challenges. I also knew you were going to be filled with beauty and joy. You were all of these things and more.
In 2015, I was still undergoing chemotherapy. It knocked me out pretty hard and even gave me some severe anemia. I managed to avoid more blood transfusions, like the one I got in 2014 by eating a lot of kale and liver (which does not taste great when on chemo, by the way). But I kicked cancer’s ass and finished chemotherapy only 2 weeks behind schedule. I celebrated by taking to the streets of NYC with a sign that said, “My Last Chemo! Take A Picture With Me!” And people did and shared their own stories about dealing with, caring for someone or losing someone to cancer. It was a powerful moment for me.
Then I started radiation. I had heard from many people that radiation was a piece of cake compared to chemotherapy. In many ways, it was but it also kicked my ass. The position I had to be in for the treatments were extremely painful. And having to go five days a week nearly killed me. I had my first official freak out at the cancer center before a radiation session because they never told me how late they were running and I needed to get home to Oliver. It was not my best moment but hey, sometimes you need to scream and cry to get things done (just not too often).
The hardest physical part of 2015 was developing lymphedema and cording (axillary web syndrome) in my right arm. I had heard about it. I asked every doctor and nurse about it but was told not to worry about it. But I got it. I started physical therapy and it only got worse. This lead to some major anxiety and depression.
I learned that survivorship is hard and in many ways more difficult than having cancer. Once I was done with treatment, I was left to deal with the trauma and aftermath of what had happened to me. I felt like I was expected to move on and get on with life. But cancer still had a tight grip on me. I could still feel the side effects of treatment and this was not letting me move on. I’m still working on this and imagine I will be for a quite a while longer.
The hardest emotional part of 2015 was losing friends to cancer. I only met Christine once at a party but her spirit and love for her son made a huge impact on me. She had gastric cancer and diagnosed terminal immediately. I think about her often and give Oliver an extra squeeze when I do. I also lost my good friend, Jessica. Jessica had Ewings Sarcoma and while her life with cancer was difficult, she fought all the way with a thumbs up and a smile on her face. Her positivity through cancer’s rough times was a model for me on how to “do cancer.” I don’t think I could have gotten through my own experience with as much humor and grace if was not for her guidance. I miss Jessica terribly. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep at night, I still check to see if she’s on Facebook for a chat. Then I remember.
Amidst all of the pain, fatigue, and desperation that cancer can bring, there was also so much joy. In the spring, my hair started to grow back. And even though it came back white, I was just happy to have hair on my head so that I wouldn’t need to wear a scarf in the warm weather. I took a much needed family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. I needed that time away from cancer to relax, lay on a beach, eat lobster and snuggle with my family. It was an incredible trip. I celebrated my one year cancerversary on August 1. I remember thinking that making it to the year mark would be an impossible task and I wasn’t sure how it would happen. Somehow it did though. The year had gone slowly but I was able to reflect on how strong I had become and how powerful. I also celebrated my one year mastectaversary on September 5.
Of course, the best part of 2015 was my son, Oliver. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he is my everything and I am so proud to be his mommy. This year, he started preschool for the first time and he loves it! We took Oliver to see his first movie, The Good Dinosaur. We filled our days with trains and train rides, even going as far as Peekskill to see Amtrak and a railroad crossing! But, most importantly, I have been healed by his daily hugs.
2016 will be here in a few short hours and with it will be coming new challenges and new joys. I will be having my long awaited breast reconstruction, the DIEP Flap surgery. I will be starting Zoladex, an ovarian suppressor, once I am healed from surgery. I don’t know what side effects these will bring but I’m hoping for quick healing and no side effects. I deserve a break.
This year, I’m hoping to partner with my amazing new physical therapist, Cynthia Shechter of Shechter Care (I’ll be introducing her to you on this blog soon) to change the ways doctors prevent and treat lymphedema pre and post mastectomy. Cynthia has changed my life in so many ways and she fights for women with lymphedema every day. I can’t wait for you all to meet her. Hopefully, we can get things changed in this country around lymphedema and lymphedema education.
I don’t know what else I am hoping for in 2016. I used to plan so much ahead but it’s hard to do when you are still dealing with cancer’s leftovers. I hope to keep on living life joyfully and to gain new experiences.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who have been reading and supporting me and my blog. I have so much respect for those of you who have been blogging long before me and who have paved the way for breast cancer advocacy and education. For those who have just been diagnosed and have found my blog, I wish you a year of strength and healing.
Happy New Year to all of you!
Welcome, 2016! Let’s kick some ass!!!