It was two years ago that I walked into a breast surgeon’s office to have a lump in my right breast checked out. I remember telling myself “It’s just a blocked milk duct. You just finished breastfeeding. They’re going to tell you it’s nothing. You’re going to be fine.” Your mind tells you one thing. Your soul tells you the truth and prepares you for what is coming. I remember the nurse or the resident or whoever she was looking at my sonogram. Her face didn’t change. It didn’t budge. Her pupils did. I remember them narrowing with knowledge. “I’m sure it’s just a blocked duct,” she said. “But I’m going to get the doctor.”
The doctor came in and looked for himself. He wasn’t quite as adept at hiding what he was seeing. He was all business. After a quick look, he told me that he’d like to do 4 biopsies. One for each lump he saw and two for my lymph nodes. WHAT?????!!!!!!????? My lymph nodes? Why they hell would he want to check those? The lump is in my breast! There was so much I was about to learn.
I remember crying hysterically as he did those biopsies. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My life was changing and there I was, being punctured over and over again. Once it was over he asked, “Do you have to be anywhere? Can you stay for a mammogram?” He called in a favor downstairs, asking if I could be seen right away, even though it was the end of the day. He let me know that he’d have the results of some of my biopsies the next day, “just in time to ruin your weekend.” He asked me to come back and to make sure someone was watching my son. He then walked me down to get my mammogram.
The next day in his office, he said, “Well, it is cancer” as if we all knew it already and it was no big thing. But it was a big thing. It was a huge thing. That day, my life changed forever.
That was two years ago but it feels like yesterday. Time has gone so quickly yet so slowly. It’s hard to explain.
At my one year cancerversary last year, I was still reeling from the trauma I had experiences both mentally and physically. In my post commemorating the date, I chose to thank all of the people who helped me get through what was the worst year of my life. I am still grateful to all of those people.
But this year is the year where I have tried to get back to living my life. I have accomplished so much. This year, I finished my weekly Herceptin treatments. They didn’t really cause any side effects but they kept me going to the hospital every three weeks. It’s hard to move on when you are constantly going to these appointments in the hospital but it kept me close to Nina, my chemo nurse who I always love to see.
Even though my lymphedema progressed into a non-reversible stage, I advocated for the kind of care I wanted. I left NYU Rusk for physical therapy and found the amazing Cynthia Shechter at Shechtercare who is helping me learn to manage this condition. It reminded me to trust my instincts and to never settle for sub-par quality of care.
I went back to work full time. It was exhausting. I still experience harsh fatigue and my body was still weak. I also still have some lingering chemo brain. It’s not horrible but I still forget to do things and can’t remember people’s names. But I love my work and am glad that I can continue to do what I love to do.
I’ve tried to be a great mother to Oliver. Many would say I accomplished that. Being my own worst critic, I can think of a million things I did wrong or about all of the projects I didn’t get to do with him or all the places I wanted to take him, but there was never time. But, he’s also so bright, funny and caring. He did so well in his first year in school and grew so much. I think I should take even just a little bit of credit for that.
This year has also been extremely challenging. I had my DIEP Flap surgery. I was warned that it was difficult to recover from but I didn’t quite believe it. I should have listened. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain before in my life. I also underestimated how long it would take for me to recover. Even though I went back to work after 6 weeks, I still feel like my body is healing. I’m also still not used to the scars and dissatisfied with the results. I know that it is a work in progress but, no matter what the plastic surgeon does, I will still be unhappy with the massive scarring on my body. I just can’t get past it.
Emotionally, moving past cancer has been hard. The good news is that I don’t cry every day anymore. Up until about six months ago, I cried every day since my diagnosis. That’s a lot of crying. A lot of trauma. I still think about cancer every day, several times a day but the thoughts and emotions are no longer paralyzing.
Cancer has made me feel stuck in life. Right before I was diagnosed, I was starting to think about the next steps in my career. I had to put that on hold, of course. Now, I have no idea what I want. I’m trying to work through all of this with a therapist but I’m having trouble moving on. I’m still mourning and I’m trying to understand what this new normal is.
They say that each year, dealing with the aftermath of cancer gets easier and easier. That one day, I won’t think about it all the time. It will be a distant memory. At two years post diagnosis, I don’t find this to be true. I have my life and I’m so grateful to be able to do many of the things I love but I’m having trouble moving on. It’s all still so raw. I’m still so bitter an angry. It doesn’t feel good.
I’m going to try to keep busy all day tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t think too much about the significance of tomorrow’s date. My hope for myself is that I find as much joy as possible. Maybe I should do something nice for myself. Get a mani/pedi or take a long walk and window shop. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I need to start turning this frown upside down. I need more joy. More life. Or why did I fight so hard?