Today I mark 6 years of being cancer free.
August 31, 2012 was the date of my double mastectomy – the day I consider myself to be cancer free, even though I would still need 3+ months of chemo and 8 weeks of radiation. I documented my mastectomy adventures in this blog post.
In reviewing that post this morning, I am transported back to that day. I didn’t know how many years, or months, or days I would have left (do we ever?) and I am grateful for every day since my breast cancer diagnosis.
Some random thoughts this morning, as I reflect on these six years…
- I spent a lot of time waiting on the day of my surgery. We had to be there so early, to sit around and do nothing. I have wasted so much time just waiting in doctor’s offices in the ensuing years. Some doctors are better than others, but in addition to waiting the morning of my surgery, I also waited 90 minutes on my first day of chemo. These are pretty nerve-racking events and I’m just not sure that all doctors understand what they are doing to patients’ mental states by having us just sit there — waiting to have parts removed or poison injected into our bodies. I think there needs to be more awareness on the emotional toll that is taken on cancer patients.
- When I re-read my description of the sentinel node biopsy that day, I laugh. It seems so tame compared to my actual experience. There are truly no words to describe exactly how painful that experience was. It hurt like HELL! Not even childbirth ranked as high in my books. I always say if men had to have that done, they would a) numb the area and/or b) knock us out! Radioactive bee stings in your nipple. Yep. Good times!
- I still have no regrets on not reconstructing, although I do wish I had emphatically stated “flat”, so that what remained was not lop-sided, bumpy and dog-eared. But doctors always assume that you will change your mind and will eventually see clear to get implants. My logical brain could not wrap itself around implanting foreign substances into my body, putting it through more surgeries and pain and inconvenience, risking infection, and more… just to satisfy a social norm. And especially considering this was my second cancer. I know it’s a very personal choice and I’m not criticizing those who make that decision. We all have our reasons for our choices and those are mine.
- I still live with the daily reminders — scars, hearing loss, memory loss, thinning hair, fear — of cancer. But those reminders encourage me to try to make the most of each day. To not worry so much. To take care of myself so I’m here for the long-haul (however “long haul” gets defined). To eat right and get enough sleep. To focus on what’s truly important, and not get caught up in petty worries. To forgive and forget. To keep away from physical and emotional toxins. To help influence others to be healthier. To be grateful for every. single. day.
And here I am, six years later. Appreciative. Healthy. Imperfect. Doing the best I can every day. Content.
Grateful. Here’s to the next six!
IMDb: 6 Years (2015)
It is hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since my double mastectomy. And what a year it has been! While trying at times, it has also been a year of growth for me as a person in many ways. Through my blog, I feel like I have a new purpose in life. A mission: To do everything I can to improve my health, keep cancer at bay, and share what I have learned with others. I thought, as I embark on year #2, it would be a good time to reflect and put year 1 behind me.
Things I have learned…
- Boobs and hair are totally over-rated. Life without either (or both) is not the worse thing. Sure I cried and panicked when I lost my hair, but trying to fake it with a wig was far worse and it didn’t take long for me to realize that feeling phony wasn’t really my thing. As for the boobs, I have no regrets on my decision to remove them both and really don’t miss them at all.
- Your hair doesn’t grow back the same as it was before it left. The hair on my head is thicker than it ever was, and a little darker. It grows fast in the back and sides, but my bangs (where I want it) are taking forever to grow in. My eyelashes returned pretty much the same, but my eyebrows are still sketchy enough to require regular plucking of random hairs, as well as penciling to fill in the gaps. Armpits? I shave those once a month at best, but I’m ok if that never comes back. Legs? I can go a week at a time. I really don’t mind the reduced maintenance, but it does make you wonder what the chemo has done to your body.
- Juicing can be a lot of work (prep and clean up), but the benefits are well worth it. Better skin, shiny hair, strong nails, and improved immune system. Take Ethan as an example… zero sick days since we started juicing over a year ago. Prior to that, there were at least a few days off each year due to sinus and ear issues.
- Nourishing your body with the right foods is THE #1 thing you can do for yourself. My blood work speaks for itself in terms of cholesterol, triglycerides, and a number of other measurements. Eating healthy can also be a lot of work at the beginning. But once you get rolling, it’s not much harder than the Standard American Diet (SAD), and the benefits are amazing.
- There is life after cancer, and the big C helps put a lot of things into perspective. I’ve learned to do a better job of managing “work/life balance” and to try to savor every moment I can. Since finishing treatment, I’ve enjoyed a lot of trips and activities with family and friends with a greater appreciation for each.
- Knowledge is power, and you are your own best advocate for your health. Read everything you can, ask lots of questions, challenge your doctor, trust your instincts, and take control of what happens to you.
Things I still struggle with…
- Sleep. While this is getting better (thanks to the recommendations of my naturalist), I still have many nights of sleeplessness. Those nights, I am usually tormented by odd dreams and snippets of songs playing over and over and over in my head. It’s never the whole song, just the most irritating 2-3 bars of the song! And, of course, usually songs I don’t even like.
- Joint pain. This is getting a little better (I think because I don’t take the Femara every day) but I still have more pain than I care to have. I’m still not feeling ready for exercise, but I am trying.
- Weight. When first becoming a WFPB eater (whole foods, plant based), I quickly and easily dropped 10 pounds. And then my weight loss screeched to a halt. I’ve been stuck there ever since. I suspect I need exercise to get me moving again, but alas, I’m not there yet. Would love to get 10 more off, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and hope it eventually starts moving again.
Lastly, what I’m grateful for…
- Friends & family. I could not have survived this past year without all of you. Thank you for the emotional, spiritual, and physical help. Thanks for feeding me, holding my hand during chemo and when my head got shaved, making me laugh, shopping for me, and taking care of Ethan. Thank you for the cards and flowers and gifts.
- My blog. I have enjoyed writing, made new friends from across the globe, learned a lot, and inspired many people to make healthy changes. What more could I ask for?
- Supportive job. I appreciated the flexibility that allowed me to work full-time throughout my treatments and to get to all my appointments.
- I’m not gray! Not a week goes by that I don’t get a comment from someone who is amazed that my hair did not come in gray. No one happier than I!
And now on to year #2!
One year ago today I was celebrating my 50th birthday with family and friends. Although I accepted this milestone reluctantly, I felt pretty good at 50. Little did I know that a few short weeks later, I would receive my breast cancer diagnosis.
What a year it’s been!
I am grateful for all the things this past year has taught me. It has been a reminder of my many blessings. It has taught me patience, priorities, and perspective. I have learned more about health and nutrition than I ever imagined. Gardening, juicing and blogging are my newest skills. And I have learned to savor every moment I can get.
Today I am grateful to have this year behind me and am looking forward to a healthier future.
Good-bye 50. Helloooo 51!