I was forced to slow myself down from the life I had before (birthday vacation excluded!) and really dial in to what was important. AND what I needed to let go of.
My name is Laura and this is my story:
Age: Diagnosed at 50. Stage 1 DCIS with microinvasion, one breast, HER2+
Surgery: Lumpectomy turned Mastectomy with DEIP Reconstruction
Chemotherapy: Taxol and Herceptin
I was literally bobbing along, floating in the ocean, in complete bliss and harmony. It was my 50th birthday and I was on vacation with my family and life had never been better. I reflected on the previous decade: I’d weathered a nasty divorce, 10 years of single motherhood, the stress of being a career caregiver, and that I somehow had managed to keep it all together in the face of all that.
Yes, I was heavier, yes I was addicted to caffeine and sugar, and yes I had long since abandoned my regular workouts for sporadic “when I have time” fits and starts of exercise. But on this day, none of that mattered. I had my 2 children, my 7 siblings and their families, my Mother, and my wonderful Husband of two years, all with me and LIFE WAS GOOOOOOOD!
Soon after vacation ended, I had my annual mammogram.
Yup, you know what’s coming next, but I sure didn’t.
Exactly one month to the day after my glorious 50th birthday celebration, I learned I had breast cancer. It was like being a happy-as-all-hell-child skipping around without a care, who suddenly falls face first on the concrete. How on earth could this be? Ok, so I had strayed a bit from my normal uber healthiness during my 40’s – HELLO LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES – but I’d always taken good care of myself. I didn’t smoke, drink or use drugs, I exercised and ate nutritionally more than I didn’t, and it just made no sense to me.
Well, I had about two seconds to think about that before a slow swirl of subterranean anxiety set in…..and onto the breast cancer train I reluctantly boarded. Get an MRI, have a biopsy, get a surgical consult, make friends with the words lumpectomy, radiation and sentinel node, breathe in and breathe out. Change your care team from suburban and local to the big city specialists, and then have not one but TWO lumpectomies (because it wasn’t fun enough the first time), and THEN find out that you learned the words lumpectomy and radiation for nothing because what you REALLY need to learn about is mastectomy, reconstruction and chemo.
During my treatment, I had wonderful support from family and friends, and I know I’m very fortunate to have had that. It certainly made the chemo crater feel less like an abyss. Experiencing baldness (oh but my lonnnngggg hair – gone, all gone), anemia, neuropathy, nosebleeds, digestive problems, profound fatigue, prednisone puffball status – certainly no picnic.
Frustrated to be missing out on life around me as I made a dent in my couch from the abject fatigue and brain fog, worrying about how my kids were handling seeing me like that, concerned about lasting cardiac and nerve damage from the drugs, and somewhat stressed that I might not have a job waiting for me anymore when I was finally better, framed out some difficult times.
But inside the suck of it all came a beautiful silver lining: I was forced to slow myself down from the life I had before (birthday vacation excluded!) and really dial in to what was important. AND what I needed to let go of. With lots of introspection, blogging and journaling, I came to understand that cancer didn’t happen TO me, it happened FOR me. And as sick as this may sound, I’m grateful for what it did for me. My life now, with cancer two years in the rearview as of May 17, 2019, is so much more meaningful. I am now PRESENT.
I’ve made significant changes in my life, for the better. I do my best not to sweat the small stuff anymore. (It’s all small stuff!) I vigilantly protect my emotional and physical energy in service to what is aligned with positivity, personal growth and joy. (And I’ve even forgiven that ex-husband of mine! LOL!) I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Because I lived. I survived. And now I thrive. It makes me sad to know that there are many women who have to fight harder, and longer, and that their battles are much more proverbially bloody than mine.
Cancer doesn’t care. It can take any one of us. For this reason, and many more, I feel it is especially important that we survivors speak up and speak out, and create the noise necessary to fund more and better research, so that the dreaded “1 in 8” can be a thing of the past.