Five years. Today marks five years since my world turned upside down. Five years since my perspective forever changed. Five years since I heard the words, “you have cancer.”
I will honestly never forget my physician calling me that April afternoon in 2017 and asking me if I was alone. Then he asked me to sit down. Being both the daughter of an orthopaedic surgeon and the wife of an anesthesiologist, I knew this was the medical prelude to delivering bad news. He gently proceeded to explain my diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in the left breast as I sat obediently on my side porch all alone. I distinctly remember hyper focusing on the word INVASIVE because it was so, well, invasive. And to be paired with the word carcinoma didn’t afford me the privilege of being naïve about the battle I was about to face. Soon after, my sister showed up and found me on the floor in my bathroom bawling my eyes out. I could barely muster the words to tell her why I was sobbing on the cold tile floor. To compound the devastation, I had spent the previous 4 years to my diagnosis being the wing man of my childhood best friend, Jennifer, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 (click here to read Jen’s journey). I attended her doctor appointments, sat with her through chemo, babysat her young toddler, cried while holding her hand and even visited her future grave site with her where she proudly remarked, “look, I have a view of the water!”. I was with her the days leading up to her death and the night before she passed away in 2016. Watching her wither away, but also be at peace with where she was going was both heart wrenching and inspiring. And now all of a sudden it was my turn.
As you know, I have chronicled my entire breast cancer journey on this blog. But today, TODAY, I want to celebrate five years of being cancer free. And even as I write those words, I feel tentative because do you ever really know? If there’s one thing I learned from having cancer (which I’ve actually learned much, much more), it’s that we only have today. Looking into the future can make us anxious, looking into the past can make us depressed. My mantra throughout my breast cancer journey was “Make Every Day Count.” I clung to those words because it was all I could control. And frankly, it was all I could tolerate given the magnitude of emotions I was experiencing. A small chunk of time seemed much less daunting than the runaway train of wondering what was to come or reliving the trauma of losing a best friend. Today. I can handle today.
I just had my five year check up with my oncologist and everything was great. Vitals were on point and blood work looked good. Walking into Baylor hospital always brings up a well of emotions for me no matter the reason for the visit. I see the same nurses, the same physicians and the same front desk personnel. To have professionals who have been on this journey alongside me for 10 years (since Jen’s diagnosis) feels comforting in an unexplainable way. Only they know what happened in those appointments, in that hallway and in the waiting room all those years. The tender moments, the horrific scan results, the laughter amidst the crying, etc. All of it on display for strangers who somehow became family. What an unexpected gift.
But there are scars – emotional and physical – that haunt me occasionally. There’s not a day that goes by that I am not reminded of my journey. It’s not crippling, but it’s ever present. Mostly it’s feelings of gratitude for good health sprinkled with a dab of survivor’s guilt (which is very real, by the way). Cancer is funny in that it teaches you so many valuable lessons, but still manages to send you to the principal’s office occasionally. As a result, my perspective on life is greater. My everyday experiences are richer. My appreciation for the mundane is stronger. And my resilience from adversity is unwavering.
Our youngest son will be a senior in high school next fall, and my two oldest boys are a freshman and sophomore in college, respectively. I often think about how the past five years for them as high schoolers would have looked completely different if my treatment had not been successful. Selfishly, I can’t even imagine missing their baseball or soccer games, their proms, senior parties and Sunday night family dinners. But the fact that their worlds were not disrupted, and that God allowed me those years with them is the best gift of all. Truly. My family is everything to me and the thought of not being able to experience life alongside them is unfathomable. As my boys get older, I’ve realized the tenderness of childhood. I’ve realized that it’s fleeting. And I’m unbelievably grateful my husband and I were forced to become acutely aware of how short life is so that we could make meaningful memories with our boys while they were young. We’ll never get that time back, and I love that I can smile knowing we cherished each and every moment. All thanks to cancer.
So five years. It feels both like a lifetime ago and like yesterday. How does time do that? I am a changed person. And even though I had no choice in the matter, I am forever grateful.
So for now, I am signing off with a very full heart, a clean bill of health and a changed perspective on life. Glory be to God!
Much love and MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT!
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5