Cancer Diaries: It’s Marathon, Not a Sprint
If I Squint Really Hard I Can See the Finish Line
I actually kind of hate the phrase: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. SHUT UP! I KNOW! But I didn’t sign up for this. It would be one thing if I had been prepared, but I wasn’t. It came out of left field, and I have no choice but to keep going.
Everything in life can be considered a marathon: motherhood, career, life. You name it, it’s probably a marathon.
If you’ve ever trained for a race, you can appreciate the drudgery of getting your body for the mileage and strain. Or appreciate the satisfaction it brings to run further and longer than you’ve ever been able to do before.
As a runner I know a marathon means months of training. It’s honing your nutrition and water intake. It means a lot of time on your feet moving forward. It’s injury, adaptation, self-care, and a mental game. It’s can alter your life.
But the same could also be said of cancer. It’s a freaking marathon of the worst kind because it’s going to be years before you’ll see the finish line.
Actually, I thought I was going to see the finish line much sooner than I thought the day that I almost died in the middle of treatment at the health center, but that’s a story for another day.
Cancer sucks. It just does. There are good days, there are bad days, there are really bad days. Most days are just “meh.” I don’t feel bad, but also don’t feel well. I’m just here.
What IS That?
I’ve been in a hell of a mood the last few days because I know that my cancerversary is coming up. That’s the day that I was diagnosed with HER2+, estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. February 3rd. It’s a day that I’ll not likely forget. It’s seared in my memory.
Today is the one year anniversary of when I found the lump. One year ago I finished a run on the treadmill, just like I did this afternoon.
It was an ordinary day. I was busy running errands and packing for a family trip. I had a meeting in the evening for my then third grader. My husband was in a million meetings and working late nights. It was your typical Wednesday. Until it wasn’t.
After I finished my run, I took a shower and that’s when I found it. The hard lump, the size of a pea, just to the left of my armpit.
My first thought was, “What is that? Is that a lymph node?” And then I realized it was too close to my breast to be the lymph node. After further exploration, it felt like the hard nodules I had when I was nursing my babies and suffering from mastitis. But this time, I didn’t have flu-like symptoms nor was I nursing any babies. The lump didn’t make sense, except for the possibility of it being cancer.
I was hoping I was imagining things. I kept hoping that it would resolve itself. I kept hoping that it would go away. But because I couldn’t help myself, I kept checking. Yep, still there. There was a lump in my right breast and I would need to get it checked by the doctor.
I’m not proud of myself, but I denied the possibility of cancer. I didn’t call the doctor. I didn’t get it checked. Well, not right away. And that was stupid.
I was getting ready to take my family away for a week of fun. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of their fun and our memories, so I checked the lump every day and I denied the possibility of cancer.
I was talking myself out of going to the doctor when I texted a friend about which doctor to see. After a few back and forth texts, she stopped texting and flat out called me and said, “What’s going on?”
She made me confront my fears and refused to let me avoid calling the doctor. So while we were on the phone I made an online appointment.
Miraculously, he had an appointment open three days later and the rest, as they say, is history.
I can’t complain. My doctor took my concerns seriously and made an appointment for me to have a mammogram and an ultrasound. Both were inconclusive and they scheduled a biopsy the same day.
I’m sorry, you have cancer
Within five days of my appointment, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For the last year, my days have been filled with appointments, surgeries, treatments, pain, fatigue, fear, and anger.
I’m so tired right now. So tired and anxious about the future.
I finished chemotherapy at the end of June and radiation at the end of July. My friends want to celebrate. Some of them started congratulating me when I finished chemotherapy, but I wasn’t done with treatment. I wasn’t ready to celebrate. I’m still not.
I am still in active treatment through March. Most have forgotten that I’m still going in every three weeks for an infusion to focus on the HER2+ cancer cells.
It’s easy to forget. I can see why. My hair has grown back. I’ve started running more seriously again. I’ve started cooking dinners again.
From the outside looking in, it looks like I’m doing well.
But I’m not. I’m dreading my cancerversary. Because it means that I really do have cancer. It’s not a dream.
I’m dreading that I will still be in treatment on my first cancerversary. It means that it’s harder to see the finish line.
This has been the worst marathon and I have another four years of it.
There have been little successes along the way.
Well, maybe not so little.
Because my friend pushed me to see a doctor we caught cancer early. Surgery removed the cancer with clear margins and showed that it had not traveled to my lymph nodes.
After a giant hiccup in my treatment where a medication allergy almost killed me, we were able to switch chemotherapy drugs and I finished chemotherapy with no added complication other than the usual hair loss, fatigue, and chemo brain.
Radiation treatment went smoothly.
And now, I have four more treatments left. FOUR.
Then four more years with a daily pill to address the ER+ cells.
If I squint really hard, I can see the finish line.