Because I’m still here
My pre-teen daughter looked at me incredulously, “We’re celebrating the day you were diagnosed with cancer? Isn’t that weird?”
Today marks the one year anniversary of the mammogram that confirmed my HER2+/ER+/PR- breast cancer.
It’s a weird day to note on the calendar. It’s been creeping up on me like a two-ton elephant. I’ve been watching the calendar and noting the weeks, counting down to my cancerversary, the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.
I was supposed to have my 6-month checkup on Monday, but due to the impending snowstorm (Woohoo! I love a good snow day!), I moved my appointment at the last minute to yesterday.
I didn’t realize I was worried until I was sitting in an ugly blue hospital gown waiting for the results. When I’m nervous I talk…a lot. I chatted up the radiology tech who was nice, but not chatty.
Understandably, she was more concerned about contacting all the patients who still had appointments scheduled when we would undoubtedly be buried under at least a foot of snow.
Sitting on a hard plastic chair in that chilly and bare room, still wearing my uncomfortable hospital gown, I filled up the waiting time and unbearable silence with a lot of talking. The weather, church, school, online learning, my children; anything to keep my mind off waiting for the results. She seemed to sense my nervousness and let me keep going.
The first time I had a mammogram they took the images and sent me on my way. About a week later I had the all-clear via email. Now, when I get a mammogram they make me wait in the imaging room in my ugly gown until they get the results from the person who reads the images.
Always have a backup plan
What if they tell me my cancer has returned? At least I would have more of an idea as to what to expect as far as treatment goes this time.
As a cancer patient, these are the steps I constantly have in the back of my mind, we all do. We map out our treatments, like escape plans; hoping to find the way out in the easiest and most unobtrusive way.
But the bump of our port underneath our skin, our hair loss, fatigue, and foggy brain is a constant reminder. And if we’re still hairless and have that port bump, the experience is still too close for comfort.
Online support group
I also joined an online support group of fellow mother runners who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Their candor and support have made it a safe space to speak freely about my fears, my corners, and my celebrations like my cancerversary.
It’s the one place where I don’t feel the need to respond, “I’m fine,” when someone asks me how I’m doing. I tell the truth and it’s freeing, and they all totally get it.
It’s also a place to get advice about things that the internet doesn’t tell you or the doctors have forgotten to tell you. It’s wonderful to hear other people’s first-person accounts and know that I’m not alone, or get an answer to a question that I’m too embarrassed to ask my doctor or can’t find online.
If you’re going through cancer, I highly recommend finding a support group, either online or in person. I belong to two online groups. They each serve their own purpose.
The best part is the camaraderie in the worst club where we are all unwilling members.
The mammogram that found my cancer
The day that I went in for my mammogram to determine if I had breast cancer they were going to take the images and send me on my way, just like they had 18 months prior. But my gynecologist, who scheduled the mammogram, had the foresight to refer me for a breast ultrasound to accompany the mammogram.
Even though the ultrasound was scheduled for another day, time, and health center, the mammogram tech walked me over to ultrasound and had them take the ultrasound images. She obviously saw something concerning. I just thought they were being kind fitting me in so that I didn’t have to make a second trip.
It should have been my tipoff that something was wrong. But I was in denial, much like an ostrich with its head in the sand, and refused to acknowledge the possibility of cancer.
Fortunately, my health team decided to not only do an ultrasound, but also a biopsy on the same day. The doctor explained that both my mammogram and breast ultrasound were inconclusive and a biopsy was needed. And there you go. Four days later I was diagnosed with cancer.
When I came home from my mammogram appointment yesterday, my husband hugged me and said he was happy and relieved to hear the good news. I knew that my own fears were in play, I didn’t think that my husband’s would be, too. He’s been a rock this last year.
He’s taken over a lot of the chores I used to do. He’s made dinner and helped with the kids, taken me to appointments where he’s forced to wait in the car because he’s not allowed into the medical center, and tucked me in at night.
He’s watched me go from busy and engaged to foggy-brained and fatigued.
But as my hair grew back so did his relief.
Relief that I was getting better. Relief that I was feeling better. Relief that I was making my way to my pre-diagnosed self.
Today is celebrationable!
And today, February 3, 2021 is my one year cancerversary…Woot?
How does one celebrate a cancerversary? Does anyone have any ideas? Do we acknowledge it? Do we just make note of it on the calendar and carry on? Do we check the girls to make sure no new lumps have shown up?
Prior to my diagnosis, I was in the early days of training for my half marathon. With the pandemic, much to my relief, the half marathon was postponed for 2021.
It seems apropos that as I’m getting stronger — I celebrate my cancerversary by training for that half marathon again.
I’ll dance in the kitchen with my husband, laughing, singing badly, and dancing with the same moves we have been using for the last 20 years.
I’ll pass off the dinner duties to a local restaurant and order carry out.
I’ll celebrate that I’m one more step away from being a patient and one step closer to being a survivor.
And even though I’m still in active treatment, I’ll celebrate that I’m still here.
Thank you for joining me in my journey.