When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never dreamed it would all be so complicated. I also didn’t realize I’d have to make decisions that would affect my ‘survival rate’ or ‘cancer recurrence rate.’ I thought a team of doctors would tell me what to do. Everybody I met had a different opinion, and ultimately, I had to make my own decisions about surgery and treatment options.
Hot Hubby and I pondered such delights as potential recurrence and survival rates versus percentage of potential side effects for various treatments. And as Hot Hubby pointed out, I decreased my survival rates by driving to all of these appointments with the crazy LA drivers out there!
What Breast Cancer Looked Like for Me
I finally found my dream oncologist who walked us through the pathology of my tumors, and showed us data on the effectiveness and recurrence rates of hormone therapy and IV chemotherapy. We formulated a plan together on how to treat these rotten tumors, and to hopefully keep me alive to see my kids graduate.
We discussed how the next ten years would look with hormone therapy. By the way, this is no “get out of jail free” card. Tamoxifen is supposed to cut my risk of metastatic disease from 20% to about 10%, which means I should grow old with Hot Hubby and die in my sleep holding his hand after a long walk on the beach with our grandchildren. But there are no guarantees. Tamoxifen also comes with many uncomfortable side effects including moodiness, hot flashes, risk of stroke and uterine cancer (lovely).
My battle is far from over, and I could be sharing a very different story or not be here to share at all had I detected this disease later. According to my most recent PET/CT and bone scans, there is no evidence of disease (YAY). I take a daily magical pill that suppresses the hormones that feed my cancer, and will hopefully prevent a recurrence. (Frankly it seems like a huge weight to put on one measly pill!) I’ve had many breast reconstructive surgeries, and am facing more surgeries in the future. Cancer is the gift that apparently keeps on giving.
As it turned out, breast cancer had a lot to teach us:
10 Things That Breast Cancer Taught My Family
1. This is science and doctors are all “practicing” medicine.
2. The little things that would really freaking irritate me…well, they seem quite insignificant now.
3. I am incredibly grateful for so many things. And gratitude is so powerful and healing. I’m especially grateful for the people who showed kindness and helped us through our toughest times. I wish I could write every single name down to thank them, but they all know who they are.
4. I’m really happy to be alive. I’m grateful for each milestone I celebrate with my children and can’t help but wonder what these milestones would look like were I not there.
5. I don’t like to talk about my cancer because I want to protect you and me from an uncomfortable conversation. I don’t want to be ‘Debbie Downer’ or a bore because ‘I’m still here.’ I can’t bear the discomfort in your eyes and voice. The truth is I’m riddled with medical problems: hormonal mood swings, intense joint pain, insomnia, chemo-brain, menopause, fatigue all caused by medications. And I get to take these medications for another ten years. To be honest, it totally sucks.
6. I’m not angry that I had cancer. The closest to anger is when I think about the worry, pain and fear that forced my sweet boys to grow up more quickly.
7. I refuse to feel ashamed of my scars and my reconstructed breasts. I am proud of my body and what it has overcome.
8. Do I have cancer cells waiting to parade through my body? Am I exercising enough? Will my semi-plant based diet prevent cancer cells from growing? Will my love of tequila cause a recurrence? Who knows…it’s all a big mystery. As a breast cancer survivor I live with this uncertainty forever.
9. I pretend I’m not, but I’m often really scared. Fear hits me when I least expect it. I was steadfast and strong for four weeks, preparing my mind and body for an invasive-9hr-life-altering surgery, yet I often fall apart if the nurse can’t find my vein at my oncology appointment. My fears are bottled up inside and fall out when I least expect them. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to cause a scene. I wish I could control this.
10. I thought once I finished my treatment and the surgeries were healed, I’d be on ‘the other side.’ There is no other side for a breast cancer survivor. My life is split into two parts: life before I was diagnosed with breast cancer and life after cancer.
I’m told that my five and ten year anniversaries are significant. Each headache and knee pain over the next few years will be stressful with the “what ifs,” but I refuse to live in fear. I will continue to live life full and large, and as Dory in Finding Nemo said, “Just keep swimming!”
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