Five years ago, on October 22, 2009, I wiped tears out of my ears. Lying still on a cold metal table I couldn’t hold them back. Silent tears of exhaustion and relief rolled out of my eyes and pooled in both my ears. After clearing out my ears, I glanced around the dimly lit room one last time. A quiet prayer of thanks and then I rushed out of the room and down the hallway, determined to never set my eyes again on the hand painted flower mural covering the cement walls. I renamed the basement radiation office “the dungeon.” For six weeks I walked around smelling like a giant tube of aloe vera gel. Every morning, Monday through Friday, I would take my place on the cold table under the Star Trek Enterprise looking giant zapper. Thirty-three radiation treatments to eliminate any lingering cancer cells. I started hunching my shoulders to keep my blistered, angry lobster-red skin from touching my T-shirts. Finishing radiation treatments marked the end of active treatment. Ten long months of active treatment. Three surgeries, 32 physical therapy appointments (to help regain range of motion and later to treat lymphedema), six rounds of chemotherapy and losing all my hair.
Five years ago I finished active treatment for breast cancer. At the time, I wondered if this day would ever come.
For many cancer survivors the five-year mark is a milestone. For me, every year is a milestone. Watching Jonathan graduate from high school three years ago, shouting an extra loud “Woohoo!” as Julia promoted from elementary school to intermediate school last spring, and looking forward to this weekend as Michael attends his Homecoming Dance and begins applying for colleges in the coming weeks–I relish each and every one of these milestones.
I finally worked up the courage to ask my oncologist about recurrence. She shared that the aggressive type of cancer most young women are diagnosed with usually recurs within the first three years post active treatment. For my type of cancer, she said if it would return it would be in 7-10 years. So, though I am able to go through most days now without any thought of cancer, I find there are days when unwelcome fears circle around and enter my mind. On those days I am faced with the choice of how to proceed. Do I live in “what-ifs?” Do I obsess? Do I lay down my anxious thoughts and receive each day as a gift? Most days I walk in freedom knowing my days are numbered by the One who knows how many hairs have regrown on my head.
As I shared in my last post, along the way I have met remarkable people who have come alongside to help and encourage during both the cancer journey as well as the writing journey. This theme of community plays on repeat now in my little life as I go along each day. My soul has been altered for the better having been loved so well. My mind is filled with the faces of family and friends near and far who rallied, prayed and carried our family through the darkest days. I lift my pumpkin spice latte with deepest gratitude to each of you who came alongside us. Thank you.
I am also so grateful for these friends who are hosting book giveaways this week:
Oh, and an hour long live Interview on My Faith Radio program here.
The month is not over and several other opportunities still remain to win a copy of the book. Keep checking back.
And join me in raising a pumpkin spice latte to celebrate five years cancer free!