I don’t have cancer.
I’M CANCER FREE!!!!
Nine months ago today I announced to the world “I have cancer.” Three words that changed my life irrevocably. Nine months ago yesterday Jim and I were packing up our campsite and I got The Call. We’d gone camping so I would be distracted while waiting for the results of my biopsy. As we were getting ready to leave, my doctor called and we sat at the picnic table.
I had breast cancer.
This past Monday I had CT scans, and while they discovered nodules on my lungs which concerned me, they didn’t concern my oncologist. I’ll get more scans in four to six months. He said my scans looked great. I can go to North Carolina to see family. He said I’m doing great.
“So can we say that I’m cancer-free?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, you are cancer-free!” he said.
I don’t have cancer. I’m cancer-free.
Is this “adventure” over? No. I’ll be getting radiation soon. The cancer is gone, but we don’t want it to return. Radiation – radiation that’s targeted solely to my breast – will reduce the risk of recurrence from thirty percent to five. That’s worth sixteen trips to another cancer center. The radiation oncologist is located near several parks, so I’ll turn these visits into hiking trips with a quick stop to make sure I don’t have to say those three words again.
I love roller coasters. This one? Not so much. I want to get off and never, ever do those loopty-loops again. The worst part has been the not-knowing. Every step of the way, there was so much I didn’t know. There’s so much I still don’t know. How will radiation affect me? How will I react moving forward?
How do I live my absolute best life?
I’m going to use a cliche because it fits: I have a new lease on life. Out of necessity for my physical and mental health I put some things aside in the last nine months, but not all. I wrote a book. I taught a writing workshop. I gave presentations at libraries and the Travel and Adventure Show. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like cancer hold me back.
The trauma I’ve experienced, both physical and mental, has, however, forced me to slow down. It’s forced me to reevaluate how I want to live my life and what I want to bring to the world.
Consistently I return to writing. Writing writing writing. Writing has sustained me, uplifted me, allowed me to experience the dumptruck of emotions. It’s enabled me to catch and release – for the most part – the negativity that could consume me. It’s given me a wide lens with which to view how very, very fortunate I am. By publishing some of my story, I’ve been given the gift of love and generosity. By writing my book, I proved to myself that what I am and who I am is a storyteller.
I’m sure there are easier ways to confirm your life’s calling, but this was mine.
Where do I go from here? I keep writing. I keep trying to make people smile. I keep improving my diet and will lose another twenty pounds. (Weight is a big factor in cancer recurrence, I’ve learned.)
I will keep sharing my story. One of the most palpable things I’ve learned is that being vulnerable inspires others. It’s a tangible example that we are not alone. Fear, courage, frustration, hope – they all fit into the bucket of emotions we feel on a daily basis, no matter what our individual challenges may be. I’ve been inspired by so many who have dealt with their own losses and gut-punches and display the resilience of warriors. If they could do it, I could do it, and if I can do it, so can you.
Where do I go from here? Nowhere major. I didn’t put my life or who I am on hold last August 18, and nine months later my “life” doesn’t suddenly resume. I have grown, am growing, will continue to grow. I have learned so much about who I am and what is important to me. I want to be a better me. A better friend. Wife. Sister. Mother. Daughter. A better person.
One thing that has changed is that I am more mindful of how I spend my time. Every moment is an opportunity to influence the rest of my life. Every moment is worth living. To be present and to pay attention to the right now is the best gift I can give myself.
My story isn’t over. It isn’t just beginning. My adventure continues.