Yesterday, was Cancer Survivor’s Day. The day reminded me of my own experience with cancer.
The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a survivor as “anyone living with a history of cancer–from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.”
June 8, 2005 is one of two dates I remember from my experience. The other is the date of my last chemotherapy, November 28, 2005. That is the date I considered myself cancer free.
The day I returned from my honeymoon, I had a message on the message machine. Two days later, on June 8th, I (and the now former husband) sat in my doctor’s office. She squirmed in her chair. After a slight sigh, her eyes traveled to my own. “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you have breast cancer.”
After that her lips moved but I heard no sound. I became temporarily deaf. My brain tripped on the word cancer and didn’t get up for minutes.
A chair squeaked, my arm nudged, her voice again. I felt myself enveloped in a teary hug. Her tears, not mine.
There are few things like that word cancer to flip your world upside down. Initially, I thought the worse outcome; especially since all of my mother’s siblings died of cancer.
Suffering, death, fear of leaving my three young teenaged kids filled my mind. I know these feelings filled the minds of my children and loved one’s too.
Gradually, I found my life turned right side up, clicking up from the bottom, like I was in a giant Ferris wheel basket, swaying, until I reached the top, able to see the view again.
I didn’t fully enjoy the feeling though as fear of dropping down again, into an abyss, clouded the view. And drop I have, a few times, in the past 10 years.
I seemed to slide in and out of the stages of grief for two to three years. There were no timelines or completion dates, just anxiety and no anxiety; fear and no fear.
These feelings are reproduced, to a much lesser extent, whenever I go for a mammogram, MRI, or PET Scan.
Days turned into months which inched towards years until I felt my momentum again. I’m aware I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m blessed to have had family and some very good friends help me through my time with cancer.
Now, I’m looking forward to one of the commitments I made to myself. (This is one of my ‘to-do’s’ on my bucket list). On my 10th year of cancer free life, I’d get another tattoo to symbolize the anniversary.
A year after treatment finished, I went down to a tattoo professional who my daughter knew and had a tattoo inked over the porta-cath scars above my breast. The butterfly symbolizes transformation and rebirth, the dogwood blossoms endurance and mortality.
I don’t know what my 10 year anniversary symbol will be or where. What I do know is I will celebrate again and continue to hope for a cure.