When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was told what I had always heard about…hit the five year mark and the chances of the cancer coming back are reduced. Every day is special and something to celebrate but to reach five years is when you can really exhale and let out the “Hell ya!” What I didn’t realize at the time was that my five year anniversary was different than my doctors, I had more than one and I wasn’t as quick to celebrate.
Earlier this year I was told that I had achieved that incredible milestone of five years. It was at that moment, I became confused. Yes, it had been five years since my original diagnosis…a diagnosis that I had to fight for and unbeknownst to all of us, it wasn’t completely accurate. That being said it was, indeed, five years since they confirmed I had a small cancerous lump in my breast but it hadn’t been five years since it was removed from my body or when the real struggles began. I left the hospital with a clean bill of health but it was then that I realized my five year mark and my personal celebration was on a different calendar.
It wasn’t until July of this year that I reached one of my personal milestones that I truly wanted to celebrate. It was in July, 5 years ago that I had my bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed). It was not the removal of my breasts that I was eager to celebrate (I liked my original breasts a lot!) but the fact that their removal revealed more cancer than had originally been diagnosed and that timely removal increased my chances of survival.
How did all of this come about…well, a quick rewind…I found a lump which at the moment of discovering it, I knew something was wrong. Instinctually I knew something was REALLY wrong. It was the effort, the fight to have the biopsy, after assurances that it was nothing, that frustrated me. I stood my ground…it’s in my nature to do that! Shortly thereafter I found out I was right…it was cancer. Quickly, I had one lumpectomy after another in an attempt to remove a lump they couldn’t see (dense breasts can hide things well!). Two unsuccessful surgeries later to try and get it all, Steven and I concluded it was best to have both breasts removed and then hopefully the problem would be solved. Well, it was when the whole deal was removed that four more lumps were discovered, three of which were a different kind of cancer; an aggressive, fast growing kind of cancer.
I was happy to celebrate the day that five lumps, comprised of two types of cancer were discovered and removed. For me, it was this day that was truly monumental. It was this day that increased my chances of having another five years and hopefully another fifty.
This was also a day that I look back on every year on my birthday. It was on my 40th birthday that I sat in the doctor’s office to discuss the surgery and results. After a look of confusion on his face and an “I’ll be back,” four times, I had plenty of time to sit there in my blue hospital gown open at the front. Looking at the scars where there use to be breasts, I reflected on my surgery day and seeing the surgeon use a black marker around my breasts before the operation to outline what needed to be done. At that moment of reflection, I felt a sense of relief…I did the right thing and when the doctor comes back, the news should be good. It was shortly after that thought, the doctor entered and I found out how crucial my decision to have the bilateral mastectomy really was. It was because of that surgery they found more cancer they couldn’t see and much to my surprise, I needed chemo and it needed to start shortly thereafter. That was a lot of news for a 40th birthday and that reminder pops into my mind like a burning candle that I need to blow out every birthday since.
There are still two more five year marks to celebrate which have yet to come. The next one is five years since I completed the toxic cocktail called chemotherapy. It was a necessary but incredibly nasty process which helped to eliminate any other rogue cancer cells that may have been trying to build a home somewhere else in my body.
The last celebration will be five years from when I finished my year long treatment of Herceptin (a blocker that helps prevent a certain protein from duplicating) that began at the end of chemo. It turned out that this drug had side-effects which felt like another year of chemo for me. This is the true finale to the two year long process in kicking out the unwelcome intruder called cancer and that will be late 2013.
I just spent my first five year celebration in Vermont with my husband riding bicycles and taking in the incredible scenery. Vermont is one of my favourite states and it was the best place to embrace the joy of having had five more years of life.
As we rode through tree-lined lanes, surrounded by rolling hills filled with black and white cows and red barns, I soaked in the fact that I was incredibly fortunate. As much as I worked very hard to get rid of the cancer…I do owe it a thank you. It gave me greater clarity, strength and appreciation for everything I have and can do. The brilliance of my life and how special I could make it was a gift wrapped in surgeries and toxic cocktails but nevertheless, it was an incredible gift regardless of the package it came in.
On our last day in Vermont, it was fitting that we finished it with a short road ride through beautiful Mount Snow with Steven donning his Erace Cancer Cycling jersey.
This was also a perfect way to celebrate all the things I’ve been able to do with the last five years which is extensive and awesome. The most outstanding opportunity has been to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
I’ve also pursued cycling in full force, achieving the podium numerous times and being sponsored by Opus/OGC. Plus there is rock climbing…we can’t forget that. I’ve eked out a few podium finishes in rock climbing competitions and we’ve travelled to real rock when we could.
We’ve been all over to have fun doing the sports we love with old friends and making new ones. Then there are friends having children and I’m getting the opportunity to watch them grow. I’ve had five more years of making memories, feeling happiness, sadness and love.
Finally, there are the countless times I’ve been able to sit quietly, feel the breeze on my face and smell the rain coming as the clouds roll in. This may not seem like much but it is for me. It is the simple sensations, experiences that you will give anything for when you are sick, staring out the window, wondering how much longer you will live and hoping for another day!
Cheers to five years and to another FIFTY!