On this day at this time (December 5 at 1 PM) I was home or about to be home after a breast lumpectomy and node removal.
I don’t recall ever wondering during that time whether I’d still be around in a decade.
Even though that wasn’t a thought back then, here I am now, 10 years later — cancer-free!
And so very grateful to be.
I was diagnosed on September 6, 2011 with an aggressive type of cancer in a tumor in my left breast.
Aggressive cancer meant aggressive treatment.
So I began a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. It was very successful, and on this day 10 years ago my surgeon removed the tumor and some nodes. A couple of days after that came the call that my nodes were clear. So that meant I was what folks call NED, No Evidence of Disease.
My medical oncologist said he was surprised the cancer wasn’t in my nodes. But I wasn’t. My intuition told me that the cancer was all gone.
I had had a very strong feeling during a centering prayer session that I was going to be healed of the cancer. I had let go and turned it over to God, knowing that healing could take the full course of chemo, surgery, more chemo, and finally radiation — or that there could be a miraculous healing.
It turned out to be the long course.
I wasn’t surprised, because I had more to learn — and let go of.
The surgery was the easiest part of the journey. The two rounds of chemo were tough. I blame most of my “collateral damage” on them. (I first learned this term from Dr. Susan Love, who has a breast cancer research foundation. When she went through her own cancer journey, she learned personally about the long-term effects of treatment and realized there were more long-term effects than doctors typically acknowledged. She calls those effects “collateral damage”).
For me, the biggest collateral damage has been fatigue. I don’t have nearly the energy level I had pre-cancer-treatment. I also have some pain at both the lumpectomy and node-removal sites, but that’s typically not too severe.
Maybe radiation had long-term impact as well, but I really think that chemo was the biggest culprit. Being poisoned for 16 weeks had to have a big effect on my body.
However, I’d choose the collateral damage over letting the cancer run its course!
So even with a life that is slower than I used to have and that requires a lot more rest, I am very grateful to be celebrating a 10-year NED anniversary.
As hard as it was, the cancer journey taught me more than anything I’ve experienced in my entire life. It was my Ph.D. in learning about what truly matters in a human lifetime.
I look back today at that surgery day. I was hopeful even through my throwing up again and again after surgery. I thought I’d be throwing up the whole time my sister (who came to take care of me several times during my treatment) drove me home, but the nausea finally subsided. I spent the afternoon resting on the sofa. And I slept well that night. My sister, a friend, and I even went out to eat for my birthday the next day. That’s how easy the surgery was!
And I got the all-clear call soon enough after surgery that I could have a celebration dinner with my sister before she headed back to her home in New England. This is a photo from that dinner. You can see how happy we both were!
And 10 years later I’m still here, celebrating with a blog post. Covid has me being careful and not going into restaurants to celebrate because another part of my collateral damage is that my immune system isn’t very good. But I don’t need a meal out or anything special to celebrate.
Because feeling grateful is enough.
I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had in the last 10 years. For the support of my sister. For the people I’ve met. For the friendships that have nurtured me. For travel and for time alone. For mountains and sunsets and rainy days. For cats and cuddles. For my heart which is still beating and my lungs which are still filling and my legs which are still ambulating.
It’s a blessing to be on this earth for another 10 years. A breast cancer journey made me much more vividly and viscerally aware of that.
That journey made me choose gratitude each and every day. For 10 years now.
Though I will say on some days I am more grateful.
Especially on anniversary days.
Days like today!