Memorial Day (or, Memory Day)

Happy Memorial Day. I took a moment today to silently thank those who died while in service for our country.

But I must confess that my thoughts were elsewhere.

Today is my fifth year anniversary of my mastectomy. Five years ago today…I had a breast taken off…Five years ago today, I began my cancer journey. I began chemo, I began being bald, I began to look over my shoulder for the cancer specter..Five years ago today…I took another hit to my cosmic self.

I remember sitting up in my hospital bed, being prepped for my surgery. The nurse became very concerned about me…she said I was too calm. I replied that it was only cancer…that the worst thing that could happen to a person was to have a child with autism. Once you have dealt with that…everything else was secondary. I remember her looking at me…with a sad look in her eyes. But it was true. I would take anything, to have nothing happen to my children. Autism…dealing with this can be so incredibly draining at times…cancer seemed simple by comparison.

I remember trying to wake up after my six-hour surgery. I just could not open my eyes. I could hear the doctor speaking to me…but my eyes just would not open. I remember when the nurse in my recovery room tried to help me get up to use the rest room for the first time…I remember thinking “HOLY SHIT HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GO HOME IN THE MORNING??? I FEEL LIKE I’VE BEEN HIT IN THE CHEST BY A TRUCK!” But I clenched my jaw, and stood…and slowly made it to the restroom.

I remember being at home, hopped up on Vicodin…a few days after my surgery…and begging my friends to come pick me up and take me to Starbucks because I needed to get out into the sun. And so they did, and there I sat, drains attached to, my shirt….I didn’t care.

I remember going with my daughter to have my head shaved and to pick out my wig…I wanted to sob…but my daughter was there so I put on a brave face and said how much easier this would be now…and she picked out a wig with long brown hair…and said that now we looked like sisters. How could I say no to that?

I remember getting my port put in my arm…and my arm turning black and blue after the surgery, as though I had been beaten. I remember the first time I had chemo, and they poked the needle into my still bruised arm, and I thought that this still freaking hurt as much as an IV.

I remember thinking hey, my short stubble hair isn’t falling out–I shaved my head for no reason! And then my short stubble hair did fall out…and I rubbed it out the rest of the way after my shower, sobbing now, alone, in my bathroom, so I wouldn’t scare my children.

I remember when I cooked dinner and I realized that I couldn’t taste things correctly due to the chemo…and I still cooked dinner every night except for the week of my mastectomy. I remember going to the gym as soon as my scar was healed and I got the ok from my surgeon…and I went back to my kickboxing and Zumba classes. I remember being so short of breath as my hemoglobin was only 10 and I had to have a shot to boost my bone marrow after my chemo…but I still worked out.

I remember being so tired the weekend after my chemo….I had chemo every three weeks…on Tuesday….my bone marrow shot on Friday…and on Saturday I would be so very tired…I would lay on the couch, trying to be a mother to my autistic son…and feeling like a failure because all I could do was let him watch movies all day.

I remember getting the call that we could finally go to Africa to get our children, after six long years of waiting….at the end of my hard chemo. I was completely immunocompromised and yet I still jumped on a plane and flew to Sierra Leone. I still do not know how I did not contract something. I remember seeing the children again, and trying to not act as exhausted as I was, and trying to not scare them with my bald head.

I remember finally getting my strength all the way back about a year ago. And yes, it takes about that long after you are over chemo. I remember gaining a shit ton of weight on the oral medication to keep cancer at bay…and crying in my surgeon’s office about being heavy and crying harder about being so shallow that I cried about being heavy. I remember the extreme joint pain I had with the first medication…and how I still powered through at the gym…because I must live to take care of my son.

I remember getting the call this February that the radiologist was very concerned about my mammogram and that there might be a mass…and how I nearly fell apart. I remember thinking that this was it…that I had run out of second chances. I remember having an anxiety attack on the spot at my job. I remember that my repeat mammogram was normal as was my breast MRI…but I still worry.

Every headache, every bit of joint pain, every episode of shortness of breath…I think…is it back? Yes, I have made it five years. The odds are in my favor. I had no lymph nodes, my cancer was triple receptor positive. I am not a BRACA 1 or 2 gene carrier.

But I have a son that will need me to care for him the rest of his life. That means I have to be as healthy as possible the rest of mine. So instead of sleeping in this Memorial Day…I got up and went to the gym. I take care of myself. I’m doing all I can to stay around as long as possible. I’ve been given a second chance…I don’t want to blow it.

Now I could go on here, and say more about how I’m trying to get rid of all the toxic shit in my life, and make way for good things but I won’t.

Right now I just want to say…that is has been a hell of time these last five years. I have learned a lot about myself, both good and bad. Now I am much more focused…and thankful.

And I have all my kids. What more could a person want?

One thought on “Memorial Day (or, Memory Day)

  1. Your story is amazing and inspiring! Thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable and share this. You are a fighter and kick ass one that! I hope some day you do decide to share about removing toxicity in your life, to make room for the good. It’s the truth of your story, the honesty of which you tell it that encourages someone like mysef to keep going! Grateful I read this and congratulations!

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