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?