Friday, December 30, 2011

How Things Look Five Years Past Diagnosis

I am 2,055 days past diagnosis. That’s five years, 7 months and 16 days. I remember those first few days dragging on, each one seeming to last a year or so, as I looked longingly into the future to a time when my risk of recurrence would drop down to a level at which I could breathe easily.

I finished surgery, chemo, radiation. The first full year. The second. Then the days started to move quicker and quicker. And then, one day, I was three years past diagnosis, the point at which the risk of recurrence drops dramatically for triple-negative breast cancer. Then it was five years. And now cancer is history.

I had turned 60 a few months before my diagnosis and had made the dreadful joke that it was better than the alternative. Not so funny when I was faced with the prospect of that alterative.

I never actually thought I was going to die soon. But being diagnosed was the first time I faced the fact that I honestly and truly would eventually breathe my last breath. And I began to think that cancer might be what would cause my death. Not perhaps in a month or a year, but sometime. That is a sobering, life-changing, scary thought.

Now that I am so far on the other side, that point I looked at with such yearning when I was diagnosed, I have been reflecting on how it feels.

Darn good, folks. Darn good.

I am a different person now—certainly more thankful of things, more introspective, more contemplative, less judgmental. I matured into a deeper me through this experience, and I like that.

Sure, I can still be snarky, cynical, and impatient. I didn’t turn into Mother Theresa, just maybe a lower intern on her staff.

The longer I go past cancer, the less likely I am to see every symptom as a recurrence. I had a nasty pain in the back of my head the other day and Googled it. Sure enough, at some point, brain cancer came up—usually a recurrence of breast cancer, according to one site. ( Did I stiffen with anxiety, as I used to at such prospects? No, I moved on. I did not have brain cancer then any more than I had it with a headache two years or three years or five years ago. I knew that. The difference now was that I also felt it. I felt like I was OK.

I have loosened my dietary restraints a tad and am letting myself eat a bit more fat, but only occasionally. I still try hard to eat well. And I keep up my exercise. Lately I have been doing a workout through After about nine months I am still at the “getting started” level, but I can keep up, I get a workout, and my weight has dropped a tad. I wish the workout were called something more befitting of somebody with my obvious high class and finesse, but it is what it is. I do have to watch how I explain what I am doing. “I am working on my Beach Body” really makes people do a double take at the grandma they see before them.

My day is filled with meaningful activities—time with family and friends, yoga, meditation, spiritual activities, discussion groups. I spend time almost every day in email chats with somebody who is going through the cancer journey, and I hope I can help. I love that I have the chance to try.

I retired from full-time work about a year after my diagnosis. And, while I miss that regular salary, I love being able to do what is meaningful to me, to spend a good amount of time each day taking care of myself and others. That doesn’t pay all that well in dollars and cents, but it sure has a solid emotional and spiritual reward.

I drink a lot less. I still enjoy a martini every now and then and, actually, enjoy it more because it is an event, not an everyday thing, a needed soother after a stressful day. And I notice that I sleep much better when I do not drink.

I have been blessed with 2,055 days after diagnosis with no recurrence. I remain thankful for every day. I hope that does not change.


Teresa said...

Sounds wonderful. I'm coming up on my 3 year anniversary (of becoming cancer-less? Hmmm anniversary of surgery? anyway, 3 years of no cancer) and mine was also triple-negative. I've enjoyed your postings and learned things as well, so I figured it was time I said "thanks." And also...Happy New Year!

Lisa D. said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful information and encouragement. You are truly a blessing. Happy and Healthy 2012, Pat!!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and all the best from an anymous reader of your blog. Happy new year!!!

Carrie said...

great post! So happy for you and I hope triple negative breast cancer will be a thing of the past soon. Best wishes!

Michelle said...

Do you mind sharing your diagnosis specifics? I was a stage 2 with no positive lymph nodes at age 37. Thank you. Your words are so encouraging!

Patricia Prijatel said...

Michelle: My dx was really pretty encouraging, all things considered. One doc said I was stage 1, another said stage 2. They differed on the size of the tumor--one said it was under 2 cm, the other said it was over. I went with the doc who saw it smaller. (One looked at the diagnostic biopsy, the other at the surgical. The surgical, which most folks consider the more accurate, had it smaller.) I had no affected nodes either. I was 60 at diagnosis. If I had not been hormone-negative, I would not have needed chemo.