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. (www.scarethepantsoffyou.com). 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 Beachbody.com. 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.