Remission. Cancer free. Whatever you want to call it, life does not return to normal after treatment, something I learned the hard way.
I returned to work quickly after treatment. I was anxious to get back to my normal life. It quickly became apparent though that I was living a new type of normal. I was still in a wig, and had to deal with stress surrounding THAT. When will my wig come off? What will the kids at work think if they see me with a "buzz cut"? I was always known for my long blonde hair.
When I met new people, I found that I felt like there was this secret luring over my head. At what point does the topic come up? HOW does the topic come up?
Remission isn't only the end of my battle, but it was the start of my acceptance to life after treatment. It was living with a "me" who is NOT the most fit, who has some quirks and post-traumatic stress issues from cancer, etc. My muscles and bones ached like I was 85 years old.
Most days, I do great. My scars are just part of who I am, and my hair is back to normal. I have finally recently started to lose my weight that I gained during treatment. Other days however, I get thrown right back into it.
When I started working again after treatment, I would develop irrational fears of hurting myself. I was scared to slip on ice or something and would picture people saying, "She survived cancer!..... but broke her hip" I had a panic attack the morning of our first family vacation and we almost canceled. We went. My kids deserved a vacation. They deserved to enjoy themselves after the hell I put them through. I cried and spent most of the time in bed. I didn't know HOW to live again.
A few weeks ago, my irrational fear appeared again, but this time it was because it became a reality - I had a biking accident. Lying in the emergency room, I wasn't sure what the damage was yet, but I knew it was bad. Because it was a trauma, I went to a different hospital than the one where I was treated for cancer. I didn't know these people. This place did not feel like "home" like the Jewish General Hospital did. These people didn't know me and had to ask my medical history.
As the nurse gave me morphine by IV, I started to cry. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a flashback. I tasted the morphine and it brought me back to chemotherapy. The nurse tried to calm me and assure me that the pain would subside. Unable to catch my breath and speak through the tears, I exposed my port-o-cath to her. My badge of honor. My tell-tale sign of what I had been through.
Last week I reached the four year mark of having "No Evidence of Disease". The big FIVE to officially be "Cancer Free" is less than 365 days away. Realistically though, are we ever actually free from cancer? Do we ever experience a trauma, have an ache or a pain, and do not automatically think of our cancer? Though we may became medically free from cancer, our scars are a reminder that it is always part of us.
I am learning to live my new normal. I understand that it is OK to mourn the pre-cancer Joy. Hurting myself post-cancer was such a great fear of mine, and here I am, thriving with my injuries. They are temporary.
I do not know what the future holds for my health, but I need to keep in mind that nobody does. Nobody has that super-power to see into the future.
Today, I celebrate my health. I celebrate that....
Long story short, I survived.
Life was pretty close to perfect...We had moved into our dream home, my kids were beautiful, and I was in the perfect job. My 35th birthday landed on the holiday of Purim, so we had friends and family over to celebrate. We were leaving in a few weeks to LA for a family bar mitzvah. My daughter was in her first season of her dance competition team. We were so happy.
One day my bra was uncomfortable but I assumed it was just getting old and the underwire might be poking me. The kids went to bed, and I went to take off my bra to get in my pajamas. My bra looked fine, so I decided to give myself a breast exam, and that's when I felt it. A lump. It was probably the size of a golf ball. How was this possible? I checked myself regularly because I had a friend at the end of her own breast cancer battle. Why hadn't I felt this the day before in my bra? Did this just pop out of nowhere? I panicked, and showed my husband. I started to cry that I did not want to die. We were leaving in 48 hours to LA. How could I go with this lump on my breast? I called my doctor the next morning and booked an appointment for when I got home. I found my lump on April 5th. My late Zeidi Mike's birthday.
The day I saw my GP she felt the lump, and sent me to a private clinic. She wasn't overly concerned and thought that it could be some scar tissue from the breast reduction I had a year earlier. I went with my daughter the next day to Charlevoix for dance, and then had the appointment with the private clinic upon my return.
Going to the private clinic, I was nervous but decided to go alone. "It CAN'T be cancer," I thought. I was in the best shape of my life. My friend was in Florida, celebrating with her family the end of her cancer treatment. I was texting with her and she told me to insist on a biopsy, even if they say that I didn't need one. I got called into my appointment and the doctor started the ultrasound. We were chatting and he stopped. He took a breath. "There's something there...." he said. Jokingly I responded, "Of course there is something there. That's why I am here!" "No...." he continued. "There's something THERE." I asked him if I was getting a biopsy. He said that he was not letting me go without one. He showed me the blood flow in my growth. I knew what blood flow meant. I went numb. I was alone in this clinic, and was about to have a biopsy on what appeared to be a cancerous lump. A nurse came to hold my hand. I cried. The doctor took two biopsies with a tool that looked like I was getting my ears pierced. I was told that they will call me in 72 hours with the results.
The next few days were hell. I didn't eat, I didn't sleep, and I couldn't function. I stayed in bed and cried. 72 hours like clockwork, I got the call. I remember him saying something about it being aggressive and fast growing. I asked him if I would live to see my kids grow up and my daughter get married. He said that the doctors would do everything in their power. My kids were 3 and 6. They were babies. My diagnosis came on April 28th. It was my husband's late Zeidi Harry's birthday.
The next few days were filled with doctors appointments and tests. I met my oncological surgeon, and my oncologist. They were confident that this will just be a blip in the road. They were confident that we can beat this monster.
Chemo started May 16, 2016. I would have 16 rounds of treatment, followed by surgery. Chemotherapy was hell for me. I had a mild reaction to my first Taxol, so the following ones had to be a slower drip. When I moved onto AC, I had an allergic reaction to it that almost took my life. I powered through the best of my ability. My kids were suffering. I would not leave them without a mother.
October 18 will be 4 years since I finished chemotherapy. My double mastectomy was 6 weeks later. Though several more surgeries would follow, we consider my date of remission to be the date of my double mastectomy.
There are days where I think back to it and it seems like a different life. I cannot believe I had cancer, and I cannot wrap my head around the fact that my babies had to experience this. I attended one cousin's wedding over ZOOM. For the other cousin's wedding my mother in law cooked for me so that I could be comfortable that the food was cooked according to my chemo rules. My best friends got married and I was in a wig and had to sit down before walking down the aisle. For years I was a volunteer medic for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer. In 2016 I was walking for myself. I HAD Breast Cancer. I cannot look at an IV drip without tasting the metallic chemo and getting nauseous in the pit of my stomach. I am tired, my body hurts ALL the time, and only in the past few months have I been able to lose some of the weight I put on. However rough my road has been, whatever the after effects may be, it doesn't matter. What matters is that...…
LONG STORY SHORT, I SURVIVED.