Dear Friends and Family,
So, the day is finally here. March 11, 2012. It has been one year since I received my breast cancer diagnosis, while I was six and a half months pregnant. I have reflected on the past year quite a bit and spent a lot of time wondering what is the best way to commemorate this day. Celebrate this day? Mourn this day? Just mark this day.
No one should have to receive the "you have cancer phone call". It knocks the breath out of you and my first immediate thought was, "This can't be true. It actually, literally is just WRONG information. You called the WRONG person." I didn't realize I had so many tears inside of me and I didn't realize the emotions that existed deep down - fear, anxiety, terror - all ultimately leading to, "Will this make me die?"
It's been a roller coaster. The hardest year of my life also celebrated the two biggest blessings of my life; my magical wedding to the man of my dreams and the birth of my beautiful son. My heart and soul were filled to the brim with love while my body was infiltrated with the strongest drugs available. I've watched people gather all around the world to support me; neighbors and friends bring dinner to my door everynight; had my days brightened my cards, e-mails, care packages and jokes; but I've also seen people distance themselves from me because they don't know what to say. I've tried to let insensitive comments roll of my back (my favorite: "Oh, you have cancer. My friend's mom just died from that." Gee. Thanks.) I've argued with my closest family members about my treatment and at times, wasn't the easiest or most logical patient.
Because of my journey, I have a special gift. I have the most special gift. I know what it is like to EARN your life. Before, it was given to me. I lived in it and I had fun in it. But now, I've earned it. I've earned each laugh, each tear, and each experience. So today, I want to share the lessons I have learned in the past 365 days.
1. Create perspective.
When you look at things as a whole, it can seem overwhelming and unfair. I have cancer, I have a newborn, I have no hair, blah blah blah. I find it exhausting to constantly evaluate my life and my trials. So I have started reciting a few things that keep it all in check for me. "It could have metastasized into my liver, lungs and bones. I could not have health insurance. My baby is healthy. I have the most supportive network. My husband is by my side. I live close to a beautiful treatment facility. I have to keep going because I have MANY more experiences and memories to make." I see the fight people are going through every time I am at the cancer center and I see some people losing. That is enough to help me create perspective.
2. Embrace who you are.
There are certainly days that I pout, I whine, and I just don't feel like doing things. But, in the past six months, I have embraced that I am a 30-year old living with cancer. I wear my pink symbols. I am ready to talk and share my experiences with others. I have lessons to discuss and awareness to create. I am a working mom who deals with all of the challenges every other mom has. I am a cancer patient who deals with annoying insurance companies, too many Explanation of Benefit statements and anxiety over scans. I am a wife who doesn't like thinking about dinner every night, dislikes book reports and loves dinners out without children. I am a social person who loves relationships with my family and friends and celebrating over glasses of wine and great cheese. I have cried so many tears, I wonder sometimes, if I have run out of them. I am stubborn, overly pragmatic and have little patience. Certainly traits that need some work to them, but I know who I am and have embraced it.
3. Cherish your moments.
No one can understand what is is like to have your health threatened, unless you have experienced it firsthand. Once you have that experience, you understand how important little moments are. The kiss on my forehead every night when Brian comes in the door is a reminder that we are connected. Evan's smile every morning when I walk in his room in the morning is a reminder that he needs me. Yesterday morning, Brian woke up with Evan and brought him into our room. The three of us played on the bed for thirty minutes - no TV, no phones, no where to be. Just enjoying each other and our growing boy. Those moments make life worth living; a fight worth continuing.
4. I'm not perfect and I'm not a perfect patient.
I love hearing inspirational stories - someone has cancer, they are amazing and awe-inspiring and make everyone around them sing. It makes me wonder how I can be grumpy, cranky and irritable. Where is my singing choir? For every amazing story I hear though, I know that everyone has their hard days. And on my hard days, I'm no picnic. I used to complain about having no hair, now I complain about short hair. I used to complain about being tired, now I complain about sore joints and being bone-tired and not being able to sleep. I whine about having chemo. (I don't wanna go!) I whine about the side-effects. I have been fighting my next step of treatment and keep trying to justify to everyone why I shouldn't have to do it. I'm not perfect, people don't sing in choir formation when I am around and sometimes, being around me is ugly. But, I'm not perfect and I am getting through this the best way I can.
5. One day at at time...
This is my mantra. You know what it means and you know why people say it. If today isn't a good day, then I'll get through it and wait for a better day tomorrow. But I'm only taking one day at a time. I'm not evaluating my prognosis for the next year or decade. I'm not going to live in the hypothetical. I'm going to take things one day at a time and do the best I can.
Ultimately, I want this one-year anniversary to be the first of many. I hope that my journey allows others to feel confident and ambitious in their journey. I hope that my journey enables women in their twenties and thirties to analyze their health and their bodies and take charge of their futures. Spread the message. Share my story. If it encourages one woman to get a mammogram, it's worth it.
My gratitude towards all of you is never ending. You'll never know how much your support has encouraged me to keep going and feel strong when I felt weak. I am so blessed and I feel your love. I want to pay it forward and do the same thing that you all have done for me. Thank you for walking through my journey with me and continuing to support me as I head into Year 2.
I love you,