MilestonesPosted: March 15, 2011 Filed under: breast cancer | Tags: breast cancer, cancer battle, cancer diagnosis, Duke, girls' trip, hospital, infection, Lake Tahoe, Little League, mastectomy, milestones, recovery, Salisbury Beach, state baseball championship, stress, survivor, Tyler, wound vacuum 8 Comments
I just realized that Sunday was 10 months exactly since my mastectomy. And tomorrow will be 2 weeks exactly since reconstruction. I’m trying hard not to think about the fact that exactly 3 weeks after the mastectomy came the infection, which landed me back in the hospital just as I was getting my life back, and ended up costing me 23 days of incarceration (hospitalization); 3 vacations (Duke girls’ trip to Lake Tahoe, to Tyler for Payton’s All Star team’s state championship, and our annual visit to Boston and Salisbury Beach); 3 more surgeries; 10 days of twice-daily IV antibiotic infusions at home; and introduction to and hatred of Sucky, the wound vacuum. All in one summer. I’m sure that nasty infection cost me more that what’s listed, but those are the highlights.
I’m trying, really trying, not to think that a catastrophe is coming. I’m trying not to wait for the other shoe to drop, for the bottom to fall out, and the walls to cave in on this recovery. It’s a fragile peace. Very fragile.
Two mantras run through my head: It’s Temporary, and Don’t Borrow Trouble.
The first comes from Jenny, my survivor-sister mentor who has walked this walk, and then some. Her kids were 7, 5, and 1 year old when she was diagnosed, and like me, her case was anything but textbook. Hers was way worse than mine, and we veterans do like to compare and contrast. But she not only survived, she thrived, and she’s a shining example for me every single day. Now that I’m getting closer to being “done” with this “cancer journey” I appreciate her example even more, because she’s my tour guide for L.A.C.: Life After Cancer.
The second mantra comes from guest blogger and night nurse Amy Hoover, and along with her charging me $10 for being difficult, she reminds me to avoid looking for the bogeyman. Ignore him, assume he’s moved on. I suspect all survivors have a little bit of pessimism in them, no matter how chipper they seem. Yes, I’m glad to have been one of the lucky ones, who found it early and can bask in the security of single-digit recurrence rates. And yes, I do try to look on the bright side, count my blessings, and walk on the sunny side of the street (as my mama used to say). In general, my side is blindingly bright, my blessings are innumerable, and I need SPF 70 for the powerful rays on my side of the street. But the thoughts are still there. Sometimes.
Sometimes thoughts of “what if?” fight their way to the surface and take giant gulps of pessimistic-filled air. Those gulps sustain those thoughts as they traverse my grey matter and circumvent the rational side of my brain that tells them to hush up, quiet down, and go away. The rational side of my brain fusses at those thoughts to beat it, get outta town, and quit plaguing me with doubt, worry, and fear. And usually, it works.
But sometimes, instead of celebrating the milestones and thinking about how far I’ve come, those thoughts prevail. Instead of holding my head high even though my back still isn’t completely straight from the giant incision on my belly, I cower a little. Just a little, because I absolutely despise cowering. But sometimes my irrational brain takes over and reminds me that there are no guarantees in life, and there certainly is no travel insurance on this “cancer journey.” I’m the poster child, after all, for doing everything right lifestyle-wise yet still being crapped upon by the giant cancer bird in the sky.
You know me, though, and I’m not about to let some giant bird or some niggling thoughts stop me from living my life. And living it out loud. Today I will celebrate being a 10-month survivor.
I don’t think it’s irrational to ask “what if?” There’s maybe a 5% chance of recurrence, but you have plenty of good 5% things in your life. Your son is a top 5% baseball player. Your daughter is top 5% in, shall we say, verbal expression. You are top 5% in hotness. That infection you contracted is more like a .5% event. 5% things happen. It isn’t irrational to worry about a bad one heading our way. The possibility sucks and is unfair, but it’s real.
What would be irrational would be to let fear dominate your attitude. It’s out there, it’s a fact. You have done and are doing what you can to mitigate those odds. Crying and worrying don’t help you in Las Vegas and they don’t help you here either. And “what if?” What if there’s bad news some years in the future? I think ‘living out loud’ as you say would carry you through that much better than any other attitude.
Having said all that, it’s undeniably still your prerogative to have the occasional irritable, cranky and just plain bitchy day.
Congratulations on your 10 month milestone. It sounds like you have accomplished a whole lot of recovery in less than a year!
Well, it’s obvious that Mom didn’t raise no dummies! Your sweet husband is right on. There’s no denying that the possibility of recurrence is real, but is almost non-existent in your case. However, even if that weren’t the case, there is no point in worrying about what you have no control over anyway. Take your own advice, and keep “living out loud” – enjoying the great life that you have (or will in just a few more weeks!). We love you!
P.S. I also agree that it’s okay to enjoy a crabby day once in awhile too!
I tip my cap to survivors. Ten minutes, ten days, ten months and/or ten years. We are on Day 1 and when I first read the word “survivor” this morning it was the stark realization of where Bonnie and I have been these past two months. What lies ahead is anyone’s guess. She’ll come home armed with pain pumps, drains and the knowledge of going through a life-altering event. I’ll always have my keyboard, but we’ll definitely have each other – not to mention the network of friends this has harvested as well. San Franscisco sunshine is all about today with more expected through the week – and during this interim I’ll be sure to stock the wine cabinet with all she can handle. I’m not sure if I love making her first cup of coffee in the morning or opening a bottle of zinfandel … either way we’ll be together when the sun comes up and when it sets behind us. Ten months? Hell yes!! I can’t wait …
Hang in there, brother.
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