Milestones

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.