I consider myself a high energy person. I am generally upbeat and almost always on-the-go. For better or for worse, this is how I have always functioned. And I’m pretty happy moving at this pace.
In March of last year, I left work with a few months of travel plans and some new professional opportunities to think about. I was super excited about the upcoming adventures (at least the adventures that I was planning to have).
Things were about to change in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. I was in Nicaragua, by way of Denver, putting on some sunblock and changing to head to the beach. I felt a lump on the outside of my right breast. It didn’t hurt but it was definitely not there before. I knew I had to get it checked out when I got home.
Over the course of the next month, in between travel, I had a doctor check out my lump and confirm that it should be further examined. I had a mammogram, an ultra sound and then a biopsy. Less than a week later, I was leaving lunch with a friend and noticed that I had a missed call from the breast imaging center. There was a message asking me to call back. 5 minutes later, I was hanging up the phone on a beautiful day in May, standing on a corner, in downtown Pittsburgh, wondering how I was going to tell my parents and my sister that I had breast cancer.
I stood there completely calm but my mind was racing: Everything was going to change. Why me? Was this real? I’m only 36. Could there have been a mistake? I’m a relatively healthy person. How could this happen? I was in the middle of making changes in my professional life. Can I still be abroad for 6 months? My personal life was no where near figured out and I haven’t had kids yet. How far was this going to set me back? Was I going to get super sick? Is this going to kill me? This is not how I wanted to spend this year. I got this. It’s going to be fine. What if it’s not fine? OMG, I have cancer.
Cancer created a hard stop on all other plans.
The next few weeks involved trying to sort out insurance (great timing on not working, Neha), additional testing which included MRI biopsies, a lymph node biopsy, CT scans, blood work, bone density scans, echo cardio grams, meeting with the surgeon, the oncologist, the genetic counselor, and the fertility doctor, etc. Before this, I had never been to the hospital outside of routine appointments and for travel vaccinations. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind. Along the way I wondered, “was I doing the right things, did I have the right team in place, did I have all the information that I needed to make the right choices for myself?” It’s a lot. On one hand, I wanted all of the information because how else was I going to make the right decisions? On the other, I didn’t want too much information, since it was so overwhelming. Onward…
We put a plan into place. I would start with chemo (6 months, 16 treatments). Then we would talk about surgery options (I would end up having 2 of them in January). All of this would be followed by 6 weeks of radiation. And then, long-term hormone therapy to prevent reoccurrence.
Active treatment was about a year long and definitely both a physical and emotional challenge. It comes with a list of short term and long term side effects that could read as long as this story. Today, there is no evidence of disease but there is so much that comes with a cancer diagnosis, beyond the treatment. It has affected every part of my life. I woke up the day after active treatment and realized that I had given up work, my space, my savings, time, energy…and my body felt nothing like it used to.
Some days, I remember to be so grateful for treatment. Other days, I still wonder why me and what other issues may come my way from all of this toxic treatment? Either way, it’s hard to know that none of this is a guarantee to being cancer-free, forever.
6 months before my diagnosis, I tattooed an arrow on my left wrist with the word “trust” written in it. It was supposed to be a reminder for me to trust in my story, in my path and in myself. I had read something about arrows needing to be set back or pulled backwards in order to launch forward. It resonated with me. In life, there are always set backs but hopefully these set backs are followed by great change and forward movement. I also read that a solitary arrow represents protection from harm.
Telling? Comfort? A reminder? Cancer has challenged all my beliefs and still forces me to reevaluate. But I am working on coming back around, making that full circle and trying to “trust” in my story.
Today, I’m working on being present, trying to move forward and getting back to a pace that feels right. I am working on piecing my life back together again. I am working on adjusting to and accepting everything that I’ve been through and everything that is still to come. I battle trying to marry coexisting thoughts of anger/sadness (about all things obvious and a lot of things that are not so obvious) and also being grateful (for treatment, to still be here and for all the love in my life).
Cancer sucks but for those of us that are given the chance to keep fighting and keep living, let’s live on and promise to make the most of it.
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