An anniversary commemorates an event that took place on that day in a previous year. Anniversaries are often celebrated as a joyous occasion such as a birthday or a wedding anniversary, but they can also commemorate a tragedy such as the death of a loved one.
Today marks an anniversary for me – This day in 2014 was the day that I was told I had breast cancer. Super grim.
I’m one year clear. A one year survivor.
I feel fortunate.
It’s a strange anniversary, or ‘Cancerversary’ as it’s often referred to in our circles (The elite group of special people whose bodies have turned into angry bastards and tried to kill them from the inside out) and getting to year one is an achievement.
Of course, I’ve got a long way to go until I reach the five-year hurdle, the time when the doctors say that you’re out of the danger zone, effectively cured…
That’s not true though. We all know that secondary (metastatic) cancer can strike after the five-year hurdle has been reached, even after ten years or longer. After two years, the risk of recurrence drops considerably but with breast cancer, it can come back at any time.
I remember my breast cancer nurse saying to me upon checking my dressings after surgery, ‘I wouldn’t call yourself cancer free yet, not until you’ve reached your fifth year.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks. The bastard had been removed, I was scheduled for chemotherapy and radiotherapy to make sure none of the bastard’s bastard offsprings were lurking around. Why couldn’t I say I was cured?
What scares me the most is that if it does come back, it’s been there all the time, that rogue cell just waiting to implode and turn my life upside down. The thought of walking around with a ticking time bomb inside me is unbearable.
So I try not to think about it.
I’m one year clear, a one year survivor.
It’s so scary.
It’s a constant fear and I have never felt so much like my hypochondriac Mother – every lumpy bit or pain I feel – has it come back?
I’m finding that bit the hardest to deal with. Like cancer has been beaten but it’s still playing a massive part in my life, still weighing in with the threat.
It’s almost like I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of someone or something that is following me on a walk home on a dark night. I’ve been told that you have to be careful walking alone at night and I know that attacks are a reality, but is my anxious, weary feeling just a case of paranoia?
I don’t want to accept that this is my new life. I miss the days of being carefree.
I’m a one year survivor and I feel so angry and guilty.
Angry that some of the girls I have met are not survivors. Angry that they’ll never celebrate their Cancerversary – they won’t even get to celebrate another birthday.
Guilty that I’m still here and they’re not. Why did I get a long straw? How is that fair? None of this is fair. I feel privileged to have come this far.
I met some people along the way who didn’t even reach their first year before being diagnosed with secondary cancers which took their lives far too soon. It happened so fast… I haven’t had time to digest it. Still kind of don’t believe it. I mean, what is this life? Where the people you meet, the same age as you, they end up living out their last few days in a hospice?
My life has been turned upside down and the plans my husband and I had made have been scuppered. It really takes its toll on my husband. He was more desperate to start a family than I was and I see the way he watches our niece and other little girls (he’s desperate for a little girl) – I know that he’s thinking how unfair it is that we may never have that. We may never get to have our own child. I know when he sits and thinks about it, he gets quite upset. But he’s mainly angry. Because cancer is a shit.
Can I really celebrate this day?
So much has happened since July 2014.
I remember driving to the hospital on that day with my husband and my Mum. I already knew I had cancer at this point. I had a gut feeling and could also gauge from the reactions of the doctors and nurses when I had my breast scan and subsequent mammogram followed by biopsy. I actually got a hug from the professor.
They couldn’t tell me of course until the results were in but they knew what it was. From their facial expressions, so did I.
That day was just the confirmation of the news I already knew. It was the first time I had cried about it. The first time I was really scared. So scared my hands were shaking.
My mind ticked over with various thoughts as my doctors spoke to me about my diagnosis. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I just kept thinking ‘Am I going to die?’ ‘Will my parents outlive me?’ ‘Who will look after my husband if I died?’ ‘What about the business?’
Following that day came numerous appointments: X Rays, more biopsies, surgery, had my egg supply boosted with injections of FSH for 12 days, several vaginal ultrasound scans to check the progress of my eggs (hated it — stay away from my vagina, stop looking at it and don’t even think about putting that weird stick anywhere near it) another general anesthetic to perform the egg retrieval, fertilizing of my eggs and my husband’s sperm to create embryos that are now frozen and waiting for us should we ever need to use them. Six rounds of chemo with the dreaded cold cap. Four weeks of radiotherapy, four sessions of physiotherapy to attempt to sort out my chemo mangled arm, reduced to an inhaler to help ease tight, painful chest and breathing, a possible side effect of rads and 146 Tamoxifen pills taken to date.
I have another anniversary this year – my birthday. I’ve already celebrated one birthday since diagnosis and I cherished that day with all of my heart. It’s so funny how with previous birthdays, I’d brush them under the carpet, denying that I had grown another year older, resenting my age and wishing I was still twenty-one. I’ve realized that aging is a privilege that isn’t given to everyone and the fact that I can say ‘I’m another year older’ is a big achievement – certainly cause for celebration.
My cancer diagnosis has changed me and although it’s been the hardest, most terrifying year of my life, it’s also been the most enlightening.
I wouldn’t say cancer was a gift because if you ever go through what myself and my friends have gone through, or if you ever see a young person so desperate for life, so full of charisma and light be told that they have six months left to live because of this horrible disease, you’d think differently and see it for the cruel monster that it is.
But I can’t mope around. I think by doing that I’m doing myself and the friends who haven’t survived an injustice.
I think it has made me a better person. For myself, at least. I’m better at life now. I prioritize certain things that I hadn’t necessarily done before – my health for one.
I try to keep my stress levels down, eat the right foods, get enough rest, exercise – you know, the basics that we all take for granted. My family and friends and how I make them feel is a priority for me. I want them to know how much I love them and want to enhance their lives in any way that I can.
I prioritize fun most of all.
If there’s something I want to do, I want to do it now, because it’s fun and who knows what’s around the corner?
If I love you, I’m going to tell you. I’ll also tell you if you’re pissing me off because with a cancer diagnosis comes big, take-no-shit balls, and I really don’t have time for energy draining, negative, unkind people in my life.
If anything does come back, at least I can say I’ve lived wonderfully and that’s the point of it all.
Do what’s best for you. Let go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrate what you have. Wake up early to live an hour longer. Enjoy today. Get on that airplane. Show love. Be strong. Go ahead. Celebrate every minute.