5 years ago today I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. It seems both a billion years ago and like yesterday.
As time has passed some of the details have started to fade. I can’t remember the names of certain tests or drugs, the post-op rules or even the names of important players. But what hasn’t faded is the way it made me feel. I’m not talking about how the physical pain felt or what it felt like to be sick from chemo. That stuff has also started to blur as physical pain tends to do.
I am talking about what it felt like to get the phone call that I had cancer. Or the feeling of hearing I needed chemo. This stuff stays locked in my brain in a sealed vacuum of doom.
5 years later my scars have blended. I am used to the feeling of my fake breasts. But don’t take this as acceptance. I have said it before and I will say it again, I am glad to have taken part of the 1/8 statistic for my peer group. I know that I am better equipt to handle the disease and all it’s trappings than most, but that doesn’t mean I am cool with it.
No, it is not a good consolation prize that I got ‘free fake boobs’. And I am less than thrilled that now my daughter will need early detection in her 20s. Sure the silver linings are plenty, but cancer, bro, you were never welcome here.
I live my life as a person who has seen a glimpse of the grave. I try not to think in those terms, but you can’t tell your brain not to meander through those pastures. I was excited to have my 5 year cancerversary because I thought it meant my chances of recurrence went down dramatically, but unfortunately, I got that wrong.
My chances of getting cancer go down about 1% every year. No big jump at 5 years like I thought. I am not sure where I got that info from, maybe other types of cancer perhaps? Not breast though, we just sort of float around nebulously hoping we are in the majority, the group that doesn’t reoccur.
But here is the thing, I have already bucked the trend once. There is no reason anyone can point to on paper for why I had cancer at 35. So why wouldn’t it happen again? But worse? I can’t stop myself from wondering; will it be me?
This 5 year anniversary has got me feeling some type of way. I thought I would be joyous, but instead I feel anxious. Trepidatious. I have started taking stock of how many people I know personally who have been diagnosed or had scares in the last 5 years. It is a lot of people. Every time I walk alongside one of them I remember some of those feelings and I guess after a while, it starts to feel heavier and heavier. Or maybe the farther I get from my own experience, the fear grows that it could happen again and if it did, it would no doubt be worse. A stage IV diagnosis. I have already seen it happen to some of my Class of Cancer (go year of 2016!).
I am still No Evidence of Disease (NED) so I should feel lucky, and I do, but it is tempered with something else that I can’t put my finger on. Do I celebrate my successes or fear for my future?
In the recesses of my mind I think I had hoped for some grand 5 year anniversary extravaGANZA. Of course I said that I didn’t care, but we all want the pomp and circumstance right? This weekend has gone by with plenty of circumstance, not a lot of pomp.
At my therapists office last week I was telling her about these feelings. I mentioned that I was taking part in a photo shoot for Cancer Wellness Magazine about cancer tattoos this weekend and had asked the photographer if she wouldn’t mind taking a few pics of me with my cell phone to commemorate the occasion as long as I was all dolled up. Then it occurred to me that I should get one of those big number 5 balloons. I asked aloud, ‘is it really sad to buy my own cancer balloon?’. She responded with, ‘Can I buy you the balloon?’.
When your therapist asks if she can buy you a balloon, you have no option other than to reevaluate every life choice you’ve ever made and wonder if you are capable of being more pitiful…
Spoiler, I bought my own balloons. Felt slightly less pathetic than my therapist buying them for me. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter who buys the balloons as long as I am alive to hold them.