I wrote a sentence in my last post about being on the other side of cancer and it very much inspired this post. So, this time I want to write about what life is like now, months after the diagnosis and [the first] surgery. Not just my complaining about bills and playing phone tag with certain institutions, but how I’m dealing with the emotions now that I am on the “no more cancer” side of cancer.
I believe that there are two sides to every major event in a person’s life: the “before” and the “after.” In fact—and I’m sure most people might agree with me—the differences in the two are very significant. Major events probably can’t be categorized as “major” unless they change you. If you don’t notice a huge difference in the person you were before said event occurred, then maybe it wasn’t so “major” after all.
So here I am. On the “other side” of my latest major event. The “after.”
I still remember the day I was diagnosed like it was yesterday. Sitting in an office with my mom, the woman who was to become my nurse navigator, and a female doctor with my mammogram slides on every computer screen in the room (and there were quite a few).
They told me it was Stage Zero and that it was easy to treat, but all I heard was cancer and I started crying and couldn’t stop until we left the building.
At the time it literally seemed like the worst thing in the world. How could I have cancer? Let alone breast cancer? At 30 years old?! What could I have possibly done to deserve this? Why couldn’t they tell me what caused it? Was it from my diet? Was it the birth control I’d been on since I was 14? I’d only been taking it because my cramps were SO debilitating. All I’d ever wanted was some relief from the pain every month. I couldn’t afford to miss two days of school/work/etc. each month for period cramps. It’s just not an excuse one can use in the real world. At least not until men start experiencing something similar…
Anyway, the “easy” diagnosis and treatment only got worse from there, but that day—April 23rd, 2018—was one of the worst of my life. Second only to the day I almost lost my life to a drunk driver 13 years ago.
However, just like I knew I had no choice but to keep going all those years ago, I knew I also had no choice this time but to do the same. Yes, it completely sucked in ways I never could have imagined, but what else was I supposed to do? I think there usually comes a point in a person’s life when you realize bad things are going to happen and you can’t do anything to stop them, but you can live through them. And you can try to live through them with grace and humor and all the things that make you you. And all those things are what shape you into the person you’re going to be when all is said and done.
Because you will be a different person when you get to the other side. This thing that you’re going through will change you. Whether it is for better or worse is up to you to decide. But change is coming.
And here I am. On the other side, once again, of something that might be considered a tragedy to another person who hasn’t been through the same things. Some days, I’ll admit, I find it hard to feel sorry for that person who complains of being “SO tired” every. single. day. Or that person who finds the negative in every situation. That person who can never just stop, smell the roses and be happy with the life they’ve been given.
And while I believe we can all qualify as this person at some point or another, I’m still trying to work on this mindset. I realize it’s not fair of me to disregard people who haven’t been through all the hell of cancer (or a major car wreck, or losing a family member, or any life-altering event) and complain of something I deem meaningless at this point in time. Just because their problems aren’t the same as mine does not mean they don’t matter. I don’t get to dismiss the feelings of other people just because I feel like they have no idea how much worse their problem(s) could be. I need to recognize that these issues are very real to this person at this point in time. And that matters.
So now, when I notice those negative thoughts cropping up into the back of my mind, I stop myself, acknowledge what I’m doing and instead of letting those thoughts continue, I send up a little prayer of positivity in their place. I pray that it won’t take a cancer diagnosis for this person to find real happiness. I pray that it won’t take something tragic for them to realize their life is a gift and that they should appreciate every moment they are given. And I say a prayer for myself as well. That, when things get easier for me, I never forget how much worse it could be. Or that if it had not been for a really good doctor and a gut feeling, I may have lost more than just my breasts. I’m learning every day to be more thankful, and I’m trying my best to put more kindness into the world (although I still have a long way to go). I guess I can thank the cancer for gifting me with a little more self-awareness.
I have not had an easy life. My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was 7 years old, and I didn’t handle it well. My family did not have much money growing up, but I had the opportunity to go to a Catholic school until I chose to go somewhere else. I am estranged from my father, but my step-dad happily accepted my sister and I even when I did not want to accept him. When I was 17, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver going 70mph on a neighborhood road one sunny Saturday afternoon. I spent more than half of my senior year of high school on crutches trying to heal an ankle that never worked properly again. But I’m still here to tell the tale. Not every innocent person hit by someone who’s been drinking is so lucky.
I’ve not always been grateful for what I had. Sometimes, growing up, I’d find myself wondering why I couldn’t have a more “normal” family. Why was I the unlucky one in that guy’s way on that particular Saturday afternoon? Why are all my friends getting married when I still haven’t found “the one”? Why can’t I seem to catch a break?
But now that I am on this side of cancer, I realize that I have every reason in the book to be grateful. Maybe my mother was smart and ridiculously courageous to strike out on her own. To get my sister and I (and herself) out of a bad situation. She was brave enough to try marriage again to a man who accepted us all without question. Even when I was a completely ungrateful, 12-year-old asshole. Maybe I took the brunt of that car accident so that my sister could walk away from it. I may live with chronic pain because of my injuries sustained that day, but I’d do it all over again if it meant protecting my sister if she’d happened to have been in my place that day. And I may have skin on my chest that no longer has feeling from armpit to armpit (my friends may forever be on “boob watch” if I ever happen to be wearing a loose or low-cut top), but I’ve got my life. And I’ve got my health. And, most importantly, I’ve got time.
So yes, this side of cancer, despite all the issues I still have to overcome, has me feeling very grateful for having issues to overcome at all. And I’m writing this in the hopes that if I ever find myself forgetting how lucky I am, that I’ll be able to come back to this post and remind myself.
And I hope anyone reading this can remember to be grateful for the life they’ve been given as well. Warts and all.