The Highlight Reel

The phrase “highlight reel” has come up in conversation a couple of times over the past week or so and it’s gotten me to thinking. I’ve been writing a lot lately on how wonderful life is and finding joy and using that big foob energy and all that, but it’s just a highlight reel – like everything on social media.

So, today I want to talk about the not-so-lighthearted side of the “after.”

Yesterday was my 1-year cancer free anniversary. It’s the day I had my bilateral mastectomy and my surgeon told me they were able to get clean margins.

(It was actually a huge blessing in disguise that I chose to have the mastectomy instead of the lumpectomy, because when they cut me open, the DCIS had actually evolved into Stage I invasive and had multiplied to 5 other focal points. My surgeon would’ve had to sew me up and ask for my permission to cut me back open at a later date to remove the whole breast.)

Anyway, now my life revolves around how to stop the cancer from coming back. When it was finally decided that I didn’t need chemotherapy and was to go straight to hormone treatment for 10 years, my mindset switched over from ‘how did this happen to me’ to ‘how do I keep this from happening again’.

That’s a fear I live with now on a daily basis that I have to actively stamp back down into its proper place.

Life isn’t all sunshine and roses when you see a fellow survivor fighting this same fight all over again when she’d only statistically been given a 5-10% chance of recurrence.

My chance of recurrence is 12% without hormone treatment. So who’s to say it won’t happen to me? I was so lucky they caught it early this time. Will they catch it that early next time?

I now spend my days on constant alert. Every unfamiliar ache in my body is now a cause for concern. Is it cancer or is it just my body getting older?

It’s a pretty exhausting fight constantly having to put those fears in their place.

Especially now that I’ve decided not to continue with my hormone treatment. I did it for about 6 months and decided it wasn’t for me. Not only did it make losing weight completely impossible, but I also didn’t like what it did to my mood and my mindset. I was not a happy person on Tamoxifen, so I decided to take my chances without it. I’d rather be happy for a little while and risk my cancer coming back (I feel 12% is as much as any “normal” person’s chance of getting it) than be constantly pissed off (and fat) until it inevitably comes back anyway.

I’m currently in the process of switching over to Levine Cancer Center to talk about alternative chemoprophylaxis options but that is proving difficult as usual. It will happen in time, so for now I’m trying to just enjoy the life I have.

Still though. Every day I wake up and I have to actively decide not to let that fear get the best of me. Some days are harder than others when I can feel it trying to take over. If I’ve had a bad day or haven’t gotten enough sleep – sleep is everything to me now. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just fold into my fears and let them drown me, but that’s just not how life works for me anymore. Giving in would cause more problems than continuing on this path of positivity and light I’m trying so hard to maintain. It would set me back years worth of progress, so I don’t have a choice but to succeed in everything I do. And I need to do it with a smile on my face because negativity breeds negativity. It’s a vicious circle that I’d like to avoid at all costs.

Cancer has become a huge part of my life but I won’t let it define who I am or who I become. I refuse to let it – or the fears it brings along with it – get the best of me. Many people around me forget that I ever had cancer, and that’s okay! That’s actually been my goal from the start. That means what I’m doing is working. The fears are where they need to be – that very dark, small corner of my mind where they can be mostly ignored – and I’m living my best life.

And I know that no matter what happens next, I’ll be able to tackle it head-on because I already have.

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