One Year Cancerversary

(photo: Larisa Forman)

Healing Breast Cancer (photo: Larisa Forman)

Dates are important to people with long-term illness: we celebrate them with a vengeance. We celebrate everything actually – because every moment we’re still here is a fucking party. Harrowing and victorious moments alike are crystalized into milestones, because each one reminds us that we’re not dead yet. Pain and pleasure are like sugar and salt – two sides of the same living and breathing, sensuous world.

We remember the first time we told someone we had cancer with the same clarity we remember the first time we told someone we’d been accepted into college. We remember the first time we made love as a cancer patient the same way we remember loosing our virginity. We remember the first chemotherapy infusion and the first time we threw up. We remember the first time our white blood cell count dropped dangerously low and we were declared neutropenic. But in addition to all the bumps in the road, we remember and celebrate all the hurdles we’ve cleared, and every single finish line we’ve crossed: first round of chemo completed: check. Second round of chemo completed: check. Tumor removed: check. Adjunctive chemotherapy completed: check. First anniversary of diagnosis: check. And then the big ones: The one year anniversary of the cancer’s removal, and the even bigger one: the second year anniversary of the cancer’s removal, and then the biggest one: the 5 year anniversary of the cancer’s removal.

Maybe it seems like a lot of hoopla. Is that really a word? Maybe it seems ceremonial overkill. But if you’re part of this tribe, if you’ve ever taken a trip to Cancerland, you know how important these annual markers are.

Today is the one year anniversary of my mastectomy; my cancer’s removal. That means that for one year I have been N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease). If I can make it to July 25th, 2015 without a reoccurrence, I will be 80% likely to beat this damn disease entirely. 80%. That’s a pretty big deal. So I know we just made a big deal about how I finally, after 16 months and 31 infusions, I finished chemotherapy – but to me, this is an even bigger deal. I don’t need a party, or a big display of public support… I just need to share this moment with you – and with my fellow breast cancer sisters, and celebrate in my own little way.

This morning I went for a ride with our Nantucket cycling group. It was my 4th ride this week. And even though I know they slowed down significantly for me, I hung on through the whole ride, and averaged a personal best speed. That to me is the party. The ongoing celebration of life. The fight. The victory. The triumph.

This time last year I was on an operating table at Mass General Hospital. Dr. Michelle Specht was removing my tumor, the invasive cancer that covered 3/4th of my breast, and taking the other one off proactively. My plastic surgeon was about to surgically place two silicon implants into my chest. I hand needles in my arms and tubes draining out my sides.  I wasn’t sure when I woke up if I would still have my own nipples. We didn’t know how many of my lymph nodes would be cancerous. We didn’t really know how well I had respond to chemotherapy. We didn’t know that a year later, I would be riding with a pack of highly driven cyclists. We didn’t know that I would win.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver.

Comments

  1. oh, blessed anniversary! may there be so many more…….love to you and yours…….xoxoxo

  2. I too am a part of the cancer and yoga tribe. I have read your blog for sometime time, and I want to tell you that your openness and courage inspire me! I’m celebrating my 6th anniversary of thriving after cancer this month. Congratulations!!! I hope I get to meet you one day!

  3. What a great day and a perfect post to go with it. Going under the knife with no idea of what you will wake up to is scary. So, so, scary. I’m so glad that you have kicked this disease’s ass. Love you!!!

  4. Reading your interview on YJ’s website tonight, I exclaimed out loud, out of nowhere, “Look at you! You beautiful woman! You know how to rock a cancer journey!” And you do! I’m six years out, but your blog posts make me remember my own journey as if it happened yesterday. When I woke up after my bilateral mastectomy, my first question to the surgeon was, “Were my lymph nodes clean???” What a crazy ride. Your strength and humor and tenderness are incredible. Rock on, sister.

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