When I heard those four words every woman dreads – “you have breast cancer” – life forever changed for the better. Yes, I said for the better. As I look back on five years ago today, I would never have imagined that would be the case. The Letter to my Cancer was written November of 2013 and can be found here.
I don’t remember much from the day I was diagnosed other than feeling shocked and paralyzed at the same time. The radiologist gave me the names of some surgeons to call and asked if I had any questions. I didn’t believe what I was hearing, so there were no questions. Looking back, the one thing I clearly remember is never thinking about death.
There was no way I could have ever imagined the physical hell, emotional roller coaster, and spiritual enlightenment the days, months, and years ahead would hold for me. I am crying as I write this for many reasons. The gratitude for making the magical five-year mark is incomprehensible if you haven’t been there. Rarely far from my mind is the fact that my medical team was the best of the best due to my great insurance at the time. My only focus was the emotional and spiritual aspects of the journey. I never worried about the medical part thanks to them… what a huge relief.
My tears are just as sad as they are joyful. So many have died along the way. Women much younger than me with husbands and young children. I am 61 years old without kids and a husband. Why am I here, and they aren’t?
Survivors guilt can be debilitating. As I spoke to others, I was told that God wasn’t done with me and the rest has no explanation. That response strengthened my resolve to do more of whatever I can to pay forward everything that was given to me during my journey… every meal, prayer, text, phone call, card, and positive thought. Apparently, my purpose hasn’t been fulfilled. My journey is to figure out my purpose and make sure I complete it to the best of my ability.
When I look back on who I was on this day five years ago (although not completely clear thanks to the “butterfly brain” I acquired from the chemo), there is no doubt the gifts that this journey has provided. On the days I feel centered, when someone is not especially nice, I try to remember that they may have recently received some bad news. The days I react or want to react to them are opportunities to realign my spirit.
I learned that for each person that walked away after my diagnosis, for whatever reason, someone was waiting to step in and be there for me. The surprise was that they were mostly people I never would have imagined or complete strangers that miraculously appeared.
This part is hard to write, but I must be honest. Before being sick, there were time when I would have said I would visit someone that was sick or bring a meal, and I didn’t always follow through. Today I know what a big deal it is for my words and actions to align. I know how important even a short visit, a text, or any human contact can be. As the chemo did it’s job, my world got smaller and smaller. Any human contact became a lifeline. I felt terrible for past broken promises, but I don’t do that anymore.
For the last two years, I imagined I would have a huge party to celebrate my 5 year cancer-versary. As it got closer I wanted to tone it down to dinner with some friends. Now that it is here, I don’t think a celebration is in order for me. Instead, I will light a candle for those that weren’t as blessed as me. Gratitude is an action word. I am going to do something to help others today. While I find out exactly what my purpose is and why I am here and others aren’t, there are lots of things I can do to pay forward all that was and continues to be given to me.