I have been in remission from breast cancer for over four years now. I honestly don’t think about " the how long" much. I don’t have huge celebrations; in fact birthdays even kinda slip past me too. I have never been a looking backwards kind of girl, instead I am always moving forward, a pressing on kind of girly girl is more like it. I guess you could say this kind of crazy thinking insured my daily mental survival during my initial diagnosis of breast cancer, treatment and follow up care.
I have only one picture of my bald head and one of me ringing out of chemo. Most of the pictures during my battle with breast cancer show everything in between really. I never actually slowed down; in fact I think maybe I pushed the gas pedal a little too hard if we are going to keep it real! Honestly I wish I had more photos from those days so I could share them with you, to remember. Maybe if I had stopped to celebrate each and every victory I would have more pictures to share, but I was so busy living, making memories I didn’t stop to think I was missing anything. Instead I was worried I wasn’t moving fast enough! I sometimes see the pictures of my radically, awesome fellow sister survivors during their journeys, you know the ones I am talking about...pictures of “the hair cut”, chemo treatment or following surgery… and I think I might have gotten a little lost in the process, maybe a bit forgotten while I was inadvertently trying to be Mighty Woman for my family and friends. On the other side of this coin, maybe because I was so busy, giving myself no time to slow down I was able to avoid the big time fear waiting on the outskirts of our camp trying to consume me.
Now this does not mean I did not have moments of pure panic, because believe me they were there, just usually behind the scenes, just under the surface. My husband can attest to my meltdowns, my feelings of inadequacy and those infamous why me moments. I have been asked so many times how I have managed to keep my chin above water; well the truth is everything else from the nose down was completely soaked! I was just blessed to have found a snorkel just in case and a rock to stand on! The thing is each person handles stress, fear and staring death in the face differently. What works for one person, may not work for another but there is a common thread, we all share, a friend who connects each one of us to the other and her name is Hope.
I can tell you right now, and many of you may already know this about me… I was not a wig girl. I was one of those bald heads, bandanna tied around my bare naked skull kind of gals. I was just not an eeny meeny mo type but the truth is I started my married life that way. I loved to dress up, put the makeup on, and throw a bow in my hair, the whole nine yards and then some. But becoming a mom changed all that for me. I became more comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt and a pony tail, then after having my breast whacked off and my hair fall out I just got over the whole glamor thing all together honestly. Not that I don’t like the idea of being a fashionista, because I do but it just didn’t fit my lifestyle. I was in no way shape or form going to become a cancer fashinoista regardless of what they were selling at the cancer boutiques, not in my chemo lifetime that is!
Being able to be a red head today after being a brunette yesterday knowing I could be a blond tomorrow was just too much for my mind to juggle. I was and always will be an oddly designed, yet perfectly happy misfit. I felt cancer was well cancer, a parasite killing me off inside, so why hide it? I did buy a few wigs, and I tried them on, but man they were itchy and sweaty and well uncomfortable. I guess in my mind I figured cancer was already enough of a pain, so why make it any easier on her?
The thing about going this route was it made me a bigger target, not in a hunt you down, king of the hill and declare victory, take the trophy home kind of way. No it was more subtle than that. What it did was bring attention to the fact cancer is not some hush, hush, quietly shove it away, wrap it up in a box and forget “it” exists kind of problem. No, cancer is a bigger than life, get in your face, tear down her walls, shout it to the world, hear me roar, I am still rocking, do not tread on me kind of a package! Without meaning to I forced people to deal with Cancer, Breast Cancer no less and it made some very uncomfortable to say the least.
In the end I think knowing I was NOT invincible, that I could trip and fall; skid past the finish line bruised and battered actually spurred me on. Crazy right, I know but understanding I could feel life, reach out and touch it, embrace all it offered, both the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly made living with cancer manageable for me. I knew no matter what happened tomorrow, I had lived today. Tomorrow, even yesterday could not compare to the life I was living in that one moment because it was bigger than any other celebration I could have made room for in my cancer filled, chemo infused, and bald inspired way of life.
So when you are faced with a reality check such as I was in 2006, hearing the words breast cancer, whether you are a cancer fashionista or an odd ball like me, take a moment to stop and grab hold of today, not tomorrow, not yesterday but this very living, breathing moment. Realize the chaos surrounding you is still going to be there tomorrow, it’s all in how you decided to look at it.
I know you hear the flood waters coming, feel the pressure building, see the water rising but my question is what are you going to do? I’ll tell you what you are going to do friend, you are going to grab your snorkel and make sure you have a rock beneath your feet , swept away bandanna or supper glues wig on your head or not! The water may reach your chin or it may even wash over the top of your head but keep steady my friend the water will recede and when it does if you have managed to keep your snorkel in place, you will find hope sitting on the shore waiting for you to join her! I know I did….