Lucky 7? Lucky might not be the right word. 7 years ago, I went in for a routine mammogram, just after my 41st birthday. You don’t want them to call after a mammogram, but they called. “We need you to come in for an ultrasound so we can see things better. I’m sure it’s fine…” (Awkward ultrasound with small talk.) “It’s probably just a cyst or dense tissue. You’re young. Don’t worry.” Went back to work, attempted not to worry. Didn’t tell many people about the appointment or concerns.
My memory is a little foggy from 7 years ago but I’m pretty sure they did an MRI then biopsy. “We are going to need you to come in for an MRI. It’s probably dense tissue but we need to make sure.” The machine was cold and hard (laying on my stomach), it made whirrs and clicks for a long time. It showed 2 areas of concern instead of 1. Biopsy confirmed stage 1 for one spot and pre-cancer for the other. Invasive ductal carcinoma. Later tests would reveal it was estrogen/progesterone positive, not genetically related.
7 years ago, I had 16 appointments for the month of December alone. I struggled to say the words out loud. “I have cancer.” 7 years ago, my world flipped upside down. 7 years ago began the waiting, genetic testing, waiting, lumpectomy & lymph node removal, waiting, tumor classification, waiting, radiation, waiting, (broken foot- not related), hysterectomy & healing. 7 years ago, I was lucky we found it early. (Until my son researched and found out that early stages often have recurrence.) So far, I have been cancer free for 6.5 years. I’m getting closer to the 10 year mark.
So why keep bringing it up? It doesn’t completely go away for me. I’m healed, right? I’m good now. I’m ok. It doesn’t define me but it did reshape me in more ways than one. It also makes me more keenly aware of health issues. Which makes me feel like a hypochondriac. In the back of my mind I wonder what the ailment means, yet trying to reinforce that I’m healthy. I didn’t know I had a tumor growing when I went in 7 years ago. That part always kind of gets to me. I still think we need to be advocates for our own health. It’s unfortunate when people get ignored.
I dealt with a lot of guilt around it. Guilt for how I handled things with my kids, my husband, my family & my friends. Guilt about extra weight that increased my risks… guilt about the time I spent away from work.. guilt about the time my mind spent away from work while I was physically there… guilt for the birth control (increased risks), guilt for the fertility treatments (even though they said that wasn’t a factor), then guilt for that also because I wouldn’t change a thing to have my two boys. Guilt that I didn’t have enough saved to cover cancer treatment. Later came survivor guilt – when I met other young women with cancer, with families, with loved ones they soon left behind.
We all have our own journey. Mine included cancer. The cancer that made me appreciate things more, the cancer that made me a little more spontaneous, the cancer that connected me to a bunch of strangers, the cancer that brought me back to writing. We never know all of what someone else goes through. There is usually more to the story & it’s not always one they want to share.
As I savor the pumpkin cheesecake from my 48th birthday, I wish you peace on your journey of enough. I’ll be reflecting on the last 7 years, thankful to be able to share my journey. Thankful for another birthday.