Five Years Since Diagnosis

I spent my five year cancer-versary in Costa Rica with Jeff and the girls. It was the perfect way to commemorate the day. It's not a celebration, exactly. It's more like a reminder to have gratitude that I'm still here, while at the same time, to not get complacent, because 10 years isn't guaranteed. If there's something I want to do, I better get started. But as a mom, that's hard. How am I supposed to seize the day when there's so much laundry to be done?  

On Friday, I had my biannual appointment at my oncologist's office. I could see the words "primary malignant neoplasm" on my chart while the nurse took my vitals. (And she wonders why my resting heart rate is 100. Lady, if you want my resting heart rate, I need a cat on my lap and for these posters of the breast ducts to go away.) Thankfully, it was a boring appointment. I had a clean MRI a few months ago, and I've graduated to annual CT scans because that weird spot on my lungs hasn't changed in five years. She did order my annual right-side mammogram, which I find annoying, because the imaging center makes me fill out the generic cancer risk screening form, and does it really matter if my maternal great-grandmother had cancer? I just want to take a red Sharpie and scrawl "Too Late" across their form. Honestly, they should start asking those questions in our twenties. I keep seeing articles about cancer rates increasing for young people. 

Hey, that's me! Early-onset breast cancer cases in 2019. I'm one of 12,649. I've literally become a statistic.

One of my best friends recently found out she had cervical cancer. Her routine pap smear results came back as "AA", and in the medical report code, "AA = PANIC." Seriously?! What kind of doctor tells their patient to panic?! Then she had to wait six days before getting a biopsy done because you can't ever have a panic-level pap smear on a Monday morning. It's always the Friday before a holiday weekend.

I remember the waiting. My God, the waiting. Days felt like years. Even after you get the "You have cancer" phone call, there's the full-body scan followed by more waiting. Until finally, you're interpreting your radiological report at red lights on the drive home, contemplating the words, “Increased uptake at the inner leg lymph” while merging across three lanes in rush hour traffic. And then you have to listen to your child tell a twelve-minute story about trading trinkets on the bus ride home from school while medical terminology assaults your brain like gunfire. 

I was happy I could be there for her as someone who "gets it." But she probably just calls me because I know better than to tell her that she’s strong or that everything happens for a reason. Instead I asked if I could make her a recovery playlist called, “Now That’s What I Call Cancer!” And I made sure to drop daily pearls of wisdom over text: "Welcome to the club. At least there are some decent gift baskets in your future. If you have any dietary preferences, let people know now." 

One of her complaints was that her husband wouldn’t stop staring at her lovingly and quietly weeping. I'm convinced that Jeff should teach a MasterClass in "Remaining Stoic in the Face of Your Spouse's Cancer Diagnosis." Is your spouse annoyed by your constant displays of emotion? Learn how to bottle up your concern and channel your mental energy into your own problems, however insignificant they may be. By the end of this MasterClass, you'll forget your spouse even has cancer!

A few days before her surgery, my friend called me from the wound care aisle of CVS, panicking at the sight of the abdominal post-surgery pads. I had to yell into the phone, “Just get a bottle of Hibiclens and a Twix bar and get the hell out of there!” I wish we lived closer; I have a fully stocked, beautifully organized post-surgery bin under my sink. No one should shop for wound care essentials alone.

She's fully recovered and cancer-free now, but sometimes I pass by the framed photo of my bridal party, radiant and smiling with our champagne glasses, and I feel the urge to shout, "Stop smiling! You're all going to get cancer!"

No, wait, gratitude. We've been enlightened by our cancer, and now we're going to go out and live our dreams!

Right after I fold this load of laundry.