It is the first anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer – to say it changes your life is an understatement. Throughout the last year, I learned many lessons, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share them with you.
Every day is a celebration
After two surgeries and radiation, I was declared cancer-free. I celebrated with a big trip to a resort, complete with a photoshoot.
What I didn’t know was that was the easy part. The hard part has been, and still is, the side effects from the daily medication I take to lower the chances of recurrence. From headaches and fatigue to rashes and hot flashes, my medication has caused me to question my own abilities. For those who know me, you know that it’s some horrible side effects because I am typically overconfident!
I recently mentioned to an advocate (someone you don’t work with, but advocates for you professionally), “I celebrated too early”. He looked at me puzzled, then told me what I already knew, but sometimes forget. I am naturally such a high achiever I even expected my cancer and recovery to be quick and efficient. I DESERVE to celebrate daily. The moral I take from my story is, as stated by another advocate, “Celebrate each step, don’t wait until the end of the journey.”
It’s not the highest of highs or the lowest of lows.
I remember distinctly one of the most content times of my life. I thought to myself, making a mental note of the feeling, “If I died right now, I am at peace with everyone, and I am good.”
I also remember the lowest point in my life. It wasn’t during my divorce or the death of a loved one. Even unbeknownst to myself, I fell into depression, and I thought to myself, “If I died right now, Jacob (my son) would be fine without me.”
That was a wake-up call if there ever was one. I never believed that, and I do not believe that. Being the son of a single mom, I am his rock, and he is mine.
Given that I can name my highest high and lowest low, I am comforted to know that cancer didn’t have the power to take one of these spots.
There is a tribe.
Being an extremely independent and self-sufficient person, I had never looked externally for support. I know a lot of people, but I have only a handful of close friends. I was once dragged to the one and only women’s yoga retreat I have attended. I opted out of the fireside chat evening where everyone ended up laughing and crying to go to dinner with my husband. I just never preferred support in that way.
I still don’t, but I have definitely found a tribe. It comes in the form of Facebook support groups where I can interact as needed. It comes in the form of an acquaintance going through the same thing. Connected by a mutual friend, we text to check in on each other randomly and have done so for the last year. And It also comes in the form of a client who, upon hearing my struggle, shared hers, and we bonded over self-advocacy and book recommendations.
Lastly, I am richer for it.
The journey is not over, and it won’t ever be truly over. The growth that I will continue to experience makes me a better person.
It gives me empathy. I have a much deeper understanding of invisible disabilities. Though I am not perfect, I am mindful of my expectations of how people show up at work and in life. And sometimes, they don’t show up, and that’s ok too.
It gives me perspective. When my son gets so angry that he didn’t perform as well as he expected, I used to throw up my hands in despair. I now recognize that while my disappointment shows up differently than his, it’s a trait that we share. I know how to help him.
I have learned that cancer and recovery is a journey, not a destination. For all this, I am grateful.