And That’s A Wrap….(pretty please, fingers crossed..)

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This December will mark one year since I finished active treatment¬†for breast cancer. But for those who have gone down this road, you know that the icing is always a few feet away from the top of the cake. I hope that the end of the year will be only the beginning…the beginning of many Merry Christmases not spent in the shadow of fear…the beginning of conquering demons one by one to make room for happiness…the beginning of a new but different life, one that is authentic and not based on “shoulds” and “laters”.

To that end, I finally decided last week to quit my job all the way. I made a half-hearted attempt at it a month earlier, promising to work as needed, keeping one foot in the door, not burning any bridges, blah…blah…blah. Well, I can see those suckers ablaze in the distance now. And you know what? The most profound sense of peace came over me the day after I did it. It’s as if I had been walking with a splinter in my foot for years, trying to ignore it; eventually, I learned to live with the annoyance. I think I’ll look back on this someday and wonder why the hell I wasted so much time doing something I hated.

Right now, I’m adrift in a way. I’m adhering to the Chinese proverb: “Be like water.” Water doesn’t try to be what it isn’t or force itself into a certain shape. It flows where an opening exists and takes whatever journey it is meant to take. Of course, water doesn’t have bills to pay or children to appease, so there’s that…I can only afford to be water for a few months. But I’m really enjoying this time; I feel a stillness inside that has been absent for so long. I dance with my daughter in the kitchen and sit in my pajamas all day when I want to.

The last piece of my breast cancer odyssey will be complete December 1, when I get my “tats”. There is a lady here in Asheville who does areola/nipple tattooing for free for breast cancer survivors. She does this to honor her mother who died of lymphoma, and it is really a special gift.

I toyed with the idea of getting flowers and vines or some deep words of wisdom to cover the scars, but in the end, I’m a fairly traditional girl. I think that most breast cancer survivors just want their bodies to look somewhat like they did before things went wrong, kind of like a reboot. I’ll be perfectly content to have regular breasts with regular areolas and nipples. They’re not ever going to be the same as they were, but I’m grateful to have them. And they’re not too shabby…

Of course, there will be fairly frequent check-ups for the next year or so. Everyone asks me what the doctors do to see if the cancer has returned. When I answer “nothing”, people look a little uncomfortable and surprised. Unless there is metastatic disease at diagnosis, there’s really nothing to “monitor”. There are blood tests for tumor markers, but these can be elevated for other reasons, so they aren’t regularly done. As a matter of fact, my tumor marker (CA 29-9) was in the normal range with Stage 3 disease. So much for that.

So what do we look for? Mainly symptoms. The most common signs of cancer recurrence are: shortness of breath, constant headaches, unexplained weight loss, and unusual pain. Naturally, survivors are always hyper vigilant when anything out of the ordinary occurs. “Could this be it?” “Why does my back hurt?”

For now, I’m happy to be alive and in good health. I’m toying with the idea of running another half marathon in February. I’m going to start the training and just see how it goes, one day at a time. I don’t want to stress out my healing body. And if I’m being totally honest, that little voice inside is saying this is probably not a great idea just yet. I’m working hard to honor that voice when it speaks. Maybe we can negotiate…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

St Pete Half Marathon 036 (2)

 

It’s hard to believe that this picture was taken almost exactly one year ago today, November 18, 2012. What a difference a year makes! I had just completed the St. Pete Women’s Half Marathon, my first, and I was riding high. Sweaty and disheveled, I felt no aches, no fatigue, just the pure rush of adrenaline and pride that comes with such an accomplishment. Little did I know that a monster was lurking in my body.

When I returned home to NC, I kept on running, but I noticed that I was getting tired a little sooner and not logging nearly as many miles. I chalked it up to the winter blahs, the post-race let down. I became a little concerned when I started experiencing Raynaud’s phenomenon on the really cold runs. When this occurred, the middle two fingers of my right hand would turn stark white and numb, remaining that way until I could get in a hot shower. I had enough medical training to know that this was usually a sign of autoimmune disease and definitely not normal. My immune system was working double time on something.

Flash forward to March, kaboom! The monster revealed itself in the form of Stage 3 breast cancer. In retrospect, I marvel at the idea that I was regularly running 10+ miles with a state of war going on inside me. I wonder if I would still be chugging along had I never found out about the “cancer”. It’s amazing how much the mind’s awareness can alter the body’s expression. I never felt sick or “diseased” until I knew it was a reality; I was just a little run down as we all get from time to time.

I guess I should say that I have been “chugging along” this whole year. I’ve endured a bilateral mastectomy, 4 months of chemotherapy, and half of a 6 week course of radiation to this point, but I’ve kept right on running. Not nearly as fast…or as far, but I can say with pride that I have only taken two weeks off completely. I’ve run with surgical drains attached to my body. I’ve run right before chemo. And I’ve even run with sepsis.

Running has been my friend in this long ordeal. It has been my constant in a sea of frightening new changes that I never asked for and never saw coming. It has given me some control in a life where things have been done “to me” on someone else’s schedule for the better part of a year. When I run, I’m not a cancer victim. When I run, I win.