Today is my 47th birthday. We’re not doing anything particularly special, oh, they’ll be cake and a nice meal, some presents from Michael & the kids. But I didn’t want a big tadoo, just a regular birthday like I’ve always had.
That might sound strange, I mean, shouldn’t I be dancing in the streets since pretty much dodging the mother of all bullets, what with no lung metastasis?
Incidentally, I spoke to my oncologist last night (she calls me at home pretty often, isn’t that nice?)…anyway, the final report came in from the “lung biopsy that wasn’t”. According to the CT scan all the pulmonary nodules seem to have essentially resolved themselves with the exception of one – there’s no evidence of any of the rest. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The lone hold out got 1cm larger than it was from a prior scan, but that could be explained by how CT imaging is sort of sliced. Imagine an orange, if you sliced it towards the end it would appear smaller in circumference than if you sliced it in the middle. So this last nodule might even have gotten smaller and it just didn’t appear that way.
The plan is to re-scan in a few months. I asked her if it was okay to wait until after the winter holidays and she gave me a resounding yes. She said we can be VERY confident it’s not a fast growing metastasis, and pretty darn confident it’s not any kind of metastasis at all…nor is it likely to be a new primary cancer either. All things considered, I’m moving on and not worrying about this anymore.
So why am I not celebrating my ass off?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Perhaps there are phases you inevitably pass thru when you have cancer, and I've sort of suffered from arrested development, if you will. The way I presently see it there's four phases:
1. The discovery and diagnosis stage, when you are finding out what you have and how to treat it, if it’s spread and what your prognosis might be. It’s a crash course in your own particular cancer situation and frought with the kind of decisions that no earthly person should ever have to make.
2. Then there’s the treatment phase itself…surgery, chemo, radiation, hormonal and other ongoing therapies. For some of us, all or part of the treatment may continue for many years, but chances are the intensive remedies like surgery and chemo will be relatively short-lived, in the grand scheme of things.
3. After all of that comes the healing stage where you go thru a physical recovery from your treatment. You may need to adjust to a drastically changed body, severe side effects from medications will gradually diminish, wounds will heal. Permanent damage will be assessed and you will learn to manage various conditions and any ongoing medications.
4. Finally you enter what is hopefully the last phase of your voyage – continuing on with your life in the wake of having had cancer. Some of us have to do that part while knowingly living with cancer, some of us get to do it “cancer-free” – hopefully for a long, long time. This is when you begin to work on recovering from the emotional wounds, maybe the most difficult recuperation process of them all.
For the average woman with breast cancer it takes about 9 or 10 months from discovery to reach that 4th phase. Clearly with all the obstacles thrown in my path my journey has been quite a bit longer. It’s been nearly 18mos now since discovering the lumps in my breast. So even tho technically my last treatment was at the end of April, I’ve been stuck, left in a holding pattern while waiting to find out whether or not the cancer had already spread. Now that pause button has been released and it’s time to fully move into the fourth phase.
Physically I’m left with the aforementioned pulmonary nodule, major scars, vast areas of numbness, mild lymphedema, only a little hair and some extra pounds (tho less since I’ve lost a bit). Menopause has been tolerable so far, but I am experiencing some body aches and crankiness from my estrogen deficit. Fatigue is lifting, but still there.
Emotionally? I don’t even know where to start, thus the title of this post and why I’m not exactly partying. I think it is all hitting me full force now…OMG, I had cancer?!?! I have radically changed. I will never be the same. There’s nothing left to distract me from facing this head on anymore….nothing to learn, no treatment decisions, no physical pain, no wounds left to heal, save for the giant gaping one in my psyche.
So it seems I am now, finally, a breast cancer survivor. On October 1st, the first day of breast cancer awareness month, it will be 18 months exactly since I sat down to nurse my toddler son, and with my breast in hand found the lump that would destroy my life as I knew it, leaving me standing where I am now….pretty beat up, sort of stunned, more than a little lost, and very, very much alive.