The Ring of Fire

I received a really nice email last week, and hopefully this kind stranger doesn’t mind me posting her words here for you to read:

I’m sure you get many of these random stranger emails – oh a blog about BC! I had it too! now that makes us instant friends…LOL.
I just wanted to tell you that your posts are so refreshing to read. In an ocean of stories, yours has been the one that has finally made me think “hey, I’m not a crazy weirdo, this person thinks EXACTLY what I was thinking” – pretty hard to find let me tell you.
so, I just wanted to thank you for bringing a smile to another woman’s day struggling with all the BS around BC.
And great hair. Oh don’t get me started on the hair.
R.

This email reminded me that people still read my blog and that it keeps existing for others, whether I update it or not. Somehow, people still find it and still connect, even as I continue on, living my life. The internet is a pretty groovy thing, n’est-ce pas?

For those who’ve been missing me, don’t forget to check out my monthly column over at ELLE. I’ve been giving all of the thoughts inside my brain to them (and they actually pay me real money to do so!), which is why I haven’t been as active around these parts.

But don’t despair, I’ll never disappear from here completely. This is still my favourite space to be. No deadlines, no edits, no caring about trying to impress anybody. My tiny little corner of the interwebs where I can do as I please. It’s swell.

You know what’s not so swell?

The dramatic return of my hot flashes.

Bleh. I thought I had cured them by switching up my medication brand, but that effect seemed to only last temporarily. I’m back to being a sweaty, burning mess, with the concept of sleeping through the night being nothing more than a fantasy. And if you keep up with your breast cancer news (which I’m sure many of you do not, you lucky ducks), you will know that Tamoxifen is now being recommended for ten years, instead of five. TEN YEARS of sleepless nights and melting madness.

But I am grateful. It could be worse. So much worse. Who needs eyebrows, breasts, sleep, comfort? I’m alive!

I’ve been fighting off a nasty sinus infection the past several days, that finally seems on its way out. I don’t know if this is normal for other people who’ve gone through cancer treatment, but I find that now when I’m sick, I have traumatic flashbacks to the chemo glory days. Lying in bed feeling ill brings back terrible memories of lying in bed feeling (more) ill. When my stomach gets sick now (which still happens from time to time, THANKS IBS), it reminds me of when I felt that way for days/weeks on end, so weak I had to cling to the sink to pull myself up from the toilet, and then lean against the wall as I walked back to my bedroom so I wouldn’t fall down on the way. That scenario felt like a never-ending cycle, for months.

I wish I could just get “normal” sick without having such hideous memories and anxiety attached to it. Maybe eventually, but for now, it still feels like a horrible nightmare I can’t forget. That feeling when you see a scary movie that creeps you out, and it pops into your head right before you go to sleep at night, plaguing your thoughts. It’s like that. Times a million. I play the scenes back in my head. My very own horror movie, and I’m the star.

I always did want to be a star.

But the difference between normal sick and cancer sick is it ends pretty quickly and you bounce right back from it and usually forget about it a few days later. You’re not likely to be tortured with thoughts about that time you had the sniffles and took some cold and sinus pills.

So that’s another thing to be grateful for. Being sick and not having it be cancer. That’s kind of cool. Although I’d rather just not be sick with anything, big or small, ever again, but I guess I’ll roll with the punches. I’ll blow my nose, feel aches in my body, cry because it reminds me of when my entire body ached from the inside out, cry that I might one day feel that pain again, wake up the next morning, and notice that I can breathe again; that the pain is gone and I’m standing on my own, with the past still visible in my rearview mirror, but the present staring at me, pressed right up against the windshield.

And I must say, the present is lookin’ pretty good. More joy than pain. More health than misfortune. More beauty than sorrow. More laughter than tears.

In fact, life is swell.

Except for the hot flashes.

Those can go to hell.

Cancer Perks

Most of you know that I am not the “cancer is a blessing” type of gal. I do not, in any way, believe that cancer is a good thing to happen to anyone. It stinks. I do not recommend it.

However, like with most things, there are a few silver linings and some good things that have come out of this whole mess. Of course, I’d gladly accept NOT having cancer and give back every single silver lining. But since that’s not an option, and I have spent so much time lamenting over all the things that cancer has taken away from me, I may as well also make a list of some of the good things that have come my way as a result.

So here it is: The Perks of Cancer.

1. Hair compliments. Actually, general appearance compliments. I can’t begin to tell you how common a conversation topic my hair has become. When you go from bald and sick-looking to having hair and healthy-looking, everyone goes NUTS and wants to shower you with compliments ALL the time. It is pretty nice. What’s even better is when I get compliments from people who have no idea that I ever had cancer, and they just tell me that they love my “hairstyle” and I look amazing. Because then I know they’re not giving me cancer pity, but they’re genuinely paying me a compliment. They like me, they really like me!

2. Making new friends. I have had some amazing people come into my life, whom I likely never would have met if not for having cancer. Some of these people have cancer, and some don’t but they have been connected to me through my blog and through cancer-y things. Having new friends is always a good thing, and having new great friends is always an even better thing.

3. Making old friends. Cancer allowed me to truly learn who the real friends were in my life. Although this perk has a painful opposite side (i.e. learning which friends maybe weren’t so great as you thought), it’s still a really nice upside when you realize (hopefully) how many amazing people you are surrounded by. Cancer definitely strengthened some of my relationships and there are certain people who I can now say will be my friends for life, 100%.

4. Appreciation for everything. I think I already had quite a lot of appreciation for most things pre-cancer, but now it is just intensified in a major way. I see things in new ways and I value every minute in a way that I don’t think most people do. I still have times when something strikes me, and I feel tears in my eyes, because I am just so overwhelmed that I am still alive. Being alive is AWESOME. I feel lucky every day.

5. New opportunities. I think it’s a pretty common sequence of events: Go through something hard/awful/challenging and then realize that that obstacle has actually pushed you in a positive direction. For me, this perk has been a pretty huge one. Cancer magically turned me into a writer. Okay, no. I was always a writer. But it gave me something to write about and it allowed me to find my voice and share it with other people. I’ve also found that I have a passion for helping others and for advocating for other cancer patients. It’s forced me to re-evaluate my career path and make new choices. Which is totally terrifying and overwhelming. But also really exciting.

6. Valuing health and my body. I’d always been pretty healthy pre-cancer and I probably took it for granted. Well, that certainly isn’t the case anymore. After putting my body through hell, I am so appreciative now of the little things it can do. My legs can carry me and my arms can lift things. I can run up the stairs, or take a long walk through the city with my husband. I have energy when I get up in the morning and I don’t need to take multiple naps to get through a day. It feels amazing to get your strength back after having it completely obliterated. Simply, amazing.

7. Inspiring others. If you have cancer, and especially if you’re young, you are automatically an inspiration to others. Sorry, but you are. May as well milk it and enjoy it. I am happy to inspire you, especially if it causes you to make positive changes in your life. But just know that as inspiring as you might think I am, I am usually covered in ice cream drippings, with my drawn-on eyebrows sweating off my face, limping down the sidewalk because I have blisters all over my ankles. But if that inspires you, then I’m just fine with that.

Can you spot the ice cream drippings?

Who am I?

Lately, I’ve been starting to get a bit more of the “old me” back. Little by little, cancer is transforming from the star performer to a backup singer, ever so slowly fading into the background. This is obviously a good thing, and I know it’s what my doctors want me to do: to live my life.

The thing is, as much as it starts to become less of a key player in my life, the cancer is still there (not literally, I hope). I feel its presence and its impact, and I think about it every day. How can I not? Last night as I was squirming in bed, my ribs aching from lying on my implant, and my body dripping sweat from my drug-induced hot flashes, I wasn’t thinking of my to-do list or my summer plans. I was thinking of the stupid cancer that caused these issues and prevents me from sleeping. I am accepting of my reality, but I am still angry that it’s my reality, and that I will always feel the remnants of what cancer left behind.

All of this is causing a bit of an identity crisis, as I try to find my way back to my former reality. Slowly but surely, I am having conversations with people that have nothing to do with cancer (most having to do with television shows… obviously). I’m feeling interested in topics that have nothing to do with cancer. Last year, when cancer was my life 24/7, it was really hard to focus on anything else, or to feel like anything else was really that important. I had a lot of  trouble relating to people’s worries and daily concerns. Everything in my world felt so heavy and serious. But now, it is much less so.

There is the occasional doctor’s appointment, and the occasional pain that brings all the fears rushing back and makes me wonder if the cancer is still growing and traveling somewhere else. But it is no longer at the very front of my mind, at least not always. I am less interested in “cancer talk” and “cancer news” and increasingly more interested in all the things I loved before that I had put aside for a bit: exploring new restaurants, listening to new music, reading a good book, geeking out over new tv season trailers, going to the movies, analyzing the disaster that was The Bachelor finale, spending time with friends (usually while eating and/or watching TV… I’m starting to see a common theme here). All that good stuff. It feels great to find my way back to these things and to find joy in many of the same things I used to.

But then the “cancer side” pulls me back in, and I do feel this odd split in my personality, this feeling that I don’t exactly know how to define who I am anymore. Yes, I’ve heard about whatever pop culture thing people are tweeting about on most given days and yes, just like you, I’m annoyed with Rob Ford and annoyed with the shitty weather and complaining about all the same dumb crap most people are. But then I hear about another young cancer patient who died, or I see a link to a new study about breast cancer outcomes, or I get an email from someone newly diagnosed who wants my advice. And I’m pulled right back into that world, and it still feels very familiar, and somewhat natural. There is still that need to connect with people and reach out to people in the same boat, regardless if we have anything else in common — cancer is what connects us, and that’s all that’s needed, because it is such a huge, fundamental part of my history. And if I’m really being honest, it is still a dominant force in my present, and likely in my future.

As much as I adjust to my new reality and try to get things back to how they once were, there is no denying it — I am forever changed, and I view the world through a very different lens.

So, who am I?* I don’t really think it can be summed up in one clean definition. I am a 29 year-old woman. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter and sister and friend. I’m creative. I’m intelligent. I’m (sometimes) funny. I’m compassionate and loyal. I’m a writer. I’m a film/tv person. And one time, I also had cancer.

I guess that will have to do for now.

*After writing “who am I?” I totally can’t get this out of my head now. Sorry if the same thing happens to you.

The end of a not-so-great era

Today I had my LAST treatment. Halle-friggin-lujah.

I rang the bell and celebrated with my friends and family and drank a huge milkshake. It was quite the fun party. I got lots of nice presents. Everyone knows that my favourite part about cancer is the presents. That’s the only thing I like about it, really. But it’s a pretty sweet perk.

Dad hugs post-bell-ringing
Dad hugs post-bell-ringing

 

I have all these confusing, mixed-up emotions. I’m scared of saying bye to all the nurses. I feel like I still need them. I’m scared of saying bye to my drugs. I worry what could happen to me once they’re out of my system. I’m scared of getting too comfortable, and ending up back in that chemo room. It’s hard to say it’s my last treatment without adding on “here’s hoping!” But I really want to believe it’s over. I want this to be the end. Please, please, please, let it be.

I am so over the whole cancer thing. Time for a new thing.

Here’s hoping.

 

The cancer club

Have you noticed my posts have become less frequent? Sorry to the new subscribers who have signed up for the blog. I don’t wish to disappoint you. However, you can usually safely assume that in my case, no news is good news. The less I have to say/write about cancer,  the more I am focusing on other things. Important things. Like getting caught up on Season 3 of Scandal. Very important. (P.S. no spoilers, please. Seriously.)

I recently attended a support group of sorts. It wasn’t technically labeled a support group, but it was a group of cancer patients, in a room, talking about issues surrounding a cancer diagnosis. It was kind of a lecture with some discussion thrown in here and there.

I didn’t attend one support group while I was undergoing chemo and radiation. I know these groups are really helpful to many people. For me, my support group was my family, my friends, and the many wonderful people I met through writing this blog. I’m fortunate that I had a large network of people I could talk to and who offered to listen.

I decided to attend this session because the topic at hand interested me and I figured it might be a good experiment, and might even help me in this whole “healing” and “recovery” process.

To be honest, I didn’t get a whole lot out of the session. Everyone sitting in the circle was more than twice my age, and although we might have this cancer thing in common, that’s not really enough to make me feel connected to a bunch of senior citizens. (No offence to the many seniors who read this blog. I love old people and would love to sit around with you and play card games and yell at punk teenagers from the porch and do other old-people-things.) Being around a bunch of old people with cancer just reminds me of my crappy luck to have cancer in my 20’s and how much I just don’t belong and don’t want to be part of this particular group. The Cancer Club.

As much as I can empathize with anyone who has cancer regardless of age, when I listened to this group talk about their experiences and feelings, I couldn’t help but think, You have lived long enough to have kids, and grandkids and a career. You’ve had an entire life that I have not lived. If someone told me I could have waited until I was 70 to get stuck with cancer, I would be jumping up and down and doing cartwheels. It’s almost like I am jealous of old people with cancer. Because as much as it is still awful, an old person with cancer just isn’t the same as a young person with cancer. It just ain’t.

Besides that, the “teachings” in the session also felt very “Intro to Dealing With Cancer/Coping 101” kind of stuff. And as you might have noticed, I’m not exactly a cancer novice anymore. I suppose I was looking for something with a little more depth. A new way of thinking, or a different way of approaching things. The ideas and advice given were not new to me. It was all stuff I’ve heard before. However, it seemed that a lot of the folks in the group were really engaged and likely learned something new. I assume most of them were/are a lot less likely to use the internet to search for answers or to connect with others, so there is a much stronger need to have these types of group sessions. I think I was mostly alone in my feelings of I don’t belong here/get me out of here/why aren’t any snacks being offered to me right now/when can I go home and eat a snack.

I’m happy the other patients could get this kind of much needed support. But unfortunately, for me, in a strange way, I just ended up feeling more alone, as if I had accidentally walked into the wrong room. A foreigner in a strange country. But really, that’s what it is to have cancer in your 20’s. It shouldn’t feel normal, because it is not normal. Young people shouldn’t be sick. They shouldn’t have to be part of a peer group where the majority of members have white hair (or no hair… although that part, I can relate to a bit more). But whether I like it or not, and whether I want to join them in their circle, or not — I do have this link to them, this bond that ties us all together. Regardless of age, we’re all scared, and we all want to escape the awful realities of a cancer diagnosis. And we’re all searching for a way to make sense of it all.

I am still searching.

In the meantime, though, maybe it’s time to teach myself Canasta. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Cancer break

Lately I’m finding it very difficult to write about cancer stuff. I sit down at my computer, almost every day, feeling inspired to write a blog post or work on this “book” that I haven’t touched or really thought about in a long time. And then quickly, the motivation goes right out the door. I put on another episode of Scandal and instantly forget about whatever it was that I felt I needed to get down on paper (and by “paper” I mean “computer”… but that obviously sounds way less romantic and writer-ish).

I’m not sure why this has been happening, but I think much of it is due to the fact that I am majorly cancer’d out. I have not had one day where I haven’t had to think or speak about cancer in a very long time. It is exhausting thinking and talking about such heavy things all the time.

I keep trying to have a day where I don’t think about cancer once the entire day, but I have not come close to succeeding. People say that eventually the day comes where you realize, “Hey, I haven’t thought about cancer in a week!” Honestly, I can’t imagine that really happening. I might think about it less on certain days than others, but the idea of it being entirely absent from my thoughts just seems impossible right now. It is such a major part of my life. I didn’t invite it in, but there it is, and its presence is constant.

I read up on the “cancer news” all the time. It might not be the best idea, but I really can’t help it. This is my universe. You might work in marketing, or finance, and you probably keep track of what is going on in those sectors so you can stay up to date and feel in the loop. Well, it is the same for me. My world just happens to be a bit less flashy and a bit less “something to talk about around the water cooler.” But I like to keep informed. I want to know what’s going on. This is my life, and my health, after all.

Cancer is not just something I had, or something that is in the past. It has become a huge part of my life. I used to get emails from people asking me for movie or music recommendations. Now I get emails asking for advice about getting through chemo and radiation. This has become my new area of expertise. When people have a friend who is diagnosed, they send them to me. The cancer guru. The Dear Abby of planet cancer.

And really, I’m okay with it. I love helping people, however I can. I like reading about clinical trials and drug advancements and understanding a very complex world that until recently, I knew very little about. I am a passionate person and I become highly invested in whatever it is I am currently working on or learning about. And, as unfortunate as it may be, my “job” and my “work” has been cancer for over a year now. I am drawn to books and movies about cancer. I like talking to people about their own experiences with cancer. I suppose, like anyone, I want to feel like I belong. And as much as I want to just be a “normal” young woman, thinking about things like work, and social events, and all that regular-people stuff… that is not my life. It is part of my life, sure. But so is cancer. There it is, and there it will always be.

But all that to say that sometimes, I just need a break. Sometimes I am literally so tired from thinking about it and writing about it, living and breathing it, that I need to lie down and take a nap. Sometimes I just need to turn my brain off, from the research, the statistics, the drugs, the fear, and the reality. Sometimes I just need to turn on the TV and watch The Bachelor, which is pretty much the opposite of thinking about cancer. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to watch The Bachelor premiere (and you should too, so we can talk about it) and I’m going to give myself a whole hour, free from cancer, free from the heavy stuff. You might need a break from your screaming baby. Or your beeping Blackberry. Or your cancer. Whatever it is… sometimes, we all just need a little break.

Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.
Oh lordy, now I really wish I had a Kit Kat.

A time for miracles

Last night, I was invited to check out the super high-tech, one-of-a-kind guided therapeutics operating room (GTx OR) at the Toronto General Hospital. The operating room is equipped with really fancy, expensive imaging equipment which will be used during cancer surgeries, allowing surgeons to be much more precise when looking at and removing tumours. Pretty cool, right? It actually made me a bit jealous, like my surgeries weren’t sci-fi enough. However, this snazzy operating room is currently only being used for research purposes, i.e. very unique cases. And I’d prefer not to be a very unique case, so I don’t hope to be in there any time soon. Except to play with all the crazy machines, which from my understanding, is not allowed. Too bad.

The presentation about the room was a bit of a challenge for me, as the surgeon who was presenting spoke of aggressive tumours and the fast growing ones being more likely to “come back with a vengeance” and “those are the ones they worry about.” Even though I’m very aware of my cancer and what it could mean, I still don’t like hearing cancer spoken about in these terms. Other people are able to discuss it and ask questions, purely for interest’s sake, remaining safely detached. But I don’t have that luxury. Every discussion of cancer and prognosis and dying feels personal to me. I can’t escape the feeling of, that could be me he’s talking about. Someone again said something about me being brave last night, to which I replied, I am not brave, this is just my life. I have no choice but to wake up every day, and live this life. C’est la vie.

Next week, I’m getting yet another MRI. This time around, we’re going hunting for tumours in the brain. You see, I have been having headaches for awhile now. My oncologist was not overly concerned, but when I mentioned them to my family doctor and how they have been persistent, she wanted to do the MRI because of “my history.” In other words, because I have cancer. And once you have cancer, everything else could be cancer. That’s just the way it goes. So I’ll do the test, and I’ll try to meditate and breathe deeply and not think about dying while I await the results. Same old story, different organ.

I also have a UTI (urinary tract infection for the layperson). I felt the symptoms come on very suddenly last week. Even though it is incredibly minor and tolerable, I still got a little weepy and angry over it. I mean, can I not get one week off without my body malfunctioning in some way? Without having to order another test, or fill another prescription? I am so ready for a break from thinking about my health, my body, doctors, hospitals, medicine. I am trying so hard to return to normal life (whatever that is) but it seems something always pops up, holding me back, keeping me firmly planted in this state of unrest.

Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. One of my favourite holidays. Presents. Fried food. Family. Chocolate. All of the key ingredients. Oh and of course, most importantly, Chanukah is about miracles. A big miracle. And oh boy, do I love a good miracle. More miracles, less cancer.

Someone should put that on a bumper sticker.

Clinging tightly to my wonderful Chanukah loot. Happy holidays!
Clinging tightly to my wonderful Chanukah loot. Happy holidays!

Today

List time.

Things I am pissed about today:

The wind
That I think about dying way too much
That I might die young
The pain in my hip
The pain around my implants
The lesion on my thyroid
The pelvic pain that landed me in emerg two days ago (I am fine)
The new cysts that were found all over my ovaries
Never having a CT/MRI/Ultrasound without something new/weird showing up
The recent death of a girl with breast cancer who I used to see every chemo session. She was nice. And pretty. And a few years older than me
Cancer, obviously
Post-traumatic stress
Not knowing what to do with my life
That I might never have a baby
That everyone around me is having babies
That my life’s plans were derailed
That any regular pain or ache might be bone/brain/lung/liver mets
That despite all the hell I put myself through, the drugs might not have done anything
My awkward, impossible to manage hair length
War
Mean people
Poor etiquette

Things I am happy about today:

Cereal
My family
My husband
My friends
The smell of fresh laundry
Being able to walk
The blue sky
Upcoming holidays
Canadian healthcare
Indoor heating
My blanket
The roof over my head
Writing
The Downton Abbey finale episode that awaits me
Vacation plans
Chocolate, always
That my hair grew back
That the drugs might have worked
That it might not always be cancer
This kid:

The bumpy road to recovery

Want some updates? Here they are:

I am taking a hiatus from work… again. The reasons are complicated so I will not go into the finer details. But essentially, I wasn’t feeling great, and it looks like my return to work may have been a bit premature. I felt very conflicted about this at first. I felt like a failure, like I had let myself down. And then I decided that I might be being a bit hard on myself and that my health is numero uno in terms of my priorities right now. So I am taking a bit of extra time to recover, continue my treatments, and figure my life out. All that fun stuff.

I had a late-night MRI a couple nights ago to follow up on some pain I’ve been experiencing. Obviously, we hope for nothing out of the ordinary. Because something out of the ordinary would be very unfortunate in this case. Sometimes it feels as though my whole life is just waiting for results. Waiting for life, or waiting for death. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. I really want to move past this phase, as it is getting exhausting.

Speaking of exhausting, my nightly hot flashes/sweats are back with a vengeance. I got all cocky when they went away, thinking, this hormone stuff is no big deal, I can do this, no problem. But for whatever reason, my body is having a very strong reaction to the tiny little pill I am swallowing every night, causing my face to feel as though it is melting off my body. Unfortunately, it tends to be worse at night, which means I am not sleeping very much. There is also construction going on outside my house that starts early every morning, right as I am trying to get some extra hours of zzz’s in. I fantasize about going over to the construction site in my pajamas, with my hair a big frazzled mess, and yelling at the workers, “HELLO I HAVE CANCER AND I’VE HAD A REALLY CRAP YEAR AND I NEED TO SLEEP SO CAN YOU ALL PLEASE SHUT THE FUCK UP OR I WILL PUNCH YOU ALL IN YOUR UGLY FACES.” But I just really don’t want to be that person. Not yet.

Last week, I spoke at the University of Toronto to the second year medical students. They were studying oncology that week, and yet there wasn’t any plan to actually speak to a patient living with cancer. Enter your favourite, friendly cancer gal to save the day. I prepared a quick little powerpoint entitled “My Cancer Story” where I attempted to go from the beginning to the current stage of my cancer experience. When creating the powerpoint, I realized how long and complicated my story really is. I only had time to really touch upon the basics. At first I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to say. But as it turns out… I have a lot to say. A lot.

I loved speaking to this room full of students. I loved how engaged they were, and how much they wanted to learn, and how I actually had something to teach them, even though I have absolutely no medical background. All I have is my life experience, which, apparently, people seem to find a lot of value in. The students had the chance to ask me questions, and during that time they also revealed to me me that many of them have been reading the blog. They told me about how it has impacted them, in both their learning and their personal lives. I was really touched by how appreciative they were and it made me better understand the power of sharing my story. Some positives really are coming out of the negative (but note: this does NOT mean I am thankful for my cancer. I still hate cancer and think it’s terrible and do not recommend it as a method of creating social change. I repeat: CANCER IS BAD.).

The class presented me with THE BEST mini cupcakes and they all signed a card. There were so many notes that they wrote all over the back and had to add sticky notes on top of the other notes. I was blown away by how thoughtful they were.
The class presented me with THE BEST mini cupcakes and they all signed a card. There were so many notes that they wrote all over the back and had to add sticky notes on top of the other notes. I was blown away by how thoughtful they were.

And my last update for now: I have started to write. A book. There, I said it. So now I have to do it. It might take several years. I might never finish it. It might be a huge bore. It might never get published.

But, whatever. None of that is as bad as cancer. And if I’m doing the glass half full thing, then I should also entertain the other possibility: That I’ll write a book, someone will publish it, it will become a bestseller, a famous director will want to turn it into a movie and hire me to adapt it into a screenplay (um hi, I’m not letting some dummy screenwriter write my life story, thank you very much), I will be portrayed by some awesome young starlet and we will become great friends, and the movie will win all sorts of Oscars and I’ll be the next big thing in Hollywood and eventually everyone will forget I ever even had cancer.

Why not.

My First Cancerversary

September 11th. A crummy date, for many reasons. One of them being that this is the date, one year ago, I was told:

You have breast cancer.

I remember my doctor telling me it would be a rough year, and I thought, A YEAR?! That is way too long! And yet now, here I am. One year, exactly. A year of hospitals, surgeries, poison, burning, anxiety, sickness, and survival.

I remember walking out into the street in a daze. I have cancer, I have cancer. I remember emailing my girlfriends: Ok, this is going to be a pretty intense email, but I have cancer. Fuckkkkk. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. I remember stumbling over to the pharmacy to fill the prescription for anti-anxiety meds that my doctor said I would likely require to get to sleep for the next few nights. I thought, no way, I’ll be fine.

I popped my first pill that night.

I remember coming home and Googling my cancer (of course). I remember reading some really scary things about it and seeing the words AGGRESSIVE and POORER PROGNOSIS over and over. I emailed my doctor with the subject: First Freakout Email.

I remember my little sister coming over and how we sat on the couch and cried without talking. Then we, along with my husband, realized we still needed to eat, so we went grocery shopping. My first realization that life does not suddenly stop when you are in a crisis. It goes on, whether you like it or not.

We walked to the grocery store and I felt extreme rage at everyone I saw. I hated the young mom with her baby in a stroller. I hated the happy couples. I hated them all. Why were people going on, as if nothing had happened? Why were they allowed to be happy? My life had been destroyed. Why hadn’t theirs?

I don’t remember what I ate that night. Probably not very much, which was my trend for the month after my diagnosis.

I remember going to sleep, wondering how I would ever face the next day, and the days after that. Wondering how I’d ever get a grip on these foreign concepts – cancer, chemo, antibodies, hormones, fertility.

And here I am, one year later, with a far greater knowledge of these things and many more than I ever imagined I might possess.

I remember thinking, I am going to dieI might not make it through the year. I might never see the next season of Homeland.

As it turns out, I am very much alive. I made it through year one post-cancer. The first several years are the most critical. Every year is a milestone. Every year, I get closer to the possibility of more years.

This date will always be significant in my life. It is the day my life changed. The day I lost a large chunk of what innocence I still had. The day I became Steph AC (after-cancer) and said goodbye to Steph BC (before-cancer). The day I became a “cancer survivor” whether I wanted that title or not.

I will never forget that day.

I somehow made it through Year One. There were times I wasn’t sure I would. But I did. And I’m hopeful that Year Two will be a lot better, and involve a lot more fun, and a lot more hair.

Happy Cancerversary to me.