A time capsule

I’m sitting here on my laptop, looking through a folder of old photos from my phone and taking a walk down memory lane. There is nothing like a photograph to take you right back to a moment, and to remind you of how you felt in that moment. I know a lot of people don’t take photos of themselves during cancer, which is understandable. For the most part, you usually look like crap. And you don’t necessarily want to document the worst, scariest, saddest part of your life. In my case, I actually took quite a few photos. In fact, I even treated myself to a nice camera early on in my diagnosis, which I used for most of the photos that appeared on this blog.

I also snapped several photos on my crappy Blackberry (hence the mostly poor quality), which I tend to never look at, except for moments like now where I happen upon that folder. Let’s have a look, shall we?

This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I'm assuming this was a forced smile...
This photo is apparently from the day I had my biopsy. So I’m assuming this was a forced smile…
I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.
I think this was my first time going out post-mastectomy.
In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.
In a Starbucks bathroom right after my pre-chemo hair chop. Got to enjoy this style for a whole month before it ended up on my floor and in my garbage bin.
This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.
This is the bruise I got after having dye injected for a CT scan to see if my cancer had spread. I cried so hard when I took the bandaid off and saw it. Yuck.
Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.
Before I was wheeled away for my port placement. Feigning excitement.
A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.
A clump of my hair as it started to fall out.
My sis bought my this nail polish during chemo. It's called "Enuff is enuff."
My sis bought me this nail polish during chemo. It’s called “Enuff is enuff.”
My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.
My zombie/nearly-dead look which I sported most of the winter.
One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a burst of energy.
One of a few chemo shopping sprees I had when I happened to have a sudden burst of energy.
This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.
This was pretty much the lowest of the low. Splotchy steroid cheeks and bald as hell and not even able to muster up a fake smile. Yeesh.
Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.
Chemo did all kinds of bad things to me, including causing extreme dry eyes that were constantly painful and looked disgusting. Ew, this pic.
One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.
One thing that just kept on going was my appetite. So much food, all the time.
The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.
The fat-face/pumped full of steroids look.
Walmart hat fashion.
Walmart hat fashion.
One of my few wig days.
One of my few wig days.
The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.
The beginning of the regrowth phase when I became obsessed with taking photos of my scalp to see if I had hair. This photo was taken exactly one year ago.
Is it growing? OMG I think it's growing!
Is it growing? OMG I think it’s growing!

These photos now cause a huge range of emotions when I look at them: sad, shocked, angry, proud, amazed. I’m glad I have so many photos, if anything, to remind me how much has changed in such a short amount of time. And how much, for better or worse, could change again. How it’s all out of my control and how I need to be grateful that, for the time being, my current photos consist of me smiling, having fun, feeling healthy, and with a full head of hair.

Breast awareness

So many anniversaries lately. So many at this time last year, I was doing X, remember?

Today is yet another date that still stands out to me. October 19th. One year since I bid adieu to my breasts. One year since the cancer treatment really began.

There hasn’t been one day since then that I don’t think about my breasts. The current ones, the old ones, the cancer. Breast breasts breasts. My whole life, centered around some hanging, bouncy (albeit, no longer bouncy) body parts. Impossible to escape, especially now, during the month of October, BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH (or have you not noticed?).

I think about breasts every time I stretch my left arm to turn off my lamp beside my bed, when I feel the uncomfortable pull and remember that my arm does not move the way that it used to.

I think about breasts when I realize that none of my fancy dresses fit my body anymore because of the firm side-boob implant I have that prevents the left-side zipper from zipping.

I think about breasts when I hear them spoken about on television, in a movie, in a conversation. So much talk of breasts, everywhere you look. Breast-obsessed.

I think about breasts when I walk by a lingerie store in the mall, and think of all the bras that are still sitting in my drawer that I will never have any need for again. The comfy ones, the pretty ones, the lacy ones. Relics of the past, gathering dust, taking up room.

I think about breasts when I receive a tight embrace. A simple hug. When my ribs are squeezed just a bit too hard, still feeling bruised from the stretching, from the implants, from the surgery.

I think about breasts when I look in the mirror, every morning, every night. Every time I am in the shower, every time I get out of the shower. When I see two large red scars across my chest, when I am confronted with the reminder, oh hey, you had breast cancer… and you still might have breast cancer.

I think about breasts when I remember this day. Being injected with radioactive dye before my surgery. The pain I felt as the dye pushed into my veins. The tears that flowed as I realized what was to come next, and wondering, why me, why me, how is this happening, why me. I cried alone in the changing stall, while I slipped into my hospital gown. I don’t even remember staring at my breasts. There was no farewell. No last glimpse. No time to mourn.

I think about breasts when I remember being drawn on with magic marker, as my surgeon marked up the areas to be cut. I kissed my husband and said goodbye to my parents and lay down while someone rolled me into the elevator and down a hall. I cried and felt as though I was 5 years old, scared of what lay behind the doors. I didn’t let the doctors see me cry. I didn’t want to show the fear. There were so many people in that operating room. Surgeons, nurses, fellows, anesthesiologists. It almost felt like a party. Everyone there, to be with me. To save me.

I think about breasts when I remember the feel of my surgeon squeezing my hand as I waited for the drugs to wash over me, while the whole room stood by, waiting to remove a major part of my femininity. The body I once knew, no longer.

I think about breasts when it is October 19th. My own breast cancer awareness day. All mine.

I don’t need a pink ribbon, or pink toilet paper, or pink football players to remind me.

Believe me – I am aware.

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.