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.

Are you there God, it’s me, Stephanie

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. For those of you not in the know, this is one of the holiest and most significant days for us Jewish folk. It’s like our Christmas. Except not at all.

Unlike the North American type of New Year, the Jewish one is a touch more serious, with some heavy lessons thrown in for good measure (the Jews love lessons). The idea is that the Big Guy up there opens up his big book of judgment on Rosh Hashanah, and decides whether you’ve been naughty or nice and if you deserve to be written into his Book of Life. If you’re an evil, awful person, then your chances don’t look so good. If you’re a saint, then you likely have a good year ahead. If you’ve made a few mistakes, but are otherwise pretty alright, then you need to spend the next 10 days repenting for your sins and asking for forgiveness and making things right with the Big Guy, before he seals your fate for the year on Yom Kippur.

Okay, so I think that’s a really simplified version and if any religious Jews are reading this, I apologize, but that’s the best I can do right now. Judaism for Dummies.

Challah, i.e. the best part of any Jewish holiday. (photo by Tori Avey)

Last year, we celebrated the holiday the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so one might say that there was a bit of a cloud hanging over the holidays. Actually, there was a cloud hanging over pretty much every holiday for the entire past year, and some holidays I even had to bypass completely. So I am looking forward to any holiday where I can sit up, eat some food, enjoy friends and family, and not pass out in the middle of it all.

I don’t think I was really deserving of the past year, and if there is a God up there, I’m pretty sure he got it wrong when he decided what my fate would be for the following year. Unless I did some really, incredibly terrible thing that I have blocked from my memory, but I’m fairly certain that I’m mostly a decent person.

So hey God, if you’re listening, you kind of owe me one. I’ll look past your error this time, since we all make mistakes, and maybe you were just having an off day. It happens. But there is no need to waste time judging me this year. I’ve paid my dues. Please just throw my name straight into your Book of Life. Top of the list.  Let’s try to make this year a little better, a little brighter, and a lot less cancer-filled. Thank you.

Shanah Tovah.