Five years, ten months, nineteen days. Two diagnoses. IV chemo, oral chemo, clinical trial, radiation to my chest and then, radiation to my spine. Seven surgeries, countless scans, never ending infusions. Heart failure, kidney failure, sepsis, staph infection, Stage 3....to Stage 4. They were 9, 6 and 3...then they were 13, 10 and 7...now they are 15, 12 and 9. Sadness, joy, fear, resilience and everything in between. Bills, worry, prayers, heartbreak, loss and yet the most unique and empowering perspective on life. Days I wish could last forever, and some that feel like they might never end. This is living with Breast Cancer. This is living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. All of these experiences I just listed have come at a price. I have sacrificed my body, mind and spirit to not just let these things happen to me, but to deal with them and to passionately overcome them. This month of October, also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, has created nonstop chatter and flashes of pink which I believe in my core to be good, but in many circumstances are completely missing the point and inadvertently celebrating that which has been my (and others') horror. My cancer experience has not been the pink tutus, save the tatas, bras lining the streets celebration that I notice around me every October. Breast Cancer has meant extreme heartache. It has been lonely. It has been life changing decisions and it has been completely fucking traumatic. After being silent initially after my first diagnosis, I dove into advocacy because I believe in truth telling and I believe in supporting others on similar harrowing paths. I also believe we deserve better outcomes, equitable treatment and I firmly believe that we deserve not to die from this.
As triggering as October is for many of us, Breast Cancer Awareness is really so important and potentially life saving. I am living proof that self detection saves lives as I found my own lump in my left breast at an age where I was too young to be receiving routine mammograms. I saved my own life, well, me and the most amazing team of doctors and nurses! October's constant reminders and the popular nonchalant approach to raising such awareness elevates that pit in my stomach that I live with every minute of every hour of every day, regardless of what month it is. I choose to stand up and advocate for not just myself, but my survivor peers. I have met with Congressional leaders, Senators and I have shouted from the rooftops what this month means to me and the people I am surviving with, and yet this stupid little pink ribbon appears out of nowhere and does a really shitty job of depicting what it's actually like to live with this disease. It hasn't just rocked my world, it has stolen an identity that was all mine and replaced it with something much more confusing and perhaps at times liberating, but none the less disconcerting. The lows are low....but the highs, well, they don't come from that pink ribbon, they come from overcoming the million little things that could have easily pulled you under. I do the work. I clean up the messes. I show up, even when I don't want to. And I am working on rebuilding my life and doing everything in my power to not let cancer take me down once and for all.
Living with Cancer as long as I have has no doubt changed me. I'm proud of my strength. I've literally been told that my story is so hard to face that they look away. My blog is too honest, that they can't read it. I am others' worst case scenario, so it's too much to read about and too much to show up for. Yes, I've actually been told this and I'm always confused what my response is supposed to be! I don't really hold any resentment towards them for feeling that way, I get it. If I could walk away, I would! Trust me! But my life story is about something far greater than what I can even comprehend at this very moment. I choose to believe that "You have been raised up for this very purpose" (Romans 9:17), is not just a saying, but my compass despite even questioning if God is in fact along for this ride with me at all. Honestly, somedays I feel as if he/she isn't. Doing this as long as I have (thank you, by the way!!) means going to scan day alone. It means still doing all the things as a daughter, a wife, a friend and as a mom despite the Chemo Crash setting in some days and stealing whatever energy I have left....I just keep going anyway. I refuse to be defined or reduced by cancer. I choose to and I will use it as my force to claim a life that I feel I deserve despite the setbacks I face.
I'm a little bit envious that after today, most people can pack up their pink ribbons, sweatshirts, uniforms, whatever....and move on into another month. I cannot. Those of us living with breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer will continue to be faced with the ups and downs of this disease day in and day out for months and perhaps years to come. Knowing that this is my fate, you better believe I'm not going to sit here quietly and let this just happen to me. I'm going to push boundaries, question everything, demand for more, never give up and just maybe light this damn trail of shit on fire every day of every month whether I have the mass population of people willing to really acknowledge what it means to be breast cancer aware or not. I've always believed my superpower is to be dealt with a crappy hand and spin it into gold. It's exhausting at times, but the fire within me is greater than the fire around me. "Sit with the warriors. The conversation is different."-Anonymous.
by Dua Lipa
"I'm running and I'm crawling
Fighting for you"
"Angels all over
That watch over you"
"You give me a reason, something to believe in
I know, I know, I know
You give me a meaning, something I can breathe in
I know, I know, I know"
"She is me. The one you see, who loves hard and let's go slowly, then all at once. The all or nothing, the one with the big heart, so much soul, enough love for everyone, but sometimes she forgets to give some of that to herself. Lost at times, but never so much, that she forgets who she is. The crown gets heavy sometimes, so she takes it off, passes it to you, passes it to me. So many shoes to fill and they don't always fit. She wears them anyway. All the roles she plays, with no applause, she's still smiling. It's her turn soon. That woman you see, who seems as though she's changed, hasn't changed, she has grown, and finally realized that her time is now, right now. Not after everyone else, not one day, not some day, right now. She's earned that crown. Throw out all the shoes that never quite fit, she only needs to fill her own now. She is me. That woman, she's been such a long time coming. She is you. The one who tried to save everyone else, finally saved herself. This is her time now. So many beautiful chapters, but this next one....Is just for her. And it's about anything she wants. But mostly about her finally living as loud as she wants. She is me. "-Stephanie Bennett Henry
Thanks for tuning in with. me this month and always. You all help me to fly, and for that....I'm forever grateful. Keep on Killing it-M
Check out a great article centering around Self Care as it pertains to breast cancer survivorship. I appreciate my friends at Living Beyond Breast Cancer for letting me in on the conversation!