Updated: Jun 18, 2019
The title of this entry seems a little bit of an oxymoron. Even as I type it, I realize it will need some justification. I mean, a memory is a memory...right? How do you recreate it? How does this even make sense? Let me explain the crazy that is my thought process....I recently read an article written by another cancer survivor that addressed "The Anniversary of the Anniversary". It highlighted feelings associated with celebrating cancer milestones. The author was embarking on her second year of hearing "you have cancer". The second anniversary of her diagnosis and surgery. Maybe it was because she is just a bit ahead of me in her journey or that the month of June is full of milestones for me, but for whatever reason, I found her words spot on to what I've been thinking about and living through as of late. She spoke of the confusion these milestones brought up as well as the guilt and shame when celebrating didn't seem like what she wanted to do. I've honestly always been confused on what is worth celebrating and what is not! When I see Twitter posts of "I"m cancer free!" (which are great by the way), I feel confused. Do you celebrate that the day after surgery? When you are finished with treatment? After a clear scan? To be honest, I sometimes don't feel like I'm doing this survivor thing right, because I really don't feel like celebrating too much because I'm still going through it. I still have scans and shots and medications to take. I'm cancer free as far as I know, but what was that weird headache last week? Or the cough that won't go away? It's hard to celebrate when the "what if" is loud and proud.
But back to the article. The author pointed out that perhaps she was still in mourning. Mourning who she was and what was taken from her. The fact that her carefree way of living was gone for good. This all just speaks to me! Terrible memories that we are forced to carry with us are sometimes hard to celebrate. Reflect and be grateful, yes, but celebrate? It got me to thinking, perhaps it's time to make NEW memories on these days to show that we are celebrating life and taking this second chance of life with as much thought and grace as possible. Honoring ourselves in whatever way we see fit seems pretty celebratory and badass in my humble opinion. Maybe it's not the declaration of "Hey, I'm Cancer Free!", but I actually feel like it's even more sincere and thought out to celebrate the anniversary of "what was" with "look what I'm doing now"! Case in point, Friday June 14th was the anniversary of my surgery. Nipple Sparing Double Mastectomy/Reconstructive surgery with lymph node removal (sorry to any of the dudes reading this part...a little TMI, but it's my truth so just keep reading). My memories of that day include hugging my kids goodbye and listening to my "Fuck Cancer" playlist for the 90 minute drive to the hospital. My surgeon asking if it was ok if she listen to Ed Sheeran during my procedure (hello sign! love him!), my plastic surgeon joking that the really big boobs that I wanted just weren't going to work with my frame so we needed a plan B or C in my case(there was a joke in that if you didn't catch it). It was of waking up to the news that there was more cancer in my lymph nodes than they had anticipated. It was a 6ish hour surgery. They had to remove 19 lymph nodes and 17 of them still had cancer in them.. post chemo. Not expected by anyone. Even with that news, maybe it was the anesthesia, but I felt good. I felt strong and I felt like it was all going to be ok. I'm blessed that I fell asleep with boobs and I woke up with boobs, at least that is how I looked at it. I had 3 drains hanging from my body for about 2 weeks and some weird device connected to my nipples that had some suction thing happening. I just remember needing to be plugged in or on full battery power for the 5 or so days I had that attached to my body. It made this weird suctioning sound that I will never get out of my head. I had nurses and then once I got home, my sister changing my bandages for me. I just didn't have the strength in me at that time to actually look at what had happened to my body. That didn't come until a couple weeks and some major trauma later, but current day, I'm very happy and grateful for how things have been turning out. I'm still healing, but happy with how I look. That seems so superficial and shallow, but as a young(er) woman, this was really important to me. I remember saying "no" to any and all pain relieving drugs. I went through all of this with trusty Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I also remember being close to the maternity ward, which was both peaceful and heart wrenching. I remember a dear friend showing up for me. I had told the world that I didn't need visitors and I was fine, but she showed up anyway (cue the ugly cry here). Everyone's calls and texts helped me tremendously, so I'm not down playing that at all. I appreciated her being there though because what I never expressed to anyone was how completely alone I felt. That is not the fault of anyone other than that's just cancer. No one can walk the walk with me really, so when she was there talking to me and just sitting there, I didn't feel so alone dealing with this whopper of a situation. Thank you. I remember the ride home being so completely uncomfortable and I remember wearing PJ like clothes for what seemed like an eternity. Sounds great, right? Not so much.
So as I have been remembering all of these things and more, I decided it was necessary for me moving forward to make a new memory on this day. It didn't seem like it was something worth celebrating because last year on this day, it wasn't the greatest experience of my life. When my nurse navigator presented me with a flyer for a Breast Cancer Survivor's Conference I thought this was the perfect way to honor what I've been through. Up until that time, I hadn't ever attended any "cancer" type conferences or group meetings other than the Races I had participated in. This was different though. The day focused on survivorship. I was in a room full of people who understood at the very least, that this thing called cancer is a life altering journey and was something that bonded us. Once again, I kind of felt like the pink elephant in the room, because I was younger than most of the people there. It really didn't matter though. I listened to stories of survival and how to move on in this post treatment phase of the process. I was completely honored that my blog was highlighted as a source of inspiration and perspective worth sharing. I felt so proud and completely honored that my message would mean anything to anyone. It kind of makes this all feel like it wasn't for nothing. My greatest takeaway was that there is so much strength in my story. From the moment of my diagnosis, I always felt like just another cancer chick and how could my story influence or mean anything to anyone else...boy did I have that wrong. I'm still wrapping my head around what to do with my experience and what it means moving forward, but right now I am going to find some peace that on the first anniversary of this anniversary, I made myself proud. I stepped outside of my comfort zone, shared a part of myself with strength and vulnerability, learned new things and really reflected on the life lessons this particular date has for me both past and present. I now look forward to my next anniversary of an anniversary with great anticipation. I can't wait to share what I have up my sleeve for the next one...it's coming very soon. Until then, my challenge for you is to look at times in your life that resulted in some sort of post traumatic stress and reframe it! It's time for some post traumatic growth! Make a positive change as a result of some sort of struggle you'v experienced. Owning our experiences and traumas are important and I think using them to propel us to greatness is the key to moving beyond our circumstances. I'm finding that process honestly beautiful. I know you can too. -M