The Power of 3
I walked into my oncologist's office last week for my 3 month checkup. Generally speaking, this might have been one of the first visits where I really didn't have a bazillion side effects and "issues" to go over. I've been feeling pretty damn good! Therapy has helped and keeps helping to clear my mind and find some peace with everything. My integrative medicine team has helped me reclaim some control over my body and they continue to provide me with great direction and insight as to how to live moving forward. Acupuncture has calmed hot flashes brought on by my meds and a special diet has the chemo weight (as I call it) finally starting to fall off. I've signed up for my 8th half marathon and I have some exciting goals and plans for myself for the new year. To feel this "normal" is somewhat foreign to me, but welcomed with open arms. So the confidence going into this appointment was at an unusual high. Perhaps it was because of this, that I found the courage to ask a question that I was too overwhelmed, scared and not ready to face for the last couple of years. I found myself asking "what stage of cancer did I actually have?"....I know what you're all thinking. How could she NOT know?? Let me explain. By the time I arrived for the first day at my cancer center I had endured the whole journey of finding my tumor, gaining the courage to actually confront it and get checked out. Then it was enduring my first mammogram/ultrasound and an extremely painful biopsy. This was followed by the worst news I have ever been given in my entire life. Up to this point there were so many tears. So many. There were sleepless nights, fear, worry and battling the demons that kept telling me I was going to die and that my children were never going to really know me. Not in the way that a lifetime together would yield anyway. All of that is some pretty dark and heavy shit. The first day that I reported to my cancer center I had a jam packed schedule of scans, more biopsies, tests and appointments with various doctors and specialists. By the time I reported to my last appointment of the day I was physically and emotionally spent. I remember my surgeon holding up these charts that were like giant visuals of the stages of cancer. She told me I was definitely not a 1 because of my lymph node involvement and they honestly couldn't rule out that I could be a 4. They didn't have the information back from all of the tests that I had done that day, but when I came back the next day, they would know with more certainty. All I heard was "you could be a stage 4". I stopped listening after that. I started sobbing right then and there. It was like the hyperventilating kind of crying. I remember saying "But I have three little kids. How can this be happening?". No one in the room could answer that. We got in the car and I cried the entire 90 miles home. I've referred to this night many times before because it was seriously a turning point for me. I can say with 100% certainty that this was a defining moment in my life. On this one particular sleepless night, it was like a lightbulb switched on in my brain. Cancer had this giant death grip on me and I couldn't breathe, but I hated feeling so powerless, so useless. I wanted to fight back. I wasn't going to give in so easily, even if I was going to find out that cancer's grasp was tighter than I could imagine. I'm a stubborn soul. I was prepared to go down kicking and screaming and showing my little loves what it means to fight. Just like that, I wiped my tears and became determined. Determined to climb out of that bottomless black pit I had been stuck in for the past couple of weeks. So when I went back to the cancer center that next day, I had my mind made up. Whatever they were going to say, I was going to fight like hell and show cancer, and my children, who is boss. My oncologist said to me that day "I"m going to cure your cancer". That is exactly what I needed to hear. We knew it wouldn't be easy, and there were risks galore, but fight I would do. He then went on to talk about the staging and I didn't want to hear it. Those same numbers that sent me further down into a spiral the day before were not going to derail my mindset that I was holding onto for dear life. Fast forward two years later to present day. I finally had the courage to ask the question and I found out the answer. I had Stage 3-A Estrogen and Progesterone Positive Breast Cancer.
..........Wow. I probably shouldn't be surprised. I think I convinced myself that I was a stage 2 because I knew I wasn't a 1 and 2 seemed a little less scary to me. Hearing it out loud took the wind out of my sails for minute. I mean, being on this side of it now, the number isn't quite as powerful as it would have once been, but it still packs a punch to be honest.
Since learning my news, I've been busy just doing what I do each day, but it's been weighing heavily on my mind. Late last night I was watching a series on Netflix that I've come to love and anticipate each season. It's called "Anne with an E". It's a take on the books and series "Anne of Green Gables". Season 3 was just recently released, so I was catching up with Season 3, Episode 3 entitled "What Can Stop the Determined Heart". I seriously couldn't make any of this up if I tried. haha! Anyway, spoiler alert, one of the newer characters is dying of what turns out to be sepsis. Yes, sepsis, what I had. Through the tears of watching this beautiful take on a woman's fall from something so horrific, a few things stood out or possibly haunted me. At one point the woman cried out "I don't want to die". I too, at several points, have uttered those words. In another scene, her husband fell to his knees begging God to spare his wife. He wanted her there to raise their daughter together. His pleading and his anger were like watching myself in the mirror. I did just as he did and said pretty much spot on what he was saying. When you are overcome with grief and despair, it can be difficult to find the peace with God. I feel guilty even saying that because everyone makes it seem as if your faith is what should get you through it. I had more faith in myself and what I was capable of. I couldn't really understand God's role in all of this. In all honesty, I'm still searching for that peace and understanding and quite frankly that closeness to God. This storm has been so massive and I haven't felt a holy presence through much of it. I've spoken with priests and ministers and people who's faith I admire. They all remind me that it's ok to not be ok with my faith. It's ok to need more time and more healing for it all to make sense. My beloved character "Anne" said in one scene "Sometimes life hides gifts in the darkest of places". I do believe that. I also believe that for some crazy reason I was meant to watch this 3rd episode of the 3rd season right after finding out I was a Stage 3. It reminded me that there must be a reason that I survived what many others have not. I'm realizing that my experiences, my stories are meant for something...what, I'm not sure, but I'm lucky to still have some time to figure it all out.
So what does Stage 3 mean to me now? It means a challenge like no other. It is hope and uncertainty wrapped up in tears and undeniable strength. It is a lonely journey that is paved with the promise of a freedom that can only be understood by those crippled by it's unpredictability. It means that I tackled something so much bigger than myself, something that I once thought would have completely consumed me. I not only came out of it alive, but I'm changed in a way that I am discovering with each passing day. I don't necessarily feel like my tomorrows are promised, however I am certain the the tomorrows that I get to live will be filled with joy, gratitude and the endless pursuit of striving to reach my fullest potential. The power that Stage 3 would have once had over me, is diminished because I know that, without a doubt, my will and steadfast determination to give living everything I've got will always define me, not some stupid number. So I think I'm going to tuck that number back in the box I had it in all this time. I know it's there and I also know that it doesn't need to scare me or control me. I will, however, peek at it every once in awhile to remind me. Remind me that I'm so incredibly happy that I didn't die. Remind me to stop, think, reflect and embrace the stillness and the peace that surviving stage 3 brings me. It will also remind me that anything, I mean ANYTHING, is possible. -M