A Reflection on Last Year

I’m a little late for my “one year ago today I began chemotherapy for my triple negative, aggressive, invasive breast cancer” post…but I feel that it’s time to reflect. It was June 9, 2016 and my best friend stayed the night with me the night before. My treatment was at 8 a.m. and we got up early and went to Ihop and had pancakes for breakfast and then stopped by 7-11 to get a Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper. Little did I know, that would be the last meal that I would be able to taste until late October.

I remember not knowing what to expect as I walked into my oncologist’s office. I walked in and looked around and I was, by far, the youngest person in the room at only recently turning 35. I felt eyes on me as other cancer warriors looked at me; it felt like they were wondering where my relative or friend was that was getting treatment. When they called my name to go back and get my blood drawn to make sure my blood count was high enough, I could feel the stares, people looked at me with such … pity, sympathy, maybe?  It was at that moment that I decided I didn’t want anyone to look at me with like that anymore; I didn’t want to be looked at like a cancer patient. I would fight this battle strongly. Even during my worst time, I would use my humor to mask my fear and pain. I would dig down deep and fight even when I wanted to lay down and die – and admittedly, there were many, many days that I thought I might do just that.

After my blood work was complete, my name was called and I was led into a private room – which was a good thing since my best friend and I are known to cut up. The nurse wheeled the IV machine in and asked if I was ready. I joked that I was “ready as ever,” but in reality, I was scared out of my mind. Visions of other chemo patients flashed through my mind. Losing my hair, being pale, sick, and in constant pain…and maybe not even being able to survive the chemo. Those were very scary times. How can you prepare yourself for that? Especially after just finishing 4 surgeries – when you were only supposed to have one – and having no breasts. Like what else can you do to me cancer? What else can you take from me? Chemo was like:

hold my beer

But in all seriousness, my oncology nurses were wonderful. One was a no-nonsense retired Air Force nurse, another lived in Southern Maryland like me and had a son who played football like my son and we talked about how the teams were doing, and the other talked to me about her home in Florida and how she lives there during the cold months and in Maryland during the summer. There were others, but those were my three primary nurses throughout my five months of treatment. I got to know them very well.

I sat there as the nurse rubbed alcohol on the spot on the left side of my chest where my chemo port was implanted and then she stuck the needle in. The poke didn’t bother me, but I could feel the saline enter my body. They first had to flush the port, then they switched to the first chemo drug. I had the TAC treatment, which is Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide.

I’m not going to lie. It was a horrible regime. I had treatment once every 3-weeks, which doesn’t sound bad, until you realize it takes about 2.5 weeks to fully recover between rounds, and even longer as treatment continued.

I was so miserable the days following my first treatment that my oncologist began having me come in the day after treatment for 5 hours of fluid and anti-nausea medication. But by my third treatment they had to move my treatment back a day and I had to go in for the two days after treatment for 5 hours each day for fluids and anti-nausea. Unfortunately, not much helped and as treatment went on, more and more side effects and illnesses came along with it.

I did my best to stay positive and lead as normal of a life as I could. I still volunteered for my son’s football team, I worked when I could just to get out of the house, and I did my best to allow visitors, although that was a struggle because I really didn’t want people seeing me as bad as I was.

It’s pretty amazing talking to people now who tell me they had no idea how bad I actually was because I looked so great in my pictures. I even know some people (not on my social networking sites) who saw me at work or on the football field and didn’t even know that I had cancer because I hid it well and put on a good show.

The strength that I showed is amazing – at least to me. I always knew that I was a strong woman. I’ve been through more shit in my life than more people will ever go through, but by far, this was the most difficult. But I won; I kicked cancer’s ass.

And as I reflect on the past year of my life … I find that I am a better me now. Yes, I actually believe that I am better now that I’ve had cancer. I am more confident, self-assured, and I live my life for me, rather than what I think others expect of me.

I joke with my friends, “I almost died last year!” But in reality, it’s not a joke at all. I honestly almost died last year. I am now doing the things that make me happy … and if people don’t agree, then that’s fine. I honestly do not care. If people want to gossip about me, that’s fine too … that just means I’m important enough to take up space in their mind, because I can promise you, no one around me is given any real estate in my mind. The only thing I want to talk about is positive. I want to lift my people up, not tear them down. So those who gossip and down talk others, respectfully – stay away from me – because I don’t want your negativity rubbing off on me.

I am choosing happiness. I am done sweating the small stuff. I am done mentally bringing work home with me. I am done caring about what others think. I am done with all the foolishness.

We’re all given one life … and it does have an expiration date, even if we choose not to accept it. It is indeed a fact. How do you want to live? How do you want to be remembered?

I know that I want to live. I want to take my experience and give other cancer warriors and survivors hope and motivation. It will get better and you will get through this. I know it seems impossible now, but be strong. A positive attitude is the key and you will be better for having gone through this. You will be stronger than you ever thought possible.

I know that I am.

 

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