I often look back at my Facebook memories and see where I was a year ago at this time. As anyone who follows my blog and know me knows, I am very transparent about my cancer journey. I was even more so on my Facebook because I could write short status updates when I was too sick to sit down and write an actual blog entry during my chemo treatment.
It’s really hard for me to look back and see it. I am happy that I kicked cancer’s ass, but at the same time, I am reminded of my constant agony and my willingness to just lay down and die because I was in so much pain.
Now, it’s a whole new me. One that honesty didn’t even exist prior to having – and beating – cancer. I have spent my life working, going to school, volunteering, being a mom and doing everything for everyone – except myself. I was so worried about what people thought about me that I sacrificed my own happiness for appearances. I’m a professional, a mom, a student, whatever – I can’t do this because someone may not like it or judge me for it. I can’t date that guy because he doesn’t fit into the superficial and ridiculous idea of the “perfect” guy that I had. I can’t hang out at this place because I’m too old. So instead I just worked … and worked … and worked. Ridiculous hours, 10-13 hours, plus 2-3 hours of commuting daily – and I’m a salary employee so it’s not like I get overtime. I just chose to live to work. And when I wasn’t working I was going to school. And when I finished school I volunteered for even more than I was already volunteering for.
What I didn’t do was anything for myself. People would say “what do you do for fun?” And I was stuck. I honestly didn’t have an answer. “I work” or “I enjoy volunteering and being a mom” was my response. I got met with odd looks like … Lady! Those are responsibilities, what do you do for actual fun?
I had nothing. I was only 35 and felt like I was 70. I didn’t feel attractive or fun or particularly interesting at all. I was tired and angry all that time. I was not a nice person to be around because I was so exhausted all the time that I was just mean and had a horrible attitude.
Then all of a sudden I’m diagnosed with triple negative, invasive, aggressive breast cancer. I have to have my breasts removed (and subsequently reconstructed). I have one of the worst forms of breast cancer coupled with my BRCA 1 positive results, young age, and rich family history of breast cancer … and my chances weren’t looking so good. They were actually pretty bleak, but I didn’t let on because I didn’t want folks to worry. Because, appearances. I’m strong and I’m fine. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My God, I was so depressed and scared … and alone. I started thinking about the last several years of my life and realized how much I HAVEN’T been living. I’d been going through motions. Yes, I accomplished a lot of things and I am very, very proud of my accomplishments … but I sacrificed a lot. I haven’t taken an actual vacation since 2012 – and even then I was taking two graduate school courses and had a ruptured Achilles. I was wearing a huge boot on my right leg and almost every “vacation” picture of me is with my laptop writing papers.
Not many people came around. Some people did offer, but I was just too sick to have company and I didn’t want people to see me like that … and some people just didn’t come around. They have their reasons, and in all honesty, I don’t care what those reasons are. I have closed the chapter on those people and moved on with my life.
But I did a lot of soul searching. It’s funny when you’re faced with the real possibility of death how much you realize what’s important and what’s not. My degrees, money, job, nothing was coming with me. Nothing comforted me. I only took comfort in the memories I created – a long time ago. The fun times I had and realized how long I had to go back to retrieve those memories.
It was at that moment that I decided that I was done living for everyone else and caring what others thought of me … hell, why in the world do I care what people who couldn’t even be bothered to send a text or make a call care or think? But even if they did visit or call … their opinion of how I choose to live my life is irrelevant, as it has no impact on me whatsoever. If folks don’t agree with me, that sound like a “them problem” not a “me problem.”
So fast forward to today. I am unapologetically living my life. I am going out places, dancing, live shows, I am meeting new people, and I am having the time of my life. Obviously within reason, I am still a mom – which will always be my number one priority – and I still have a career and home to maintain. But during my off time I am enjoying swimming and dancing and talking to people. I stay up late because I don’t want to hang up first. I smile often and laugh even more.
I feel like I am finally living life. I am not happy that I got cancer – at all – but I definitely feel like it was the eye opener that I needed to get me to appreciate life and to actually LIVE. Not just survive and go through motions.
I’ve been hanging out and catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, I’ve got a cruise booked to the Bahamas with my son next month, I’m going to my first NFL football game in the winter … I am being the best mom I can be to my son and working hard at my job … but I am also living my life. And that’s something that I am so unapologetic about. I was given a second chance at living and I choose to take it.