I seem to have arrived in Cancer-Limboland.
Where’s that, you ask? It’s the precise intersection between breast cancer diagnosis and breast cancer remission. Five months ago I was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. And then the dance began – a swirling waltz between doctor’s appointments, a battery of diagnostic tests, lab results, and decisions. And here I sit, in March, nearly 4 months post bilateral mastectomy, 3 months post second surgery, 2 months post unplanned hospital stay, and things are…well…quiet.
But not finished.
On the treatment side, I’m still seeing a barrage of doctors: weekly acupuncture appointments, twice monthly counseling appointments (aka Head Shrinker), monthly check-ins with my oncology nutritionist, and of course regularly scheduled appointments with my oncologist. And then there’s the physical stuff: sessions with a personal trainer to learn exercises to improve, strengthen and get my range of motion back, and eventually, a committed yoga schedule to help mind and body work together and find a peaceful moment. And lastly, the reconstruction stuff: weekly appointments with my plastic surgeon with the intent of filling the expanders ever so slowly.
I guess you could say I’ve managed to incorporate “cancer treatment” into my regularly-scheduled life. For the most part, I’m back to doing the things I would normally do pre-diagnosis and wearing the many hats required: Chauffeur, Cook, Housecleaner, Homework Hassler, School volunteer, Foundation Co-President, Shopper, Closet Organizer, Vacation Planner and Tennis Player. I’m no longer “in the trenches” navigating the bumpy road of treatment options, physicians and hospitals. I’m not staying up all hours of the night struggling to get to sleep with my racing “what if” thoughts. I’m no longer freaking out about getting definitive answers about my care, timeline, and schedule.
But. I’m far from being done. I have a long reconstruction road still ahead of me. One in which I’ve barely made much headway. I’m still working on making changes to the foods I eat and the foods I should not eat to improve the odds of keeping cancer at bay. I’m starting to add exercise back into the mix. And I’m adjusting to the changes my body feels from being on the drug I will be on for the next 5 or 10 years.
I’m confused about where I am in my CJ. Do you ever “get over it?” Do you ever “look back” at cancer? Or does it always stay with you, like a distant memory or a bad dream? And how does that affect the way I want to interact with others and how I want people to treat me? On one hand, I’m well past the homemade meals, thoughtful gifts and carpool pickups from just a few months ago. But I’m also not ready to celebrate kicking cancer, or being done, or moving on – because I haven’t done that either.
Cancer has affected me most in the decisions I make every day. In an effort live a healthy life, I’ve made changes: I’ve replaced cow’s milk with almond milk. I use glass tupperware instead of plastic. I pay attention to and avoid certain ingredients in my personal products. I eat organic. I’ve reduced alcohol and sugar. Every day I am “treating” my cancer by making mindful choices. Not a day goes by without me thinking about cancer.
And so, a disclaimer – be sure to read the fine print. While I’m back to doing and enjoying many of the things that filled my life before, I’m not the same person as before. I tire easily, frighten quickly, judge harshly, and worry endlessly. I’m so incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love, support, warm meals, thoughtful gifts and sweet notes showered upon my family and me. I have to be honest though, it’s also been overwhelming to be on the receiving end of all of these good wishes and kind thoughts. To those of you who may have received a tardy thank you note, (or didn’t receive one yet!), a delayed email reply, or a missed returned phone call, I am truly sorry. I’ve always prided myself in being prompt with these sort of things, but I haven’t been able to get out from under this very easily. It’s not out of laziness or indifference. I’ve just been stuck, in Cancer Limboland and I think I’m gonna be here for awhile.
And while I wish I had a road map to continue the journey ahead, or a guidebook to prepare me for the next detour, I’ll just have to accept that some things can’t be resolved right away. So follow my lead: some days I feel like I’ve making great strides towards moving onward and upward, and other times I feel fragile and unprepared. And so my CJ continues and evolves.