A year ago today, I was sitting in my stylist’s chair at my hair salon, when my cell phone vibrated in my lap. I saw that it was Sibley Hospital and excused myself to answer the call. As I remember how I felt when I heard the news from my doctor that I had cancer, I have tears in my eyes and goose bumps on my arms.
I think of the moments in my life that helped shape me into the person I am today, and being diagnosed with cancer at 37 years of age is definitely high on that list. I wouldn’t wish the past year on my worst enemy, but in the midst of the lows of treatment, I’m grateful for all my blessings.
I’m thankful for:
1. Knowing My Body. I've been vigilant about conducting self exams and contacting my breast surgeon, whenever I found a lump;
2. Early Detection. I had an aggressive strain of cancer that was caught early during my annual mammogram. Health technology isn’t perfect, but getting mammograms every year is the best thing that women can do for their breast health;
3. A Great Medical Team. At Sibley Hospital, I've worked with doctors who are experts in the field because they deal with breasts exclusively;
4. Health Insurance. Every step of this process is expensive, and a recent study discussed how many people with cancer are forced to declare bankruptcy. I appreciate that in the midst of such a difficult year, I didn’t have to worry about medical coverage;
5. My Other Health Problems. Treatment and the side effects were horrid, but I'm glad that I never became clinically depressed or questioned whether I was going to make it. I know far too many women who were not that lucky – either because they were diagnosed after the cancer had spread or they hadn’t ever emotionally processed major health issues before. I was as prepared as I could have been for surgery and treatment, and am fortunate enough not to be among the 30% of women who suffer from anxiety or depression after beating cancer;
6. This Blog. I had a forum through which I could express myself. With every post that I wrote, I was able to process my emotions and let go;
7. The Cause. Early on, I vowed to make this about more than just me. In the past year, I’ve volunteered, advocated and raised money for breast cancer awareness, prevention and research. Through helping others, I found a sense of peace as to why I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, on the advocacy front, I know I'm just getting started;
8. The Wisdom to Know the Difference. There were loved ones who had a difficult time processing my cancer. They either couldn't help me out at all during treatment or had to make it all about them. There were acquaintances that clearly were uncomfortable with the fact that I didn't wear a wig. There were a few people who thought that I used my diagnosis to get attention. There were those who assumed treatment was easy because it was caught at Stage 1 or they would see me in public with a smile on my face. There were those who told me that I must be feeling fine when they saw that my hair was growing back.
I could go on and on, but everyone else’s thoughts and feelings were just that – everyone else’s! I couldn't take other people's comments or actions personally, and I knew better than to try to own their feelings about my illness;
9. Mr. Exec for letting me go without a fight;
10. Philly Matt for convincing me to continue with my treatment plan, even though the doctor had changed my protocol at the eleventh hour;
11. Mr. Agency for reminding me that I was sexy no matter how I felt or looked;
12. Best Boy for being there. When the going got rough, he stayed and helped;
13. My Cancer Crew. (I can't type this part without sobbing.) AB, AF, LF, TL, NP, LV – I honestly don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve friends as giving and wonderful as you. I can’t imagine those people who have to go through treatment alone, and because of you all, I never had to. Thank you will never, ever seem sufficient. I love you all with all my heart;
14. My Friends. Every note, every virtual comment, every care package and every visit meant so much to me. The compassion, support and love you’ve shown me helped get me through the many days in which treatment got the best of me. There’s a reason why friends are the family we choose for ourselves, and I’m very blessed to have such an amazing support system; and
15. YOU! Yes, YOU! The overwhelming kindness of my readers and online friends was humbling, motivating and so very appreciated. I hope that there will be a day in the future when I can give you a hug in person. Your emails, comments, gifts and tweets always brightened my day and my spirits.
In one year, I’ve grown more than I have in the past decade. Thank you for joining me for this portion of my journey and for being so supportive. I hope you’ll continue to come along for the ride. xoxo