The Art of Letter Writing
Words on the Inside Back Cover

I Am . . .

ToT-Button

Five years . . .

Five years ago today, I woke up early and headed off for my final chemo treatment.

I've celebrated February 4 every year since . . . as the day I truly began to think of myself as a "cancer survivor."  (My oncologist marks the day-of-diagnosis as the anniversary date of "survivorship."  I note that day, too, but I tend to consider my finished-with-treatment day as the more significant anniversary.)

I've been doing a lot (a LOT. . .) of thinking over the days leading up to today . . . about how to mark this day, how to honor it, and how to celebrate.  It's a bit overwhelming, actually, to think about . . .

Five years.

And then Carole sent out this week's Ten on Tuesday topic.  And I knew just what to do!  Celebrate with me, on this incredibly special day, as I reflect on what . . .

I AM!

1.  I am a SURVIVOR.  I actually despise that term.  But I'll accept it and use it, because it means something to other people.  And because I can't think of a better term (and I have tried).  What it means, to me, is that I went through something pretty awful, and I became stronger  - and different - because of it.  I try to take that strength and apply it to the world around me.

2.  I am GROUNDED.  I have figured out what is important to me - and what is not.  I tend to be less bothered now by things I can't control.  That's not to say that I don't get my panties in a bunch over stupid things.  Because, trust me, I do.  But I tend to be able to get my perspective back pretty quickly, and I tend to roll with situations a little better than I used to.

Last Day of Chemo Feb 4 2009 010

3.  I am TUNED IN to my body and my health.  I was active before my cancer diagnosis, true.  But chemo knocked me on my butt in a pretty intense way.  By my final chemo treatment, I found it a challenge to walk around the block.  I got winded going upstairs in my house.  I was hyper-concerned about my white-cell count.  Now, I celebrate my fitness every day.  Running, spinning, jumping, dancing.  I love moving.  Moving . . . is living.

4.  I am HUMBLE.  Once you lose your hair, well. . . you find out what a minor part of yourself that REALLY is!  Yes, I used to spend a fortune on my hair.  Covering the grey.  Highlights.  Lowlights.  Standing appointments.  Thousands of dollars.  What a waste of time and money!  Now . . . grey hair.  Au natural.  Easy and cheap.  I am comfortable leaving the house without makeup.  I wear hats in the winter -- even if they mess up my hair.  It doesn't mean I don't like dressing up and making up -- it just means I've learned that I am fine As Is!

Last Day of Chemo Feb 4 2009 013
"Graduating" from Chemo

5.  I am GRATEFUL.  I couldn't have made it through chemo without the angels in my life.  (And, believe me, the slog of chemo really reveals the angels!)  Five years out, I need to acknowledge those folks who slogged through it all with me every day:  the friends who didn't get "creeped out" (because many do. . .) and helped keep it "normal" (Cheri and Sue, especially); the friends who were in the same boat and became my "cancer posse" (Florence and Joel and Lissa and Ted); Dr. Liepman, my oncologist, with her no-nonsense approach to the whole experience; my kids (all THREE of them that year -- Erin and Brian and Dominik) who didn't freak out and just let me keep being be a mom; my sister (where do I even BEGIN with that one!) who sent me flowers after every.single.chemo treatment (and that was only the beginning); my mom and dad who cared for me, Tom, my kids, my dog, whatever I needed and whenever I needed it (and especially that One Day); and Tom.  Oh, Tom.  Beside me at every appointment.  Every treatment.  With his little laptop, researching treatments and drugs and taking notes and oh . . . I just can't begin to express my gratitude.  But I think you begin to get my drift.

6.  I am OPEN.  My cancer experience made me hyper-aware that time is limited.  For all of us.  Every day.  Don't wait.  If you want to do something . . . or go someplace . . . or say something . . . DO IT.  Go for it.  Just make it happen.

Last Day of Chemo Feb 4 2009 009

7.  I am AWARE.  I am far less private than I was before my cancer diagnosis.  I used to hold back.  I didn't reach out.  I didn't say what I wanted to say.  But that's not true anymore.  Now I know that connections matter.  And I try to make them whenever I can.

8.  I am REFLECTIVE.  You could say that I've always been one to follow an inward journey, but I am even MORE that way now.  I think about who I am and how I want to interact with the world.  I want to figure out how to make the most out of my life.  I am sort of obsessed with self-reflection.

Celebratory Flowers 003

9.  I am IMPATIENT.  I know that life is fleeting; that "normal" isn't forever; that the clock is ticking for all of us.  I have little tolerance for bullshit, subterfuge, waste, and manipulation.  Life is just too short.

10.  I am STEPPING AWAY FROM THE EDGE.  Every day.  Finishing cancer treatment is both exhilirating -- and terrifying.  That terrifying part is tough for family and friends to understand.  Chemo, terrible as it was, was my lifeline.  It made me better (by making me worse); it, ultimately, gave me my life back.  So. . . what happens when it's . . . done????  Will the cancer come back?  Will "normal" ever return?  Family and friends want the treatment to be the End of It.  Time to celebrate.  Time to get back to normal.  And . . . it is.  It surely is.  But.  It's also never going to be same again.  Because . . . now you know about The Edge.  You've come right up against it.  You've danced on it.  Maybe you've even teetered right there.  About to go over.  But you step away.  A little farther every day.  Until, after 5 years, you feel pretty safe.  (But it's there.  And you know it.)

So.  That's how I AM today.  Happy to be here.  Happy to be five years out.  And happy to share this post with all of you.

 

Comments

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margene

I am verklempt, feeling your feelings, understanding your journey, your fear, and your growth. Who you are comes through in every word. You are an amazing person to know and I am better for it.

Bridget Clancy

Been there, done that, hope to not do it again tomorrow or EVER!

But you are correct about it all. Congrats from one survivor to another. Here's to long lives!

Donna

Thank you for sharing your journey. I can't imagine how you are feeling right now!

Carole

Oh my sweet friend. This is a fabulous post and you have me all verklempt. That picture of you getting your final treatment - I wish I had known you then and been able to be there for you and support you. I'm so glad you didn't fall off the edge and will celebrate YOU every day!

Patty

I am in tears reading this wonderful, moving, and as ALWAYS inspirational post. YOU make us all a better person. Congratulations on 5 years out!

Jane

I am so grateful to have you in my life, blazing the trail for me, putting words to my experience, *knowing* what I also know. Bless you, love to you, and thank you!

Jo

I am grateful for your inspirational words and insights. I have been on this journey for a little more than a year and doing well. Your words were a beacon for me.

Barbara S

Lovely post. I only "know" you through your blog, but I am happy you are still here to light up the world.

Erin

That was an awesome post, Mom. (I-I'm not crying. Shut up.)
Powerful, inspiring, full of truth, and understanding.
If there's one subject I hate thinking about, it's my own (or now, as I get older) those people that I love's mortality. But your powerful understanding of and joy in the face of it all is inspiring and also comforting.

Though, I still will probably never be able to look at the picture of your chemo drugs without remembering the first time you sent me that picture. I was sitting in the library at school and burst into uncontrollable sobbing that I couldn't explain.

That's not why I'm crying this time though. I'm crying because it was a beautiful and because I have a beautiful mom who is living her life to the fullest.

I love you, mom. Happy Kicked Cancer's Ass day!

Vicki

Okay, well, now I've read Erin's post and I'm a blubbering mess...

Fabulous post. I'm so glad to "know" you, Kym, and to be inspired by you.

Thank you.

Bonny

I am...crying. I held it together until I read Erin's comment. They're actually good tears, that you survived, didn't fall, grew, learned, and have a family and friends that love and support you so well. Thank you for sharing.

kim

Kym, I am humbled by your words and proud to 'know' you via Ravelry and your blog. Congratulations on this benchmark date and the life you've chosen to live so fully. You are a marvel!

Marilyn

You met. You fought. You conquered. It's a life changing experience and you are handling it with grace and wisdom. You are my hero.
xoxo

Mary

I am so very grateful to know you and call you a friend. You are also funny, and caring, and wise...and amazing!

kmkat

You brought tears to my eyes. The world -- and MY world -- is a better place with you in it. Thank you for such a beautiful post.

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