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 . . .
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 . . .
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.
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!
"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.
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.
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.