My Two Year Cancerversary

Today is my cancerversary.

There are different days that people choose as their cancerversary. Some people use the day they’re diagnosed. Others use the day that they are declared cancer free. For me, I choose the day of my mastectomy – when they removed the tumor in my breast and the tumors that spread to my lymph nodes – and they considered me cancer free.

My mastectomy was on April 17, 2012. That’s two years ago today.

I’ve been thinking about this day for weeks. I was really expecting to be celebrating. I’ve been cancer free for two years. That’s kind of a big deal. Actually not kind of. It is a big deal.

And most importantly, I’m still here.

My prognosis at diagnosis was good, but you just never know what will happen. I knew that reality before, but cancer reinforced my belief that life is unpredictable and bad shit happens. Not much you can do about that.

So I figured I would be really happy to be reaching the two year mark. But I woke up this morning to find myself feeling melancholy. That’s actually a nicer word than what I’m really feeling. A more accurate word is just downright sad.

Although I’m physically feeling good after all my body has been through – a mastectomy, chemo and radiation – I seem to find my thinking, “Is this really my life now?”

Survivorship is hard. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I did survive. But a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my cancer coming back or showing up somewhere else. 30% of early stage breast cancer comes back as stage 4. I was stage 2 at diagnosis. Fingers crossed I don’t become stage 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve made good progress in the last two years. And I’m proud of myself for that. I’ve been getting back to the things I used to do before cancer – going out with friends, visiting my family, working normal hours, going on trips, swimming, running, yoga. And I have more good days than bad ones.

But I now know that my life will never be like it was before cancer. My body aches like a 90 year old lady sometimes. I’m still getting used to my new body – both how it looks and how it feels. I get tired a lot earlier in the evening than I used to before. I now have a pill box to organize my daily medication, so I don’t forget to take it. I guess that’s what makes me sad today.

Today reminds me that I’ve lost a lot of my carefree tendencies. I take life a lot more seriously. Now I wonder how long I have to do the things that I really want to do. Will I get to have kids? If I do, how long will I be around to be a part of their lives.

I’ve been lucky to have found a great support group through the Young Survival Coalition. These women that I get together with every month make me feel less alone. We can talk about our fears and concerns. And how hard survivorship is. We can even laugh about things like forgetting where we parked our cars because of our chemo brain.

They say that eventually you stop thinking about cancer every day. I hope they’re right. But its hard for me to imagine that day. Right now it feels like two steps forward and one step back. I guess I just continue to do what I’ve done over the last two years – just take it one day at a time.

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First Run Since My Mastectomy

This past weekend I went for a run for the first time since my mastectomy two years ago.

Before breast cancer, I was running 2-3 times per week. It was a great way to stay in shape and relieve stress. But after breast cancer, I was really scared to go running.

The nurse in my plastic surgeon’s office kept reassuring me that it would probably be easier to run now with implants, rather than real breasts. Less moving around, if you know what I mean.

It makes sense, but I was still worried. Implants are just balls of gel glued to my chest. I’m no Flo-Jo, so setting a world record for speed wasn’t and will never be in the cards for me. But couldn’t my implants fall off from running? OK, that’s probably not gonna happen. But my mind wanders to strange places these days.

So after two years of trepidation, I decided it was time to try it. Recently there have been some articles about how running beats walking for breast cancer survival, so that added to my motivation.

As I got dressed, I put on my compression sleeve, as my physical therapist insisted to prevent lymphedema. I think this is one of the reasons why I had been hesitant to start running. I hate wearing that compression sleeve. It doesn’t hurt, its just bothersome – physically and mentally. Its tight, as its supposed to be to work, but feels constricting.

And I know I shouldn’t care what people think when they look at me, but the compression sleeve is a reminder that I’m not like everyone else running. What I have to wear when I run is now different than what everyone else wears. I know I’m doing the right thing by wearing it, but I sure wish I didn’t have to. It’s just another reminder that you’re never done with cancer, even when you’re done with cancer treatment.

So I laced up my shoes, put my ipod on and headed out the door. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was finally shining and it was warm enough to be outside without a jacket. A perfect day for a first run.

I started out slowly. I walked a couple blocks while I gave myself a little pep talk. I can always stop running and start walking if my implants hurt. Or if I got scared. Getting out the door is usually the hardest part.

Once I started running, I actually felt great. I couldn’t believe it. The nurse was right – my implants didn’t move at all. It was easier to run with implants than real breasts. Imagine that!

I only ran for a couple miles, but for me at this point, it was like running a marathon. I deserved a metal, or at least a ribbon for participation.

YouTriedAt the end of my run I walked for a few blocks before going inside. As I walked, I started to cry. I was so happy to be doing something that I loved pre-cancer and was finally able to do post-cancer.

Being a breast cancer survivor is really hard – some ups and lots of downs. But running made me feel like not everything was taken away from me with a cancer diagnosis. It was the first time in two years that a part of me really believed there could be life after cancer.