And how did I spend my 1st cancerversary, yesterday, you might ask? Why having my first mammogram post diagnosis, of course. Can we say PTSD, anyone?
A year ago yesterday (and I apologize that I have started these last couple of posts with “A year ago…” but I’m a history teacher for Pete’s sake!) I got the results back from my stereotactic biopsy: invasive and non-invasive cancer of my right breast. My surgeon, 10 days before, had sat my husband and I down in his office to discuss the aggressiveness of the 2.5 tumors that were presenting themselves in a regional fashion and that if they proved to be cancerous, he was recommending a mastectomy. Chemo beforehand wasn’t suggested because even if the tumors were shrunk, they were still regional in nature and a lumpectomy just wouldn’t do. I also did my homework. I read everything I could and talked to 3 of my friends/family with medical degrees to get a feel of what I should be looking for in a medical team.
So, when I got that call, as the rest of my teacher colleagues and I were starting our holiday break, I knew that all I wanted were those evil Grade 3 cancerous tumors to be removed from my body–IMMEDIATELY. And my surgeon was conveniently in town through the holidays and I was able to schedule my mastectomy for December 28, 2011. The next week was a whirlwind of pre-op and meeting with members of my medical team–radiologist, anethesiologist, oncologist, and nurse navigator. In the midst of this, I clung to keeping certain traditions in place like baking Christmas cookies, buying gifts and sending holiday cards.
However, there was no way to avoid it: this was probably the most directly stressful time of my life. Cancer. Surgery. Losing a body part. The unknown. Had the cancer spread? Scary. I actually broke down at Macy’s when I realized I didn’t have a clue what I would wear after surgery.
Yesterday I had to face my fears. The main one? That I would have a replay of last year’s holiday season. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I had an “All Clear” on my mammogram. However, I can say that we are not having a replay of last year. I can also say that I am in an extremely better place than I was two months ago, because I am calm about this situation.
Here’s the thing. I have a ‘complex cyst’ presenting itself within my remaining breast (I also have a lymph node in this breast that I didn’t know was possible and it is nice and healthy). If I had not been diagnosed with cancer a year ago, the radiologist would have made note of the cyst and suggested I do a follow up mammogram in 6 months to look for changes. However, because of my BC history, we assume that everything is suspicious and follow through with a biopsy in early January. Because of the size and shape, we don’t panic. Because I feel I have had some of the best medical care possible this past year, I trust my medical team to make sure we handle this blip in the most effective manner.
My friend Lora wrote an amazing piece on The Importance of Cultivating a Non-Reactive Mind (so your head doesn’t blow up when your life does) a month or so ago. Lora is one of my friends who has found amazing inner peace with yoga and writes,
One of the greatest lessons yoga has taught me is about the necessity of developing a non-reactive mind. Being peaceful in the face of chaos or upset does not diminish the import or seriousness of events. Rather, being peaceful means having the presence of mind to negotiate them without sending the para-sympathetic system into fight or flight mode. In other words, when we freak out, it takes a toll on our bodies. Therefore it behooves us to find balance cause one thing’s for sure: shit happens.
I’m not where I want to be yet in regards to feeling balance, but I’m working on it and starting to show signs that I’m heading in the right direction.
And while I don’t celebrate having been diagnosed with cancer, I acknowledge that I am extremely thankful that I’m around to see another holiday season.