Taking a trip down memory lane this morning. Excited to immerse myself in writing once again as my time becomes my own. The business of my life is quite purposeful because sitting in silence forces my mind to places I don’t want to go. It’s not about burying it for sure; it’s about putting it where it belongs because I have been given the gift of life and with that comes the responsibility to spread joy, love and build on relationships that are meaningful to me.
It is really kind of a cruel joke to adore birthdays so much and then have your cancer surgery scheduled for that very day. I pushed it to the next day however I still spent the day at the Cross. While the staff there are extraordinary individuals, optimistic, kind, caring and compassionate, it was where my father spend several weeks very ill, with little to no hope. It’s a place where many go to die on their final journey with cancer.
I’ll never forget that first visit. I checked In, much like a hospital. At that moment, they gave me a red “charge card” identification card that listed my name and a number. I was to carry this at all times as it was my record within the hospital of treatments. I took a deep breath because in that moment, I was branded a cancer patient. I had cancer. I couldn’t donate my organs. I was flawed, broken, sick and in some ways felt pathetic. This was contradictory to my own internal view of me. Seeing that little red card made the journey real. Physical. It wasn’t a dream. It was the next step on my path.
I researched and was determined to request the best care I could possibly receive. I had individuals assisting me while I sourced treatments. I saw two surgeons, both excellent. My dear friend Adam sent my results to the Marvelle Koffler Breast Center in Toronto. They reviewed my files at his request and were in concurrence with what I was being told. Lots of amazing individuals stepped up to be there for me in those moments. The most difficult piece was that I had to immediately stop my life. My work. My choir. My responsibilities. My joys. Fear of the unknown settled in. I decided to release all of it, take deep breaths, an Ativan or two, and remember the words of Sally, my psychologist; “your body will do everything it can to heal you. Let it do its job and welcome the difficult parts knowing it is doing its best to make you better.” This worked brilliantly for my issues with vomiting so I put my trust in it for my cancer treatment.
Without walking that path again, which I extensively documented, I came out the other side. There were magical moments in all of that.
The first was being able to attend my choir finale performance with my daughter and husband. I knew all of the repertoire but had to miss the final practices so I sang in my seat. Of course, I was sad to not be a part of the beautiful music but knew that the healing power of music in my life would be there once again when I was well and ready.
The second was meeting and developing lifelong friends in my Healing Connections Class. I decided to step out of my boundaries; I requested that anyone interested in meeting pencil down their names, hoping that they would show up and then wishing for the mutual supportiveness of our parallel journey with all the identical issues that go with the same diagnosis. The ease of being together and sharing honest feelings, our treatments with different Oncologists and everything we were learning and feeling was incredibly empowering. So began my friendships with my breast friends. Birgit, Cara, Holly, Karen, Crystal, and Nathalie. We have been together now since June 2014 and while some have chosen to move in different directions, there are five of the original eight that remain wholly committed as friends and we continue to support each other through life’s challenges. We walked for the CIBC Breast Cancer Walk in 2014, 2015 and 2016, raising collectively over $10,000 in our last walking year for research into this horrible illness that affected each of us so deeply. Of course, the silver lining is that we will remain on this journey together throughout our lives and you can’t ask for a greater gift than that.
My friend Pat then flew me to camp to surprise Kami. She knew her dad was coming but when I stepped out of the “barn” where we were waiting for the girls, there was this beautiful moment she and I shared. Her eyes met mine, she looked at me twice, tried to focus and then screamed with joy, running into my arms with tears in her eyes. It was one of those magical moments I will cherish forever being her mama. Our love is very deep because she knows she is loved THAT deeply.
Many other moments included food, floral tributes, chocolate, visits, coffee, rides to appointments, the individuals I met during radiation, ringing the bell. So many incredible, heartfelt and special moments. I returned home from work on the day of my diagnosis to find my brother Randy sitting on my front porch just there to hold me while I cried. It is a significant drive for him, at least four hours, so to just do this speaks to his character, integrity and the deep feelings of love we share for each other. Never have I felt that I mattered so much while sitting in my own, present pain.
I chose not to share much of it with many people. While I was open on Facebook, I was trying to be honest about the unknown and I knew that hearing the words from my lips would give cancer more power. I wanted cancer to hold NO power over my life. Over and over again, I asked myself how I had contributed to this diagnosis. I was actually surprised that there is no data collection on the possible “whys” of cancer or that the patient history is not collectively entered into a database to determine these reasons. Logically speaking, I find it difficult to understand how a cure can be found when you don’t know the “why” something like this happens. This is the most disconcerting information that stays with me to this day. You never know if whatever you feel is that fucking cancer once again. Time allows for the release of those feelings of fear however it will never completely disappear.
So I am writing this to congratulate myself and share my gratitude to all those people who have been there for me throughout the past five years, supporting my wellness and propelling me forward in all the positive ways so I can celebrate this milestone of 5 years cancer free. It is huge. My father lived 10 years past his diagnosis but was never 5 years cancer free. What a blessing to truly believe now what Dr. Kelly Dabbs said to me, “this is just a speed bump in the road of life. My job is to get you back living and feeling joyfulness as soon as possible. You are safe with me.” I will always love her for that gift. To the radiologists, my oncologist Dr. Fleur Huang, my life coach Beth, my doctor, Chinyere Otitoju for all of her ongoing support. WOW. I am touched by angels – truly. And I feel surrounded by them.