On November 4th I “should” have celebrated 19 years cancer free. 19 years ago I had a lobectomy to remove the small tumours that had metastasized to my lung from my leg. Every year since that surgery I have celebrated. Some years it’s been quiet celebrations other years it’s been big and loud. A couple years ago I even told a friend to be ready for year 20 cancer free because I was going to plan something epic. That’s the thing when you’ve been cancer free for so long, you forget that it could always come back. You start taking the years for granted. I mean talking about a party 2 years away didn’t feel like I was jinxing anything of tempting fate.
Instead of celebrating, I’m still struggling with the fact that a few days ago I had another “should” On Nov 2nd the expectations was that I should be celebrating 1 year cancer free really big and really loud. That I should just be shout from the rooftops that I’m grateful I’m alive. And don’t get me wrong I Am. I am SO fucking grateful. I am grateful every single day, even though it may be quieter than people expect.. Every single time I get to sleep in my own bed, every single time I get to snuggle my little people, every single time I wake up and feel good enough to get up and make myself coffee, and make lunches, and yell at my children to get dressed. I am grateful trust me. I am also a person. I am a person that gets sad, a person that grieves. I will never force a smile on my face because society tells me I have to be happy on this particular day. I will never shove down feelings because it makes someone else more comfortable.
I don’t want to celebrate the loss of my breast. I don’t want to celebrate the loss of my breastfeeding relationship with my youngest. I don’t want to celebrate wearing bras 24/7 because of my reconstruction or the fact that I can’t feel my breast. I don’t want to celebrate how much I cringe every time some one hugs me tight because I can feel how hard and unmovable my reconstructed breast are. I don’t want to celebrate starting over. I don’t want to celebrate what cancer took from me and my family.
There may come a day where I do for dinner and celebrate. There may come a day where I throw big parties. Right now though it’s too soon. I’m still recovering, I’m still scared every single time something doesn’t feel right in my body. I still hold my breath at every appointment and come home emotionally drained. The first 5 years my chances for reocurrance are high and I’ll be honest doing something big feels like a challenge to cancer. It feels like I AM testing fate or jinxing things when I celebrate being cancer free.
The things is when you’ve had cancer 3 times in 20 years you lose the optimism. You lose the “Im going to beat cancer” attitude. Not because we’ve given up, because trust me I haven’t. But because the perspective goes from one of optimism to realism. We know too much, we’ve seen too much. I know that I can never smoke a day in my life, I can limit my alcohol intake, eat healthy, exercise and do all the right things. Heck one of the many reasons I wanted to breastfeed so bad was because it lowers the risk of breast cancer. Well 3 babies and 7 years of lactation didn’t help me so much. I’ll be honest when I was first diagnosed I was angry about that. I was angry that I worked so hard doing things to lower my risk and I STILL got cancer again. Here’s the thing while I’m sure doing certain things can help, but at the end of the day cancer doesn’t give a shit. Cancer didn’t care that I already had childhood cancer. It didn’t care that I have 3 small children, it didn’t care that I was in the happiest time of my life.
So just like I don’t need Valentines day to show my partner how much I love him and how much he means to me. I don’t need a day to show my gratitude that I am right now cancer free. I show it every day. Every time I hug my kids extra tight, every time I giggle when I brush my hair, every time I do something that pushed me out of my comfort zone because fuck it you only live once. Every single day that I open my eyes, I am celebrating being cancer free.