Cancer-versary 1

I’ve been debating whether or not to write this post.

Diagnosed 7/15/10, one year ago today.

Do I really want to make a big deal about the fact that I was diagnosed with breast cancer exactly one year ago today? Is that really a cause for celebration? Or, is it like my personal 9/11, a day to reflect and remember? Or, is all that over-blown New Age narcissism? Wouldn’t it be better to just ignore it, to get on with life? Or, is that like putting my head in the sand? As if I won’t think about breast cancer every July 15, for as long as I get to live!

For several months leading up to this day, I’ve been thinking of having a party to say thanks to everyone who’s helped me get through this year. At first, I thought the end of chemo might be the right time. But I was too, too tired to deal with even an open house then. Later, I wondered if maybe we’d do a party after the end of radiation. But we got the puppy, and again, I was too, too tired.

Now, Tamoxifen seems to have put grit in my joints and plunged me into dark depths of depression. I have been heard to say over-dramatic things like, “It’s a drag to fight so hard to live, and then not feel like living.” Husband Pete says that’s not me, it’s the depression talking.

I read up on Tamoxifen, pick up a terrific cancer memoir The Red Devil, in which author Katherine Russell Rich describes her own Tamoxifen black hole. So it probably ISN’T me saying all those dark and stormy things.

OK, so I’m really not suicidal. But I sure don’t feel like having a party either. Besides, the kid is happily short-sheeting beds and incinerating marshmallows at sleep-away camp. Husband Pete is on a business trip to hear 35 of the country’s governors discuss how they’re going to keep their states from going bankrupt. The kid and the husband helped me get through this year more than anyone else. That’s saying something, considering how wonderful friends and family have been.

I read an interesting thread on the BAYS Yahoo group in which women further along on this journey comment about how each cancer-versary is different, and the decision about how to recognize it is very personal, and may change over time. Some note how annoying it is when friends and family play down the cancer-versary, saying “That’s all over isn’t it?”

But when is treatment over, if you’re taking Tamoxifen and seeing your oncologist every few months for the next five years? When do you stop thinking about it, if breast cancer is generally slow growing and known to recur as long as 20 years out? But do you really want to put cancer at the center of your life? That can’t be healthy.

It would be better to mark the day when this is all over, but I have no idea when that day will be. And it’s true, as someone on the BAYS thread points out, that the day I was diagnosed is the day the universe changed for me.

I don’t need a party this time. I don’t want to force people to listen to how much I’ve learned. I won’t hold forth on how I’m trying to learn to live day-by-day. I won’t blubber about how thankful I am for friends, family and my doctors. Anyone who reads this blog knows all that.

It’s a quiet day, foggy and misty in true San Francisco summer fashion. The incredible, ever-growing puppy is playing at my feet with an empty tuna can. It makes a happy, clang-ity-clang sound. I’m alone, except for the cat and two dogs. I’m OK with that. I’ve got a magazine story to finish, which is probably the most hopeful thing I could do today.

Happy Cancer-versary to me.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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5 Responses to Cancer-versary 1

  1. Janet Turner says:

    Hi, My name is Janet and I’m a friend of Gary and Diane Moll. I am a 9 year breast cancer survivor, left breast. The day we all were diagnosed with breast cancer is the day we became survivors. We will always be survivors until it is our day to leave this earth. I am very proud to say I’m a survivor, not only of breast cancer, but of what life deals out sometimes. I fight those times in life as hard as I have fought and will continue to fight breast cancer. Because we survive in a time where breast cancer has gone from an automatic death sentence to becoming curable, each one of us survivors have contributed a little part to that statistic. It doesn’t matter what stage breast cancer we are diagnosed with, we will remember the day and time and what we were doing when the doctor calls to tell you that your biopsy is malignant. I was blessed in a sense, compared to others, that my breast cancer was Stage 1, less than 2 centimeters. I had radiation followed by 5 years of tamoxiphen. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer the side effects that you described. Compared to many women, I had an easy time with the surgery and treatment. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for the women who have to go the full course of treatment with many side effects. My heart goes out to each and every one of them. We all are sisters in the fight for our life. The happiest day for me was the five year mark for taking tamoxiphen. I wanted to jump up and down and hug everyone that I saw. I was a five year survivor of breast cancer. I have felt the same things you have felt from family and friends of them almost saying, OK get over it. You’re finished your treatment, you’re cured. Let’s don’t talk about it anymore. But it will always be with us. Maybe not as prominent as in the beginning, but it will always be a memory that only we will remember as the worst time of our lives. And, from time to time we will think, is that thing still living in me or am I really cured. Like you said, 20 years out, women are having re-occurences. But we also have to recognize that life does go on and we, as survivors, are still part of that life. WE MUST LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST AND FIGHT AS HARD AS WE HALF TO, IN ORDER TO CONTINUE TO BE SURVIVORS.

    • leftbreast says:

      Janet, thanks so much for writing. And yes, we are all survivors, I guess. I don’t like the word survivor. I’m not sure why. Maybe too martial? My cancer was also small, less than 1 centimeter actually, but the pathology was nasty. You’re right that we’re lucky to live in a time when doctors can in many cases cure breast cancer. Fingers crossed.

  2. Shelley Volz says:

    Hi Heather, I’m now a 12 year survivor — left breast — triple negative — positive lymph nodes. I had to have a mastectomy (the cancer was too widespread for a lumpectomy) and went with a tramflap reconstruction. Tamoxifen wasn’t an option for me, but regardless after 7 months of treatment (surgery, chemo, radiation) I too went through a bout of depression. Frankly anyone who goes through cancer treatment and is not depressed must be taking some pretty potent drugs!

    I spent a lot of time trying to decide which anniversary to celebrate — the date I was diagnosed? The date of the surgery? The date treatment ended? In the early years I celebrated them all, but I find I switch hit from the day of surgery to the day I finally completed treatment. I had surgery in March of 1999 and I completed treatment in October. What I really remember is the first year I forgot to get my yearly mammogram in March (the surgery anniversary). Eight (or was it nine) years out March came and went and I simply didn’t even think about that momentous month way back in 1999. I was stunned and somehow greatly relieved that I had managed to finally “forget” even if just for a few months, that I was a cancer survivor.

    I’ve never really liked the term “survivor” but I came to terms with it when I realized I had not survived breast cancer, but had really survived the treatment for breast cancer! Welcome to the world of post-treatment. You’ve come a long way baby!

  3. Janet Galea says:

    Have you asked your doctor about taking arimidex instead of tamoxifen? I had side effects, but none as terrible as I’ve heard about tamoxifen. I wrote to you when you were first diagnosed and am glad to see you are done with the worst of it. I celebrated my six year anniversary on May 17th ( I count the day of my surgery as my “anniversary”). This Monday I had a routine MRI and Wednesday my mammo (after six months instead of a year because I had course calcifications around my lumpectomy site) I was as sick to my stomach as I can remember being six years ago. Some of those feelings don’t ever go away completely. But then they get put away for six months until the next test.

    I look forward to the year I don’t remember I had breast cancer. Somehow I don’t think that will happen but I am certainly grateful to consider myself on the other side of the rotten adventure.

    It’s my left breast, too…it’s still sore from time to time and the incision under my arm where they removed two negative lymph nodes aches, as well…it’s a small price to pay for the rest of my life.

    Congratulations on being on the other side of it all!! And, do ask about Arimidex…

    Janet Galea

  4. I love your positive out look on life it self and my prayers are with you!

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