Ahem. So I’m picking this up again.

I haven’t signed onto this blog in about six weeks, I’m embarrassed to say. I almost forgot my WordPress login and password!

The last month or two, since I wrote the “Wow, I’m Done.” post in November has been one long, “What is Not Cancer” post: holiday meals and ice skating and running to get that chemo weight (and other weight) off and seeing friends and surfing and hiking and cycling and walking the dogs and just generally trying to do anything and everything that is not cancer.

I thought I could just put cancer in a box, close the lid, and move on. Other survivors tell me that this is a normal stage that you go through, the “Wow, what the hell just happened to me? How can I just forget about it?” stage. I do not want to walk 60 miles with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure folks in pink tutus and pink angel wings. I do not want to read any more survivor memoirs. I do not want to make my diet a breast cancer diet; I’m happy with a regular “fewer calories in/more calories out” regimen. I do not want to give up wine because it might knock down the recurrence risk by a percentage point or two.

In mid-January, I go to my 6-month radiation check-up, and I begin to realize that cancer will always be there. I will forever be checking and testing and making sure that the cancer hasn’t come back. The doc doesn’t have bad news. She seems happy to see me. I’m the patient who got into a bike accident on the way to radiation. That’s always good for a laugh.

Then we get down to business: She says my irradiated left breast looks good. No, don’t worry about the hardening of the tissue or the numbness along the incision line of the lumpectomy. That’s normal, not a recurrence. Remember they cut the nerves around the tumor. It’s never going to be quite normal. The darkening of the skin caused by radiation—a weird square over my breast, odd to have two right angles in your cleavage—is fading nicely, she says. So the right angles might be faint enough to wear a sexy dress in a year or so, if I succeed in my diet and exercise campaign, I say with a laugh. See you in six months, the doc says cheerily.

When I get home, I pick up “The Emperor of All Maladies,” an excellent history of cancer published in 2009. I put it down about a year ago, just as chemo was ending and my energy waning. For some reason, I feel I can pick it up again. I strangely have the strength to try to understand retroviruses and all the genetic mayhem that causes, that becomes, cancer.

I start reading the email digest of Bay Area Young Survivors. For a couple months, I’ve been barely scanning the digests and just filing them away. I’ve been thinking, “That’s over now.” But then, reading the digests, I learn that a friend from BAYS got a horrible infection after reconstruction surgery and was hospitalized during the holidays. I feel like a dork for not knowing, for not at least emailing her my good wishes. I learn of the struggles of those newly diagnosed, and of those out of “active treatment” for years. I realize I will always have a bond with these women, and there’s no use denying it.

A few days later, a request for those willing to do interviews for a video project goes out on the BAYS listserv. I volunteer. As I’m doing the interview a couple days later, I realize that I still have a lot to say about breast cancer, about cancer, about this journey.

The cancer’s not back. I hope it never is. But I am.


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.
This entry was posted in Day By Day. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ahem. So I’m picking this up again.

  1. Dick Guthrie (Tio) says:

    It was fun seeing you three again.
    You look just great! Keep it up.

  2. kymlucas says:

    Good post! Like you, I got “Emperor of All Maladies” when I was diagnosed but just couldn’t hack reading it then. Picked it up after I finished chemo. What a fascinating book! It seems the more we learn about cancer, the more we don’t know.
    I’m also in that readjusting stage — trying to figure out how life works after cancer treatment, knowing it will never entirely be gone from my mind.
    I wish you well.

  3. I’m so glad you started blogging again, cancer or not cancer. Great to have you back! I’ve missed reading you and your entries.

  4. dropjohn says:

    We’re on close to the same schedule – I had a month or so off after radiation, went traveling to Scotland in November (and it was a Good Thing). Got back, went to follow-ups, and am still fumbling my way through coping with the changes caused by treatment, adjusting to my new reality. It’s not just the possibility of a recurrence, it’s the very real and permanent changes caused by treatment itself – and the effects of having almost a year out of my ‘normal’ life.

    And, yes, I read ‘Emperor of All Maladies’ as well… *L* It’s a fascinating book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s