July 3rd, the day my dad was born; the first man I ever loved, my guiding light through some of my darkest days and oh how I miss him today when I could use some of that wisdom.
July 19th, the day my dad died in 2007, just months after I finished my chemotherapy, it would still be many more months before my surgeries were complete. Grieving death while still very much in active cancer treatment is really quite a mind trip. (Taking my mother for a biopsy shortly after his death and finding out in August that she had a second breast cancer only serves to amp up the mind trip but that was August....)
July 27th, 2006, the day the oxygen was sucked from an exam room at MSKCC where I was having a post surgical follow up for the biopsy that was performed the week prior. The "You Have Cancer" day.
Technically, today is really my NED anniversary. And really, do these anniversaries mean a damn thing? I'd venture to say the obvious: Not.So.Much. However, on July 18th, 2006, a surgical biopsy performed. Clean margins were obtained along with a diagnosis of invasive lobular breast cancer which was presumably all removed during, what I have since learned, was referred to as a lumpectomy. Knowing much more today than I did in 2006, I understand everything that was done after that lumpectomy was for the purpose of risk reduction using evidence based practices outlined in the NCCN guidelines and using every other conceivable available tool, rooted in evidence, to guide my treatment choices.
I was an engaged, empowered, educated patient long before I knew that's what I was doing. I'm also well aware that even now, at the eight year mark, there is still a bit of looking over my shoulder. How can I not? I've seen so much since my baby steps into the world of the equal partnership patient relationship I share with all of my clinicians. I've seen the distant metastasis occur long after the 5 year mark. This year, I've seen the deaths of far too many. It feels like this community has been hit harder than in the past. The statistical reality? It's no different. It's just different in my own circle. More people in my own circle are progressing, or worse, dying.
Today, I'd like to share, with minor adjustments, the post that appeared in this space two years ago. My blog was having its one year birthday and I was reflecting on my surgical experience.
Reprinted from July 18, 2012
Ironically, and this really had no bearing on the timing of making this blog public, SIX years ago today, July 18, 2006, I made my way into an operating room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for the very first time. I was not nervous. I was having a surgical biopsy. However, in my mind, the word biopsy wasn't really part of the language of the day. I had atypical cells removed from a core biopsy and to quote my rock star radiologist, "We don't leave abnormal cells in anyone's body."
That was my frame of mind. That is how I skipped into the operating room, greeted by my rock star breast surgeon. There was no fear when I climbed on to the operating table. Yes, MSK is one of the hospitals where you walk into the operating room. I was asked my name and date of birth by at least six people while someone else was reading the band on my wrist and yet a third person was looking at my chart. Patient safety and medical errors are high priority at that hospital. In fact, for the second year in a row, MSKCC was named the second best cancer hospital in the country but in the category that is really of utmost importance, PATIENT SAFETY, they are at the top of the heap.
As I was welcomed to the party, I was asked, "What are you having done today, AnneMarie." I was at Spa Sloan and I should have replied, "single process touch up and a mani-pedi while the dye is doing its magic." Instead, I heard the words but couldn't recognize my own voice. As I was responding in dutiful fashion, my eyes caught a glimpse of a HUGE white board.
I uttered the words "surgical biopsy" but everything began to spin as I saw the word lumpectomy plastered across that white board. Can't blame the spinning room on the anesthesia, either.... they don't touch you with a single mind altering substance until all of the questions are answered. The spinning room was because suddenly, I was in a cancer hospital, in an operating room, apparently having a lumpectomy.
Somewhere deep inside, I knew I was headed down a lonely road. Despite a very large, exceptionally supportive and wonderfully loving family, while cancer may be a team sport with the sheer number of doctors and medical professionals in the game, cancer IS the ultimate solo journey. That was six years ago. Today.
And one year ago, I was anticipating the launch of this blog. I wonder if I even realized today was biopsy day. I doubt it. I was anxious to see this thing go live. I was curious if anyone would even realize it was here. Would I attain the one goal I set for myself? Validate just one person. Would anyone even read my nonsensical tales of how my brain seemed to have taken a permanent vacation?
When the first comment appeared, and unlike that movie, Julie and Julia, it was NOT from my mom, I achieved what I set out to do. It was a short thank you. Ironically, the comment was made on July 27th. The Cancer Chasm Date. Sherry, where ever you are..... THANK you.
The rest? I'm not going to bore anyone with the details of every single thing that has happened in one year. My life took a left turn and I turned left and just went with it. If July 2010 through July 2011 was possibly one of the worst periods in my life, BAR NONE, these past twelve months have more than made up for the previous twelve.
I found a voice. My voice. I pursued that which stirred a passion deep from within and it has nothing to do with shades of grey or anything else outside of myself. I am thankful for a wonderful group of people who have become friends. I've met quite a few people in the 3D world. We've stepped out of our computers and into cafes or meetings or the homes of friends. I've felt a kinship previously unknown to me. I have a sense of purpose. Real purpose.
To make a difference
To lend an ear
To steady a step
To hold a hand
To dry a tear
To speak softly with kindness
To shout with outrage
To be a Fearless Friend
Simply Just Be
Honoring my feelings no matter where they are on the emotional spectrum. Hopefully acting in a respectful manner whether I'm using my voice or communicating via my printed words. Agreeing to disagree. Being true to myself first. Standing firmly in my beliefs. Never losing sight of the big picture. Realizing that goals may be achieved incrementally and that's okay. Keeping a sense of idealism but acting from a place of realistic expectations.
If you've joined me in this adventure, thank you. I feel the support. It motivates me each day to do more, to be better, and to bask in the glow of a favorite quote:
It's never to late to become who you might have been.
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