When I first got diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2014, I always said that I’m going to wrap “it” up by the end of the year. “Sure, the next six months will be tough, but soon after, this will just be a blip in my life story.” Here we are, six months later, at the end of the year. With my treatment largely behind me and reconstruction nearly complete, the time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life. With the new year around the corner, I say farewell to 2014 with this final blog post.
As I sat in the waiting room of Stanford’s Cancer Center recently, I chatted with an 80 year old woman sitting nearby. She shared with me how she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and how the diagnosis gave her a newfound appreciation for life. I smiled and nodded in agreement. That’s what everyone says right? Isn’t that how we’re supposed to feel? With something as big as cancer in our life story, we’re not supposed to sweat the little things, right? I have to confess that I don’t always feel so impacted. Perhaps my overly-positive mindset that always expected everything to be OK and aided in my recovery, also dampened my absorption of how life-changing this experience should be. Perhaps old habits just die hard.
As I continue to physically and mentally return to my pre-cancer self, I find the need to remind myself to not get upset or nag over trivial things, to remember to exercise, meditate, and eat healthy. As more time passes, I am sure I will need to be reminded of the key lessons I have learned through this experience:
- Today is the day to take control of your health: We’re never too young or too old to start exercising more, sleeping more, eating healthier, and stressing less. As my mom always says, how we treat our mind and body today is what we’ll reap in 10 years.
- You are your best medical advocate: Recognize changes in your body and seek help accordingly. Educate yourself, ask questions, and seek multiple opinions.
- Appreciate your parents: No matter how old we are, we will always be their babies. No matter how independent we are, we will always find comfort in them during times of need.
- An act of kindness goes a long way: The outpouring of love and support I received from family, friends, and even complete strangers taught me a lot about how to be there for people in need. If I want to do something to help someone, I should just do something. Anything. Whether it’s dropping off food or emailing a near stranger to let them know they are in your thoughts, each outreach is much appreciated. As the opportunities arise, I will pay this kindness forward.
- Surround yourself with positivity: Life is too short to be constantly stressed at work, or unhappy in a relationship, or frustrated with so-called friends. Positivity is a state of mind you choose to have, but is nourished or impaired by whom and what you surround yourself with.
Going forward, life will slowly begin to go back to normal. After joining Weddington Way on January 6, 2014 and starting leave after my water broke on June 6, 2014, out of complete coincidence, I am returning back to work on January 6, 2015. As friends learned about my diagnosis throughout the summer, many asked how I’m handling that with my job, and I always responded with: “Well, technically, I’m on maternity leave.” I look forward to rejoining the millions of working parents constantly striving to crack the nut on work-life balance.
Mira is now nearly seven months old and a complete bundle of joy. I’m pleased to say that she does appear to recognize me as her mother despite the limited time she so unfairly received from me in her early months. My heart will melt the day she first calls me “Mama,” and I will be able to forget that I ever once cried wondering if my daughter knows who I am.
With treatment complete, I am in the final stretch of my reconstruction. After one more tissue expansion appointment, I will likely have my breast reconstruction surgery in February. Yes, that’s the “boob job” surgery, and hopefully my final one. Aside from more frequent screenings in these early years, as well as some ongoing medication, I will soon complete my shift to the recovery phase. My involvement with Stanford’s Cancer Center will continue in these coming months through participation in their Healing Touch and Living Strong Living Well programs. Given my BRCA status, I also have a decision to make regarding having my ovaries removed as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer. While that conversation will begin soon, any action is likely at least a few years down the road. Let us tackle just one obstacle at a time.
Many cancer survivors say their experience was a blessing in disguise. I, too, have joined the bandwagon and believe many great things came out of these past 6.5 months. I learned a lot about myself through this journey, including a newfound love for writing. Perhaps I’ve always had a lot to say, but now finally had a forum through which to reach people. I’ve truly enjoyed sharing my story with you all along the way and have found great comfort in, as well as encouragement and motivation from, the feedback I received. I am very excited for 2015 and the many memories that await – including Ash’s and my 10-year wedding anniversary! With 2014 in the rearview mirror, I will never forget the memories it too provided. As a dear friend told me, 2014 was a remarkable year – it was the year I got a new job, the year I had a beautiful new baby, and the year I beat cancer!