It was October 12, 2011. I’ll always remember the date because it’s my Papa’s birthday. I was halfway across the country at The Grand Canyon, a place I’ve been wanting to go ever since I watched The Brady Bunch take in the scenery during reruns of the show after kindergarten. Twenty-eight-ish years later, we were there, taking pictures and meeting elk and having a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Luke and I at The Grand Canyon (finally!)
Our first night there, though, I started feeling shooting pain that led directly to a large lump in my left breast. Sure, it was a lump in my breast, but I wasn’t super worried. I was told that “pain never means cancer,” and nothing was found when I had a thorough breast exam by a doctor just two months prior. All signs pointed to It’s Nothing/How Annoying.
However, the pain was sporadic but didn’t stop. When I came back home and had a coincidental appointment with my ob/gyn a few days later, I asked her to cop a feel. She did, and while she agreed that it was Probably Nothing, she wrote me a prescription to get an ultrasound at the Woman’s Diagnostic Center connected to the hospital. Long story short, that ultrasound came back abnormal, which lead me to get my first mammogram (ouch!), a bilateral ultrasound, and three biopsies (one for the lump itself, another for a different worrisome spot, and a third for my lymph nodes) the day before Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving, I was told that the lump itself was malignant.
I had cancer.
In looking back at the year I just had, I could easily state the facts:
Diagnosed as Stage Two in November, and then Stage One in December (they took it back post-lumpectomy upon seeing that lots of the cells that made up the malignant lump were pre-pre-cancerous).
Given BRCA negative status (which means I don’t have the gene, despite the fact that everyone on both sides of my family has died of some type of cancer. All but 1 were over 70, but still…).
4 frozen embryos (keeping our options open) in January.
2 lumpectomies, one in December and the second in Feburary (The second one showed that there were cancerous cells outside of the margins of the original lump – which, from what I was told, is highly unusual. My treatment went from chemo + radiation to chemo + double mastectomy in an instant).
After my 2nd lumpectomy
4 rounds of chemo between February and April (it started on Valentine’s Day, because that’s romance for ya).
After my last round of chemo (hence the big fat smile)
A boobal removal and reconstruction in May.
A cancer-free diagnosis in June.
A story told to 1,000 people in July.
Photo by Armosa Studios. You might’ve seen it before. I kinda can’t get enough of it.
A final surgery to get my gummy bear implants (yes, I feel like a new woman) in September.
Now, in two weeks, I walk 39.3 miles with my Avon 2-Day Walk team. Yes, it’s my first time walking, or doing anything so strenuously athletic. I’m equal parts excited and scared – just as I like it – and the $14,000+ we’ve raised so far (I’m aiming for $16,000) doesn’t hurt.
Throughout the year, there have been dozens of people leaned on, hundreds (thousands?) sending love and support. I have the bestest of families, the most lovely and understanding of clients, the sweetest of friends.
One of the dozens of gifts I received, this one made for me by Cindy Ann
There are things behind the surface, though, that aren’t so easy to articulate. This feeling of strength, of fear, of sadness, of courage, of playing what you’re dealt and coming through, of loss, of struggle, of love, of heartbreak, of struggle, of triumph, of luck. When I think “Why me?”, I think of it in two ways: the positive (why did I get spared, why was it so “easy”, why wasn’t it worse) and the negative (what did I do to get this, why was I “chosen”, why can’t my life just be like everyone else’s). I feel all these feelings at the very same time.
Right before my last surgery I got a Soul Clearing session from Julia of The Lucid Path. Not one for astrology or psychics or tarot, I was hesitant and skeptical going in, but curious as to what would be told and revealed. Right off the bat, I was told that my core identity is to see the harsh realities of this world, go through the pain, heal…and then help others. I thought of my boobs. I thought of my acting. I thought of becoming The When I Grow Up Coach. I thought, “This makes sense.” She told me that I have a sense of responsibility to those in emotional pain, and that the work I’m doing now is “my thing.” Now, I have to trust what I do know and get comfortable with what I don’t. I have to step into more of a teaching role. I have to separate myself from those who can take too much from me.
I’m still pondering this, still living it and breathing it and letting it marinate – all of it. But I believe it, and know it’s my truth.
While October will always be Breast Cancer Awareness month, it will mean something more to me…and, I hope, to you. Instead of posting something cryptic on Facebook (if you’ve seen something about “inches and minutes”, it’s supposed to raise awareness), learn some boob cancer facts (like the one where a woman gets diagnosed every 3 minutes) or read an amazeballs cancer-kicking book or donate to a cause that helps women fight like a girl. Let’s go from Awareness to a Cure together.