Five years ago today I found a lump in my breast. I was 49 years old and completely unprepared for the journey that would follow. For some reason, I never dreamed that cancer could happen to me at that point in my life.
In some ways I had it easy, only a lumpectomy, only one lymph node removed. It had not spread anywhere. No chemo, only radiation after the surgery and then a daily pill, Tamoxifen, since then. Mammograms, blood work and oncologist visits every six months. Some people go through so much more. I had it easy.
On the other hand, it completely rocked my world, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I realized early on that I would be fighting an emotional and spiritual battle along with the physical one. I had to deal with fear and facing my limitations. I had to call on God’s help. I had to depend on others.
I still deal with the side effects of the medication (weight gain, fatigue, joint pain, hot flashes, foot pain) and I will not be getting it off of it anytime soon. My doctor says to count on several more years. I try not to glare at her when she tells me this because I know she’s on my team.
Despite my continuing treatment, five years is still a milestone for me and for cancer patients in general. It’s not a magic number but it is a marker that doctors use to breathe a sigh of relief. I wondered this morning if I’m allowed to count my five years from the day the journey started or maybe you are supposed to start counting it after surgery was over or radiation. Either way, I’m close.
I’ve heard some people say they are grateful for their cancer. I’m not there. But I am grateful for other things. I’m grateful that it helped me have a crystal clear perspective that life is short, fragile and that we only have right now. I’m grateful that I learned that I’m not invincible and that I need to take care of myself. I savor and celebrate more now.
In the last five years, our son graduated from college and got a big boy job. Our daughter got married, received her masters degree and gave birth to a beautiful boy. Our youngest son went from being a sweet 13-year-old boy to an amazing 18-year-old man. We’ve had holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and ordinary daily struggles. I count it all as gift.
My daughter has told me all along that she and I should get some kind of matching tattoos to commemorate the breast cancer battle and the victory. I told her I already have tattoos. I have two scars and a whole set of black dot tattoos that marked me for radiation. I have a tumor marker implanted in my breast at the site of the lump. I am marked. I will not be forgetting this journey. No further tattoos needed here!
The devotional book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young sustained me daily these last five years. The entry for today, August 20, the beginning of my journey, has taken my breath away every single time I’ve read it because it is so spot on. “I am a God who heals. I heal broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, broken lives and broken relationships. My very Presence has immense healing powers….Your part is to trust Me fully and to thank Me for the restoration that has begun.”
Five years. Healing. New Life. Gratitude. Perspective. Trust. Thanks be to God!.