WOW! Time sure flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? I truly can’t believe that it has really been a little more than five years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy (January 2), was diagnosed with lung cancer (February 14), had more surgery and topped it all off with chemo and radiation.
WHEW! I am really tired just thinking about it!
The reality is, I still don’t believe that I was there when it happened. It was more like an out-of-body experience. In my mind it really didn’t happen to me, I was sitting on the outside looking in, even though I do have a recollection of being there. Ignorance is bliss.
Truth be told, I can recite every detail of the year-long experience in chronological order. I can tell you that on day 14 after my first chemo session, my hair fell out. It was Easter Sunday and I was getting dressed to go to a friend’s house for brunch. All of a sudden, I combed my hair and there was a clump of hair in my hand and I knew the rest of it would be gone very soon. I was told it was going to happen approximately 10 days after chemo, but I was convinced that my hair was going to be different – it was going to stay on my head. By Thursday of that week, it was all gone, along with all my body hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes. Boy, what a horrifying sight that was. I will never forget it!
But as the days went on, it didn’t seem to bother me as much. I guess I had bigger fish to fry, as they say – and really, what could I do about it? Rogaine was surely not going to help this situation. I had to live without hair until this ordeal was over. And live with it I did. I had a blonde wig (my normal hair color, sort of) and a brown wig named Harriet. I wore Harriet on special occasions, like parties. Harriet was fun – she had curls and she came down to my shoulders. I felt like a new me when I wore her. Unfortunately, for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the blonde wig (it must be lost in chemo brain space), so let’s call her Blondie. She was the conservative, business wig – the one I wore when I was working. The picture on my license is actually Blondie, so I won’t be forgetting her for at least five more years.
My hairdresser went with me when we picked Blondie out and he styled her for me so it looked like my real hair. I think he was the only person who ever saw me without hair. I was not comfortable without my hair.
If I didn’t wear one of my wigs, I wore a scarf or one of my many knitted caps. They kept my head warm. Also, they were knitted by people who loved me and whom I loved – like my niece and several of my friends – so they were extra special.
Today, I think about being a breast cancer survivor all the time. Most likely because I write the Baptist Health Breast Center blog; or because I have met so many other amazing breast cancer survivors; or because every time someone I know gets breast cancer they call me; or because I still wear my pink bracelet; or because I now have lymphedema (but it’s not cancer); or whenever I see someone without hair and a scarf. Whatever the trigger is, I always think about being a five-year breast cancer survivor and that I still have to be vigilant about my health. I have to do what I can to prevent the Big C from returning, but I also have to be on the lookout for anything that may be strange or unusual happening in my body. Cancer takes no prisoners – it can and does come back.
Just thinking about that time of my life five years ago is bringing tears to my eyes as I write. It wasn’t the best time of my life, but it was a time when I felt the love, care and concern from many people who I’ve known. I always feel that I am a very lucky duck (my mother’s favorite expression). I am lucky to have such wonderful friends and family, lucky to be alive and celebrating my fifth anniversary and lucky to be working at something I truly love – sharing my experience with you.
If just one thing I share with you sinks in, I am happy. There is life after cancer – that’s the message.
Happy Fifth Anniversary to me!
Muriel, five-year survivor