Three years ago, I walked into my doctors office for a follow up visit to make sure I had gotten in to see a breast surgeon specialist to have a bump looked at. He was my primary care physician and all I expected was a 5 to 10 minute chat asking how the appointment was, if I had gotten a mammogram and what else had been discussed. 10 minutes later I walked out with the words, “The initial biopsy results are back. It’s cancer.” Those are literally the only two sentences I remember. I don’t even remember walking out to my car or driving home. My next memory was laying in bed, still fully clothed texting the Sailor, “Biopsy’s back. I have cancer,” then staring at the wall from beneath a down comforter. He immediately text back, “I’m on my way home.” It was August at the Ocean Front in Virginia Beach and I don’t remember why I pulled the down comforter up over me from the foot of the bed. I don’t remember being hot or cold. I remember laying there staring at the wall, numb. I remember the Sailor coming into our bedroom silently taking off his clunky boots and just crawling into bed, full uniform still on, squeezing me to him and laying silently. I don’t remember much else from that day or even that weekend for that matter. August 31st will always stick in my mind as the day cancer changed my life.
Details of what followed for the next 2 years are clear in my mind as if it was just yesterday. The weeks of Kyle running up to the Pub in the middle of my shift to meet me in my car, parked on the street, to stick me in the gut with fertility hormones laughing like idiots at the thought of what it looked like from a passersby. Chemo teaching where a nurse went over ever detail of what my treatment would entail and all the possible side effects and issues. Kyle and I staring dumbfounded at the novella of printouts listing things like, “Loss of hair, loss of nails, mania, vomiting, weight loss, weight gain, neuropathy, bone pain, muscle pain, disorientation, bulging eyes, loss of taste….” Every surgery, every blood draw, every round of chemo; I could recount every detail of each one like it’s happening right now.
People say that there will come a point where it will be your past. You will feel detached from it. I can’t imagine that. I can not even fathom waking up eventually and thinking, “This is just part of my history. The past.” Cancer changed me irrevocably. My scars scream, “YOU ARE NOT THE SAME PERSON! YOU ARE DIFFERENT NOW!” every fucking day of my life. Every time I shower or change my clothes, I am accosted with a visual reminder that I am not the same. I will never be the same. On the bad days, when I’m angry and bitter, I try and tell myself that I stared the possibility of death in the face and said, “Fuck you. Not yet.” Maybe that’s dramatic because when I was actually going through the entire process I never once thought, “This could kill me.” Hindsight, though, it feels like it now.
I could have had it so much worse. I send out a silent thank you to the universe regularly that it wasn’t worse. My treatment was the best case scenario in so many ways. I mean, if you HAVE to have triple negative breast cancer, you can only hope to breeze through chemo with minimal sickness and pain. To be able to still walk in and out of your treatments, even on your bad days, on your own volition. To have textbook surgeries with little to no complications. I know it could have been infinitely worse and I really am thankful it wasn’t but, really? Fuck you cancer.
At this point I have started and stopped and restarted this post several times. That first paragraph was written through a blur of tears because that wound is the deepest and hardest to recall. That first moment in a shit ass process, because I refuse, absolutely REFUSE to call it a journey. Fuck that cliche. It’s not a fucking road trip across the country to visit your great aunt in Iowa who smells like moth balls. It’s a shitty, scary, expensive process and that first really pivotal moment, where you go from fear of the unknown, to the mind numbing truth of cancer is a knife that cuts not just to the core but, through you. There are other dates from 2015 and 2016 that I’ll never forget as well (shout out to getting married, what what!) but, August 31st changed the substance of my existence and who I am. It changed what I want out of the rest of this life I have and how I want to live it. 3 years ago on August 31st, I was told I had cancer, and I will never be the same. I will never be detached from it. I will never forget it. It will be a brick in my backpack that I’ll hoist onto my shoulders everyday until my last. I can only try to make that backpack a really cool Patagonia one that gets filled with fluffy puppies of adventure and buttery pancakes of experience to make that brick seem worth the struggle.