Today is 10. Ten years ago today a young mother of three (ages 4, 5 and 7) was told she had metastatic breast cancer, terminal cancer. Back then, the life expectancy was 1-3 years. So, the young mother was told to live because she was definitely dying.
Today that young mother seems like a stranger to the 10-years-older mother of three teenagers. Today she is a bit wiser too, she is certainly a whole lot more cancer savvy. Today she balances exhaustion and treatment fatigue with hope and cautious optimism while still (yes all these years later) mourning that life she thought she would be living. Today she is both celebrating the life she has been gifted these past ten years, while mourning what it has taken to be here.
So I guess you figured it out – I am that mother. When I look back at the past decade I feel as though we have LIVED. Oh boy, have we lived. Every road trip, every birthday, every baseball game, every choir concert, every basketball game, every dance, every dress, every learner’s permit – all the events take on a new meaning when you know life is so finite. All the moments look different when you know your next scan could take it all away. The next pain, the next twinge – it could be “it”.
For the past 3,650 mornings I have woken up and hesitated just for a second, hesitated just long enough to hope it’s all just a bad dream. But, it is in that moment that I feel the pull of my port, the stiffness in my radiated leg, the stiffness in my arms, the numbness in my toes, it’s this moment when I realize it is not a dream. Nope, this body has felt all those 3,650 days of continual cancer treatment. And that’s just the physical body, I can’t even articulate what confronting your impending death on a daily basis does to your mind. Oh, this mind of mine, what we’ve endured together. The close, suffocating horrors of tiny tubes, the scans, the waiting, the living, the dying, the living, the dying. Yep, a spin cycle of uncertainty on the most meaningful of things – life and how much more you will be granted.
So, on this day some 87, 000 hours later, I am tearful and I am grateful that my body keeps getting back up. Over 80 radiation treatments, hard chemo, maintenance chemo, infusions, injections, surgeries, biopsies, two ports and a picc line later – somehow this body keeps getting back up. I am honored and humbled. After a full decade I can’t even count how many brave, selfless, amazing women I have watched this disease ravage. My friends disappearing before my eyes – it is heartbreaking.
This summer was the first time in my ten years that I was ready to surrender. After eight months of weekly chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments none of the scans were showing even a little bit of good news. I was bald for the fourth time and thinking – I might leave this world before hair can return. I was thinking this was it. This body wasn’t getting back up. There were days that all I could muster was to drag myself to a hammock. The hammock allowed me to watch, hear and feel life happening all around me. The life I was too compromised to partake in. I used all the energy I had to deal with the end, so I could make the transition peaceful for all my loved ones. All those who have walked this tightrope with me for the past decade.
On the day we decided to abandon my failing treatment plan, my caring, intelligent, all-female medical team decided we had a Hail Mary to throw. I am grateful that crazy, amazing, passionate scientists are creating the next drug, the next one that will allow so many of us more hours. Praying this is “THE” Hail Mary for me. And if it’s not? I decided this summer, my “heartiness” could probably keep me on this side of the dirt for a minute, even once we stop treatment. And if not? I am blessed for every single one of those 87,600 hours. Every single one feels like a gift even the ones that brought me to my knees. Because this life, it is so beautiful, it is so one of a kind, it is so SO limited – it never ceases to amaze me just how far we will go for one more day, one more hour, one more moment with the ones we love.
This is something the last ten years have taught me. A whole bunch of loss, of big heavy grief can’t take away the beauty. In spite of all that horror this summer – I almost NEVER missed a sunset, a chance to float in the water, a chance to see friends virtually or otherwise, a chance to laugh. Every single moment one that I never thought I’d see.
Oh yeah, the last decade has also given me MAD respect for all those badasses out there still living with cancer after reaching double digits.
Cheers to 10!