Technically I have been cancer free for an entire year. 365 whole days. Holy eff. April 1, 2016 was the double mastectomy that turned out NOT to be the world’s most elaborate April Fool’s joke ever.
To the patient it feels like the end of all of your treatment would be the milestone that signifies being cancer free but that’s not the case. Technically if they can successfully cut all of the cancer out you are then sans-cancer and everything else is just preventative measures to try to ensure a long future. For me personally, today feels like the anniversary of the beginning of the war but it is also the anniversary of choosing to fight a long, hard year full of different battles.
Looking back on April 1, 2016 I knew nothing and I didn’t have the faintest clue about what the road ahead would entail. Everything was different, every doctor visit was full of new information and at every step felt I felt like an unsure toddler on uneven terrain. There’s lots that I wish I could go back and tell that Arielle, I’d reassure her that it would be alright, that she would come out better and stronger for it all and I’d tell her not to eat White Spot yam fries 2 hours after her first chemo. On the flip side, there’s all kinds of things I would let her experience in the moment, like realizing she is stronger than she had thought and the overwhelming generosity of family and friends.
Like any warrior that goes into battle, you come out on the other side of it changed forever. A lot has changed over this past year, some for the good, some for the not so good but all of it for the different. In some recent conversations with people I’ve said that I am looking forward to hitting the “play” button on my life again. But the more I say it, the more I realize that it’s not true and more importantly, not possible. When you press pause on a movie you are literally stopping it at a point and then starting it again later, nothing changes between pause and play. This is more like getting off the freeway, getting into an entirely different car, and getting back on at the next freeway entrance. The actions or surrounding scenarios are the same but I am different, I have changed. I don’t think I know how much yet, or to what extent, but I know it’s true.
If 2016 was the hardest year of my life thus far, then 2017 is shaping up to be the most exciting. Yes, it’s true that I don’t feel 100% all day every day, being forced to change our plans for having a family is a hard pill to swallow and some days I feel like I’ve aged 20 years over the last 12 months. When I have a hot flash it’s disruptive and distracting and I radiate heat like a Care Bear in the middle of a Care Bear Stare and I think about how it’s going to get old over the next 5 years. BUT I am just a couple weeks away from being back at work, I’m wrapping up my final semester before graduation, going to be marrying my loving, selfless fiancé in July, getting a brand new, perky set of boobs and who knows what else this year has in store. All of which sounds pretty amazing to me.
This chapter of my life isn’t over, there’s more to be done and as much as I’d like to put all things cancer in my rearview mirror, I know that’s not possible. It’s a thing I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life but it won’t be the thing that defines me. For today I can look back on 365 days of change, growth and being brave and be proud to be standing here happy and hopeful.