Today is a big day, I mean really big…I’d even go so far as to say huge. Another April 1st has rolled around and this year makes 5. It’s been five April 1st’s since the big one. If my breast implants were children, they would be going into kindergarten – and I know you’re assuming they’re twins, I mean, they are, but they’re fraternal.
There’s some differing opinions out there about what date technically qualifies as your anniversary. Some say that you use the date of your diagnosis (March 18) because that’s technically when the treatment train starts. But I’m far more cautious than that, the date I’ve decided to acknowledge is the anniversary of my surgery – April 1. My oncologist told me once that I’m considered “Cancer free” on the day of my mastectomy and the chemo, radiation and pills I’m still on today are to make sure that it doesn’t find its way back. So here we are, April 1, 2021 – I’ve officially hit the 5 year mark.
I’ve been thinking about this day off and on over the last year and even more as it’s crept closer. I’ve pushed it out of my mind every time I think about it because, in the words of the great Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little sticious”. OK, maybe it’s not really superstition but more that I know how devious and sneaky cancer is. I know that it doesn’t care if it’s 1 day or 100 days before the 5 year anniversary if it decides to make a reappearance. So today is going to be the first day that I actually allow myself to think about it and acknowledge getting to this day.
5 years. So much has happened in 5 years. I’ve gotten married, was promoted at work, moved into our amazing little house, watched my closest friends have beautiful babies that are growing too fast and even experienced a Global pandemic (would not have guessed that one in a million years). To be fair, it hasn’t all been roses though, I’ve experienced very significant losses, spent some time in my grief, recognized that I still suck at work-life balance, and watched close friends navigate through this shitty disease. Oh and I’ll toss that Global Pandemic thing in this section too.
The doctors do a great job of telling you all of the physical side effects throughout treatment but what isn’t talked about enough is the mental aftermath that comes with having had cancer. It’s great that the major parts of treatment are over, hair has grown back, other parts of your life start to move forward again and you go from having your oncologist on speed dial to seeing them once every 6 months. But cancer is like a dandelion that’s gone to seed, one of the big fluffy ones you’d pick as a kid and then blow so all of the soft white seeds float into a thousand directions. Obviously there are all the major physical impacts of cancer but some of those dandelion seeds find their way into your mind as well and those are equally hard to cure. The last 5 years have been chalk full of irrational thoughts, constant worry about recurrence, over analyzing every weird pain or headache, guilt for surviving while watching a beautiful friend fight so damn hard and wondering why she passed but I’m still here.
Even now, on a day of celebration, my dandelion seeds don’t want me to use the term “celebrate” because it’s too aggressively hopeful and positive. These damn seeds make me pause before writing that ‘I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years bring’ because what if the cancer comes back again down the road. Dealing with this is a work in progress for me and to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever be free of cancer related doubt and worry. I think it’s just one of those side effects of cancer that needs to be talked about more because when you find someone else in a similar situation having the same thoughts you realize that you’re not the only one who is careening down the rabbit hole. But for today I’m going to do the other childhood dandelion trick and instead of letting the seeds blow in a thousand directions, I’m going to stick my thumb in the top of the stem, flick and say “mama had a baby and her head popped off” and destroy that dandelion (I really hope other people did that as a kid and I don’t sound crazy!).
Today is a celebration. Today is 5 years. Today is April 1, 2021.