On New Year’s Eve, I put on a gown.
It was a blue- and white-striped number, short, tied at the waist, and opened in the front. This little get-up wasn’t a slinky party dress to ring in a new year, but more a “standard issue” for the place I found myself that New Year’s Eve day. And there was another woman in the room wearing the exact same outfit.
After my husband found the hard-as-a-rock, walnut-sized lump in my right breast, I took the first available appointment for a mammogram. So, on the last day of December, I put on the Sutter Hospital “go-to” that all the girls wore and wished I were somewhere else.
“I know where you can get cheap chemo,” the tech told me while my boob was crushed in the machine’s vise-like grip. Her words echoed in my head, but I chased them away. After all, even if her unauthorized diagnosis was correct, there wasn’t a thing I could do about it that afternoon. When the exam was over, I tossed the gown into a bin and made my way home.
That night, my family and I got dressed up for a New Year’s Eve party at my friend Lisa’s house. I decided to wear a twinkling silver skirt, a soft-as-a-kitten crop top, and sky blue earrings that lit up with flashing LEDs. That ensemble was a departure from my usual style, but I had a feeling that my chance to wear super fun clothes was closing in on me. I also suspected I might lose my hair to chemo, so that night, I spent a little extra time with the blow dryer, too. Suddenly, the limp baby-fine hair I had always cursed didn’t seem so bad.
When my diagnosis was confirmed, things moved fast. Triple-negative breast cancer is aggressive, and mine had already spread to my lymph nodes and sternum.
Typically, throughout December, I make resolutions in lots of different categories: work goals, home improvement plans, spiritual milestones, health resolutions, and improvements in relationships. I write everything down, and when my birthday rolls around in March, I schedule time to review my progress.
With a fresh cancer diagnosis, that annual ritual changed. My painstakingly prepared New Year’s resolutions, a practice I take seriously every year, flew by the wayside. They all seemed pointless — except one.
People frequently talk about fighting a battle with cancer, but for me, I knew the real fight I’d be engaged in was going to be in my head. Breast cancer is physical, but the only part about my situation I could hope to control resided in my brain and in my heart.
So that year, I turned to the spiritual milestones I hoped to achieve and took them to heart.
Could I trust that my family, especially my husband and child, would flourish regardless of what happened to me? Could I let go of injustices I’ve suffered and forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made? Could I endure my condition with love in my heart and stay open to humor, grace, and joy? Would I remember that God is with me, in me, every step of the way, all the time?
Five years ago this week, my life changed forever. Since then, I’ve been through chemo, I’ve had the remaining cancerous lump surgically removed, I’ve endured the surreal marathon of daily radiation, and I’ve regrown my hair. I’ve lived through moments when it appeared that death was imminent. And through it all, mostly, I’ve been happy and at peace.
Breast cancer has taught me many lessons, but mostly, it forced me to slow down, relearn and seriously practice truths I already know. For me, winning the “battle” doesn’t have much to do with whether or not my body survives its ordeal. I didn’t fight cancer in the infusion room or at the doctor’s office. It’s far more private than that, more profound, and more lasting.
For the first time in five years, I feel strong enough to resume my annual ritual of making resolutions. But now I know that the goals on my list are all spiritual quests, because in the end, it’s the invisible, intangible, often unnoticeable aspects of life that really count the most. That realization helps me survive with grace intact, and it will guide me through the times to come.
Happy New Year.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.