I watch Shay from Facebook.
She’s right behind me.
Nearly two years ago, I finished active treatment for triple negative breast cancer. Shay is undergoing the same treatment now. She just finished chemo and is resting so she’ll be strong enough for surgery in a few weeks. After surgery comes more rest, and then daily radiation.
Reading Shay’s updates brings all that chaos back. As I watch her endure with grace, strength and a sense of humor, I’m reminded that I did it, too. That my husband did it with me, and so did our little girl.
Although we’ve never met, Shay is part of my healing network, and I am part of hers. In that strange web that cancer casts, our paths crossed and I have a new friend. She has triple negative breast cancer, just like me, and a daughter the same age as mine.
Every now and then, Shay posts an update on her progress, not just news about her procedures but also about her thought processes, her hopes and disappointments, her dreams and her prayers. When I read her news, it helps me remember my own path, a path my memory is already starting to blur.
For me, getting a cancer diagnosis was a shock nearly too hard even to comprehend. When I looked in the mirror, I saw vibrant health, which I always had and which I assumed I always would until old age finally did its number.
In retrospect, I realize now that I was more tired than usual, but I chalked exhaustion up to the stresses life dishes out to all of us,and tried to exercise with more discipline to get my energy back. Then my husband found the lump, and the wheels went into motion fast. By the time I made it to an oncologist, my aggressive cancer had spread.
At the time, my family lived in a very rural area, and the timing of my diagnosis corresponded to the onset of Obamacare, a policy which rendered my family’s health insurance invalid. Those two factors, plus our self-employment, made my devastating diagnosis complicated.
My husband and I ended up driving over 10,000 miles that year just to get to doctors who would deal with my insurance issues, and the logistics of all those miles, hotel stays, and child care arrangements felt just as tentative and demanding as the cancer treatment itself.
We found my lump in December and celebrated Christmas under an unspoken cloud of worry while I waited for a mammogram. The first appointment I could get was on New Year’s Eve, right before we left for a party. I remember my fabulous outfit, a silver skirt from Santa and a fuzzy black sweater, vibrant blue earrings that glowed beneath my blond hair. I tried not to think about what the radiologist told me during the exam while we were toasting with champagne later that night.
In the weeks that followed, our Christmas tree dropped its needles on our floor while laundry piled up, mail went unopened, our refrigerator started to smell. Everything was “patas arriba,” a Spanish friend told me, upside-down. We were barely holding on to the most basic routines of our lives, and everything else went on hold.
A lot has changed since then. I lost all my hair and regrew it again, thicker, wavier, and softer.
We moved away from our beloved home to a place where doctors are readily available. Lauren started a new school with resources we couldn’t even imagine in our old community, and all of us are transitioning into our new environment.
Life persists. It’s perennial as the grass, folding into it the losses, gains, and experiences that comprise our little slice of its tapestry.
Sometimes I look at my blurring cancer memories, sharpened at the corners through Shay’s updates, and I am impressed by what I’ve endured, by what we all are called on to endure. I see more clearly the importance and value of a positive attitude and how it shapes our days, how it impacts those around us.
We control only a small part of what life has in store for us.
Births and deaths, wild fires and insurance policies, cancer and recovery – all of it comes under life’s colorful umbrella.
The way we chose to respond is what makes the difference.
Note: Breast Cancer News Today 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 Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.