Taking the Good With the Bad:
Last week was full of high moments for me as I experienced my first National Cancer Survivor Week. To start off my week, The Susan G. Komen Organization shared my story on their home page and with a survivor day campaign that they are running to bring hope and comfort to women enduring breast cancer treatment with notes of encouragement. On Tuesday, I saw my oncologist for my 3 month check up and she not only raved about my reconstruction progress, but also said that there was no sign of any cancer return in my breasts and later that day Spectrum Health Beat posted a story about my journey with breast cancer and the vital part that my medical team played in the last 15 months of treatments and surgeries. On Wednesday I wasn’t feeling great so I spent the better part of the day at infusion, but during that time, I was asked to do my first ever radio interview, which was a little intimidating at first. Following the interview and my infusions, I headed down stairs to check out the Spectrum Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Survivor day celebration at Lemmon Holton where I met some pretty special people. One being a very sweet young lady. I was sitting with a friend when she came up and said “Tammy?”. Her eyes instantly welled up with tears before she could get another word out. She said she has been following me for the past year and that she has followed many cancer stories over the years and none have touched her in the way that my story has, which was so touching to hear. She said I usually never do this, but I saw you and I had to come up and tell you how amazing you are and how much you have inspired me. I asked her if she had been personally touched by cancer and she struggled to hold back the tears as she said, “I lost my aunt to breast cancer when I was younger. She was everything to me and I am now living my life in a way that honors her.” I got goose bumps all over my body, but in a good way, as I too lost my aunt at a very young age to breast cancer, and I too made a promise to live my life in a way that honored her. Although we didn’t chat for too long, she left a little imprint on my day and on my heart. I ended my week by finally releasing a sneak peek video teaser of the Breast cancer awareness project that has been in the works since the day I was diagnosed,which was a release of emotion in itself. I still have a lot of work yet to do, but I am very excited to release the full project into the public very soon.
All of this sounds really great, but there is one moment among all these happy and joyous moments that I haven’t shared. Before I left my 3 month oncology appointment with Dr. Melnik, she mentioned that my post treatment and surgery nausea may be because of some gall stones that have shown up on my scans, so she suggested I see a surgeon about potentially having my gall bladder removed, and then… She let me know that they had found a nodule on my lung in a previous scan. Right away, she said that it could be nothing, but she also said that they have to take anything in the lungs very seriously because it is not uncommon for breast cancer to move to the lungs, which is not what I wanted to hear. She said we have to do another scan to take a closer look and makes sure that this nodule is not more cancer. As usual my heart skipped a beat, but I have had many scares already in this journey so I am getting better at putting my fear aside and letting the positive guide me through. Although it is always scary to hear you have to be re-scanned for anything, I was able to kind of dismiss it and tell myself it was nothing. However seeing my husbands eyes well up with tears and his mind fill with fear again, as I shared this with him, reminded me how serious this situation is and always will be. Just seeing the fear on his face took me back to those scary first few days last year. The truth is, having even a small chance that there could be more cancer growing in my body and knowing that I could be faced with all of this again, has a way of sending your mind into panic mode.
I will be honest, I originally didn’t think this was something I was going to share because this key part of my post doesn’t exactly go with all the good that cancer survivor week had brought last week, but I am realizing that this key part has a bigger part in this whole message all together. To be completely honest I am not a huge fan of the word “survivor” or at least I wasn’t. I kind of felt that if my medical team could tell me that I will never have to deal with cancer again and that cancer was just a part of my past and will never be a part of my future, then I could refer to myself as a cancer survivor, however we don’t know if that is the case. I started my battle with cancer last year, I battled my way through treatment, I battled my way though surgeries, and now I am battling my way through post treatment care, and the lasting effects of breast cancer. My fight started last year and it will not end until the day I take my last breath (which will hopefully be many many years down the road), so I prefer to call myself a “Cancer Warrior”. I’m not sure if my battle will ever be won because from what I understand you don’t really ever fully win a battle with breast cancer… Although it has a high cure rate as they say, it also has the ability to lay dormant in other parts of the bod for years until it rears its ugly head again, so it will always be lurking in my mind, and I feel like I will always be fighting. In explaining this to my infusion nurse, she said, why is it that you don’t like to attach the word survivor to you? How does it make you feel? She does that sometimes… just puts you on the spot and makes you face and work through your reality but she did kind of see my point. However it must have been on her mind, because she returned to my little infusion cubicle a little later to tell me that she looked it up and the term “Survivor” is actually derived from the Latin term “la Vevere” which means “to live or living”. The dots immediately connected in my mind. Although Cancer will always be a part of me and I will constantly be reminded that my “cancer” could return, I don’t have to let it own me in the mean time. That’s when it clicked that I needed to share this part of my week with all of you because dealing with constant fearful moments like these and still getting up each morning and putting a smile on my face for the ones I love is what truly makes me a survivor. I do have some control here.. I can wake up every morning and choose to live and not let cancer control me in this very moment. Even with the scares that seem to keep coming at every pass, I can take the good with the bad, and I can choose to be a survivor. I can choose not to let cancer win and keep me down and that is a choice I am going to keep making. So I am a “cancer warrior” who will not give up, but at the same time I am also a survivor who chooses to live. In the mean time, I am going to hope and pray that this scare with my lung, is just that… a scare.
Although the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis will never get easier, I am accepting that this is a part of my life now and I am choosing to remain optimistic. In talking to both my nurse and my OT today, there really is a greater chance that this scare is nothing to worry about, but none of us will be able to move forward until we know that for sure. For now an order has been placed for another scan to take a closer look at my lungs and I will be seeing a surgeon about my gall bladder in the coming weeks. As usual I will keep you all posted.