|With my daughter, just after she
As of today, I’m a seven-year survivor of cancer.
Lucky number seven. Luck of the Irish.
Oh, sure, I recurred after five years and three months, but I am still here. And that is no small thing.
Seven years ago at this time, I was completely terrified that I wouldn’t see my daughter start kindergarten. I did get to see her start kindergarten, and first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade and now sixth grade. I plan to be here for all of the other grades. I plan to be here when the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren start kindergarten, too.
It has been far from easy, but, strangely, breast cancer wasn’t actually the hardest thing I’ve done in the last seven years. I can remember shortly after I was diagnosed, a family friend told me about her breast cancer experience and said, “Now, when I look back at it, I realize it wasn’t even the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” At that time, I was speechless at that comment. At that time, the thought of anything worse was mind-crippling.
I was facing losing my breast, my hair, my ability to have children and my life. WORSE? Could anything be WORSE?
It can. I’ve come to learn that losing one’s life sucks, but you aren’t actually here to worry about how much it sucks. It’s in the living that you get to experience the worst — and, thankfully, the best.
I’m still very mad at cancer. I still have to think about it every day, even though the way I think about it now has changed radically from seven years ago. It controlled my life then; now, it’s just an inconvenient presence, much like the weeds that stubbornly grow in my sidewalk. I take great joy in destroying those weeds. I am thrilled when I go days, weeks, sometimes months, without having a worry about cancer. Generally, I think it’s stupid to waste my time fretting it.
You will never hear me refer to cancer as a “gift” or some sort of life-changing experience. I think I was pretty good at embracing life before I had cancer. I think I had a pretty decent handle on how precious and short life can be. I didn’t need this experience to show me that. However, I do know surviving cancer has created an urgency in me — an urgency to live, to sort out the necessary from the unnecessary, to be as fully present in the moment as I can possibly be.
I also feel like I routinely stare death in the face. For me, that has been a very freeing experience. Ten surgeries have gone by, chemo, radiation and countless drugs. I’ve lost in love not once in the last seven years, but twice, hugely and painfully. I’ve watched friends and family suffer in various ways, including my sweet little girl. I’ve had to reorganize my life multiple times just for the privilege to go on living.
And gone on living I have. I have traveled more in the last seven years than in my entire adult life. I’ve seen Rome. I learned to love deeply and to be exquisitely loved. I’ve seen my daughter achieve amazing childhood milestones. I have made more friends than I can count. My life has been wildly enriched by them and my dreams exceptionally supported. I’ve been to concerts, barbecues, drag shows and even an embassy party. I’ve met famous people. I’ve been treated like a famous person. I’ve gained control of my life in a way I have never had before. My writing has grown and I’m working on writing a book.
There is always a point in the bad experiences where I feel incredibly empowered, when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, where I feel like shaking my fist at the sky and screaming, “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?”
I live with very little fear. Yes, in those bad experiences, I am sometimes overcome with fear. But one after the other, I learn to adjust and realize that I am invincible.
Bring it, life.