Cancer brought me unexpected ups and downs.
Today is the one-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis, and I am grateful, with a twinge of sadness. I am grateful to be alive and to have found the support I did from friends, family and even strangers while fighting cancer, but I do feel the residual pain of what happened to me this past year. The truth is, a cancer diagnosis hits you so hard and fast, that it's hard to know what to feel or how to process everything as it happens.
I'll always remember getting the phone call from my primary care doctor. I was at work when she called to tell me about the diagnosis. She said she was sorry, but the biopsy results showed the tissue sample that was taken several days earlier was malignant. I had cancer. I tried not to absorb those words, because I had a meeting to go to and I had to hold it together until after that. Otherwise, people would know something was wrong and I was not ready to tell them. I could hardy understand myself what it all would mean.
After the meeting, I went back into my office, told a friend, and tears streamed down my face. How could this be happening to me? I had gone through this a couple of years earlier with someone I care about, supporting him as he went through his battle. I knew the ups and downs of what he went through and I was not ready to go through that myself. I felt selfish. Why was this happening to me?
Weeks went by and I started chemo, and the initial shock I had felt gave way to gratitude. I had learned from my friend how to be strong in the midst of a very challenging personal crisis -- a battle with cancer. And, I realized how fortunate I was to have so many people cheering me on. They were there for me when I needed it most, when a smile, message or call said it all: 'I love you and I want to be sure you're okay.' That was all I needed in that moment, and it helped give me strength to push through treatment. That's not to say there weren't moments when I wondered whether I could do it -- whether I could keep pushing forward with such strength. Ultimately, I realized that I had no other option. I had to do it. I was not going to give up. I also knew that my job was to remain mentally strong, and let the doctors do their work.
As time went by, there were were disappointments along the way. I realized not everyone was going to be there for me emotionally in the way I needed them to be. In some cases, it was confirmation of what I already knew, and this experience helped me process that knowledge and let go of the hope that one day things would be different. Cancer helped me heal in that way, because it forced me to take stake of my life.
It also showed me that some things would never be the same -- my outlook on life and how I approached certain matters, and my body. Cancer shows you that your body can fail you; and you have surgery to remove the disease, in some ways, altering it forever. But of course, the changes are for the better: You have to survive.
So, after a year that included chemo, a mastectomy and radiation, my mixed emotions come from the fact that I am so happy, grateful and a little sad -- sad about some of the changes I may not have been ready to make, knowing that things will never be the same. Yet at the end of the day, I chose gratitude over sadness, and am grateful that my body has responded well to treatment, that the love and support I feel from friends and family has only deepened, and that I have a newfound appreciation for life.