I had breast cancer.
I moved past it. I am no longer “fighting.” I finished chemo and have had all the surgeries. I no longer have a port. My hair has grown back. I have eyelashes and eyebrows. My skin is doesn’t tear, itch, or hurt. Food tastes good; my mouth no longer burnt from the chemicals. My stomach doesn’t hurt or cramp up when I am hungry or when I eat. My nails are getting stronger and don’t peel and break off. My energy is increasing and nearly back to what is was before.
Friends and co-workers have stopped wondering and asking about it. I have had unrelated routine doctor’s appointments. My daughters no longer ask about chemo and cancer and surgery and death. There are even people that have come into my life that have no clue what I went through.
I am back to normal. I work, I play with my girls, I cook, I clean, help with homework and water the plants. I feed the dog and shop for groceries. I go to the movies with my family. I take long, hot showers. I spend time with my husband. From the outside it looks like I am living my life again.
But I am forever changed.
The same mundane tasks I use to hate I now happily complete. I used to be too tired to water the plants and play with the kids. I used to be too nauseated to cook. I used to be in too much pain to push the vacuum. I used to have to take luke-warm showers because the hot water made me dizzy and standing that long used all my energy. I used to not be able to think clearly enough to be able to help with homework. I used to be too susceptible to germs to be able to go to the store or to the movies. I used to be a shell of who I was and who I am now, just existing until I was able to live again.
And I am living. I am no longer waiting in the wings, hoping something will happen to change my life for the better. I am actively pursuing change. I have stopped being afraid of failure and realized that failure only happens when you choose not to try.
I tried to move on, to be known for other things. I don’t want to be known as the woman who had cancer. I don’t want a pink ribbon to follow me around and for others to take pity on me, for others to think I am strong and brave merely because I survived. I don’t want my mind and my world consumed by a moment in my life. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.
I want to be known as a great mother and a fantastic wife. I want to be known as a great friend. I want to be known as the woman who made a stranger smile. I want to be fun, have fun, and make this world a little better. I want to forget I ever had it.
But as much as I want to pretend it never happened, I realize I need to talk about it. I need to be open and honest, raw and unfiltered. Not only for me to be able to heal but for others who are walking this path or will in the future – for them to be able to know what really lies ahead.
There are numerous resources to review for data about breast cancer. But none of them speak about the fear, the uncertainty or the pain. They don’t talk about telling your children, your spouse, your parents and family you have cancer. They don’t explain what it is like to have people look at you with a mix of pity and fear. They don’t warn you others will ask you a million questions so they can tell themselves this will never happen to them while leaving you feeling like this was your fault, you did this to yourself.
I don’t want to be the cancer chic, but I am. I don’t want fear to be housed in my mind, but it is. I don’t want my daughters to remember my hair falling out of my frail body, but they will. I don’t want to talk about cancer, but I must. Because pretending it didn’t happen isn’t going to help anyone.
I am Gina and I had breast cancer.