Thursday, October 18, 2012

One year today

A year ago this exact minute, Andy and I were sitting in the waiting room of my surgeon, waiting (as you do in such places). Waiting to hear confirmation that the tissue removed during my biopsy was, in fact, scar tissue. We waited so long, and I was so nervous I couldn't even knit. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew. I won't retell the whole thing, as it's here. But oh, how much I remember Dr. Stewart's face when he came in. How he slowly sat down and said "unfortunately, we've found some carcinoma." How Andy took an involuntary step backward, then put his hand on my back. How the whole room felt as though it tilted on its side, and all the air was sucked out. Yeah, I remember. Endless sleepless nights spent crying. Trying to keep from waking Andy, yet somehow he always knew, even when I would go into the living room and rock, trying to sob silently. Holding it together in public, for the most part. Having to tell people. How nearly impossible those words were in the first, early days - "I have cancer." Then how they would spill out at improbable and sometimes inappropriate times, as though once my lips tasted the truth they could no longer contain their poison. "I have cancer." Cancer. That loaded word. The one that seems to cause others to need to distance themselves, as though negating their own risk.

In that year I've been through my own personal hell. I've had my entire torso rearranged, gone through indescribable pain (both physical and mental), and begun the long, slow process of putting myself and my life back together. I'm still dealing with complications from surgery - phantom pain and maddening itching of the reconstructed breasts, median nerve irritation, axillary web syndrome, and shoulder impingement on my right side, numbness around my belly button, and constant fatigue. I am coming to realize how much stamina I've lost, and it's going to be a long process to rebuild that.

I've also learned more about myself and the world around me than I could have imagined. I've made new friends and learned things about my existing friends and family. I've discovered a well of strength I never even dreamed I possessed. Through all this, while I've had days when it seemed as though I couldn't stop crying, I've never broken down in public. I've never told off someone who made inappropriate comments, never asked someone to please stop telling stories I'd rather not hear, never (at least I don't think), been rude even when inside I was screaming.

Today, I have finished 4 months of physical therapy for the complications (though I will have home exercises for a long, long time). I have finished all treatment except the touch-ups on my areola tattoos, and I only have to return to Birmingham every 6 months for checkups with my oncologist.

I have made huge changes, and I am sane and stable, something I never thought I'd be able to say. I am not nearly as reactionary as I used to be; cancer is so huge, and with everything I've had to deal with, most things now are so trivial that they can't compare. I sport brightly-colored bangs, jeans that fit (and look great, if I say so myself), and don't care so much what others think. I'm learning to LIKE myself. Andy and I are closer than ever, which I didn't think was possible after nearly 20 years together.

I just answered a friend's message with these words: "The glass IS full, not just half. I am so very different, and while I will never see cancer as a gift, or believe that the changes are worth what it took to get here, I can still embrace them. In some ways, that lack of certainty makes every second that much more precious."