A few months ago I referred to life after cancer as a “rebirth”. Now that I have been back in the real world,clear of chemo and surgeries, I am seeing that I really am living another “first year” in my life filled with reflections and anniversaries of tough days which I am blessed to have behind me. I have hit many first anniversaries recently, all of which I am considering happy anniversaries since I am alive and well to celebrate them. During this time of annual reflections, November met me with a lot of emotion and another challenging health scare. In the past 30 days I passed a year from my diagnosis(Nov 13th), fertility treatment and egg retrieval, relationship changes and the decision to hit cancer head on. This year November proved to be another challenge with a much better outcome. Just when I thought all of my health focused blogs were coming to an end, my body threw a fun surprise my way.
A few weeks ago, I felt a lump under my right arm which in a matter of days become extremely painful. Since I am still receiving my Herceptin treatment I happened to be scheduled to see my doctor around the time the lump showed up. Knowing this was the second time a mysterious lump was under my right arm, near where my lymph node was removed, a flood of worry came with the pain in my arm. I was given an antibiotic which did not help,so I was sent to another doctor who prescribed me a second antibiotic in hopes that this was an infection rather than anything related to the cancer. This was followed by a visit with my oncology surgeon who did an ultrasound with an inconclusive outcome. There I sat the week of Thanksgiving hoping my luck had improved but scared to the core for the worst.
Since it is my first year since all that has happened, each day I reflect back on where I was just a year ago. When this lump came about, I thought back to just last year when I was going through the testing process to compare how I felt. I didn’t recall being scared and after I asked a couple of friends who confirmed I was somewhat worried, but more positive and action oriented than scared. Naivety is a blessing in this case and last year I likely wasn’t scared because I couldn’t be scared of what I did not understand. Now, even with the likelihood this was not cancer,the knowledge of the possible and the process was consuming. I had moments where I really thought ‘can I do this again?’. It was harder to avoid negative thoughts and the week of waiting to see if the drugs worked or if I was getting a biopsy or surgery seemed like it would never end.
After about 5 days on the new antibiotic the pain started to subside, and the lumps started to shrink. I then had to wait a few more days to go back for a check-up with the hopes we didn’t have to do the scheduled biopsy. The check-up deemed to be a much happier visit to the same office where I had been told I had cancer, this time she said“this is not related to the cancer and I don’t need to do anything else today”!! If I wasn’t sitting there topless, I may have given my doctor a hug. It turns out I have a chronic condition which causes painful lumps under the skin. We don’t know the cause yet and I get to see another specialist, but it is NOT cancer.A world of worry was lifted from my body and mind…I am alright.
After getting the news I was mad at myself for being so scared and allowing my mind to go into the negative. Even though I was mad at myself, at the end of the day it was good to get this “first” behind me. I know I am going to have other health related items come up in the long life I have in front of me and I will probably worry more than I did prior to cancer…but I will focus on the positive outlook and the fact that the re-occurrence rate is extremely rare. This mindset is going to take me some time and I am thankful that I can share and learn from others who are living beyond their treatment. This past month has opened me up to reaching out for help and joining a group of survivors and I am excited for this next first on my journey.
Reflection continues to be one of my favorite therapies. Through reflection I find gratitude and appreciation for every day and every experience. My wish for my friends and family this season is for each of you to make time to reflect. Reflect on your past year and write out your good days and bad days, and then remember all of these days were great days because you had them.
Now, go out and have another First.