This week brought about sad news that a classmate of mine passed away from breast cancer at age 37. She had 2 young children, was a vibrant contributor in her community, and fought bravely. A few years ago, I lost another classmate to breast cancer; She was barely in her 30s and also left behind young children.
Any one of us, at any time, could experience something unexpected and tragic. I won’t go on about how we should “embrace each day” nor “live for the moment” nor “stop and smell each rose.” I know the truth. The truth is that we all do that for about, oh, a day, and then we go back and slip into our old, comfortable routines. Routines of text messaging, emailing, cooking dinner, doing laundry, and packing tomorrow’s lunchboxes, all at the same time, take over. I promise to be nicer, I promise to yell at my kids less, I promise to stop eating loaded nachos with shredded cheese and sour cream at 10:55pm.
All things change.
This morning, before my husband left for work, and as I began to enjoy my last official morning of medical leave, I began to cry in the kitchen. “I’m scared. I’m scared that life will return exactly back to normal. And, I can’t have life return back to the way it was pre-surgery,” I began. Poor guy, I caught him even before he could take the first sip of his overly sweetened coffee; the kind of sugary tinge that makes you wonder if that third spoonful of granules was an accidental miscount.
“I mean, obviously life is different. My body is different. My outlook is different,” I began. “But, over these past few weeks, you’ve been so amazing. I was unable to do laundry, put together meals, lunches, pick up the kids, make beds. Hell, I couldn’t even get out of bed for the first 10 days. And, yet, you managed to do everything.” Here it comes. “I need you to do at least some of that now — some of that, even though I can physically manage all of it.”
It’s difficult for me to ask for help. It’s painful for me to point out when I’m not getting any help.
Thankfully, Jorge responded with a kiss and a promise to do more, even when I can do it all.
There is something both comforting and frightening about life returning back to normal. Tomorrow, I will return to work after 6 weeks in recovery. I am stronger, more flexible, and more capable of the physical demands required of me. I can drive, carry grocery bags, and walk steadily. I can reach my arms almost above my head, and I can place some pressure on my arms. I no longer take 15 minutes just to get dressed. And, yes, I can finally rinse my armpits.
I can now hug my children, lift my son onto his bed for a diaper change, and hold my daughter’s hand when we walk through a parking lot. I am no longer afraid of my son banging into my chest, and my shoulders are starting to relax back into their normal positions. I’m still a bit weirded out whenever my chest muscles contract, squeezing the silicone implants housed below the muscle and implanted tissue. The blackened surgical glue has nearly all peeled off, and I am now left with two long, faint, flesh colored remnants of my mastectomy scars. My chest has become less swollen, and I can distinctly identify two uniquely shaped breasts.
It seems just when I’ve set a goal of a journey being over, I am reminded that the journey, in fact, begins again each time. Once consumed with the possibility of developing breast cancer, I now have to monitor all that comes with silicone implants — leakage, yearly MRIs, wear and tear on the implants, the development of scar tissue, and the question of whether or not I’ll ever feel my chest again. Though I am gaining more sensation back, I still feel completely numb throughout the band across my breasts. And, of course, there is the issue of facing an oopherectomy.
So, in honor of a new year, and the One Year Anniversary of Marathon B4 Mastectomy, I’m declaring this the Year of Looking Forward. While our past influences our decisions, it are our hopes and dreams that shape our futures. While I do not promise nor resolve to do any of these things, here are a few acts and ideas that I look forward to befriending in 2011:
- recover and honor my mastectomy by running a third 1/2 marathon in May 2011
- officially begin my doctoral program in education (which I had deferred this year) in June 2011
- run a full marathon by October 2011
- explore more ways to be a good mentor and role model
- become active in an initiative to bring awareness to Asian American communities about breast cancer (Asian American women are the least likely to be effectively diagnosed with breast cancer; cancer is the leading cause of death in Filipina women)
- create/continue the Brave Girl Move More Series (started with the 10/10/10 half marathon!) to get more people involved in a non-competitive, totally fun, move MORE experience
- practice the art of giving thanks, showing thanks, and embracing thanks
As we near the anniversary of Mb4M, thank you to all of you who have supported me — and joined me — in this journey. Here’s to an even better, healthier, year.
Peace, love, and looking forward,