21 has turned out to be a magical number! In 2017 I randomly sat next to Bisa Myles at a travel conference and complimented her on her cute hair. “It’s my cancer hair” she replied and I said “I used to have cancer hair!” We immediately bonded over our shared survivorship (and still cute hair) and when she asked me how many years it had been, I had to stop, think about it and count back to those early horrible days.
My breast cancer used to be in the forefront of my whole entire mind, body, soul and being. IT WAS EVERYTHING! It filled me with heart stopping ice cold fear, terror and dread. I couldn’t plan or see into the future because ALL I COULD EVER THINK ABOUT WAS THAT MY CANCER WAS COMING BACK AND I WAS GOING TO DIE BEFORE I COULD SEE THE FORMER ROOMMATES GROW UP.
But the years kept passing and I kept living and then I was five years out. Five hard, tough, difficult, tortuous years when life, people and the Universe tried to grind me into dust but I wouldn’t give in and didn’t die. But my friends did. And famous people did. And women in my support group did. And those deaths were terrifying and scary and why did those women die and I didn’t?? I still don’t know. But I started forgetting about my cancer just tiny bit every day. The former roommates were growing up and going to new schools and I started thinking I might live for another 5 years.
And then ten years passed and my oncologist was ecstatic! I had reached a milestone and was (per my medical insurance) cancer free and a permanent survivor. I believed my doctor and I finally started to think that I might live a lot longer and probably live to see the former roommates graduate from college. I gave myself permission to start doing things. I ventured into parts of Alabama I hadn’t visited before. I started volunteering. I made new friends. I had a boyfriend. It was nice. And the one thing I really stopped doing was thinking about my cancer. I just stopped thinking about it. I stopped talking about it, worrying about it and I laid that fucking cancer burden down!
But then I had that pesky thyroid cancer. And there were those spots in my stomach and intestines. Was it related to the breast cancer radiation treatments from long, long ago? Maybe, maybe not, possibly, probably, no way, it’s been too long. Answer: no one knew. I had to decide if I was going to treat it because there was NO WAY I was going to ever take The Red Death again. I had a former roommate getting ready to go to college and I needed to see them succeed so I had surgery and radiation (twice because apparently once was not enough) and it was over.
Then 18 years passed and I took my first solo adventure to Europe. All. Alone. ALL. BY. MYSELF! I never thought I’d live to actually visit Paris and there I was standing in front of the Mona Lisa looking at her mysterious smile wondering what brought her that joy. I fell in love in Paris, in love with traveling and in love with the person I was when I was traveling.
I told Bisa I was about to have 20 years of survivorship in a few months and she encouraged me to celebrate. Hell, I didn’t think I’d be ALIVE 20 years ago so that sounded like a good idea. Then my job had an unexpected move, a shut down and suddenly I was laid off. Hmmmmm. How could I spend money traveling when I needed to pay my mortgage? It looked like my travel life was going to be over for a while.
I was eventually called back to work but shortly afterwards my Mom’s health tanked and I found myself, again, in the ER all night then in the hospital all day waiting for a diagnosis. I eventually arrived home exhausted, hungry and emotionally drained. I’d been on that rodeo time and time again. This could NOT be my life again. I HAD to do something to refresh, refuel and feed my soul. I couldn’t keep pouring out of my empty cup. So I sat on my sofa and purchased a ticket to attend TBEXEurope in Killarney, Ireland. I managed to get a plane ticket and I celebrated my 20th Cancerversory with hundreds of strangers. I drank too much (because the Irish can drink so when in Ireland……..) partied hard and some of those strangers became friends. Then I traveled to Dublin to continue my celebration and met another new friend! Thanks to Bisa I have decided to go somewhere new and do new things every October that I’m alive.
EVERY SINGLE ONE!
ALL OF THE OCTOBERS!!!!
So, what’s happening this year? How will I celebrate 21 FUCKING YEARS OF SURVIVING STAGE 2 BREAST CANCER WHEN I WAS A YOUNG MARRIED GIRL WITH TWO LITTLE KIDS???? Yeah, I still have a teeny bit of rage about it.
I flew Frontier Airlines (new to me and the BHM market) to Denver (have only flown over it), ran Race for the Cure here, will go trail running in Boulder (which came first: the city or the big rocks???), eating at new places and seeing new things. But primarily I am traveling to continue discovering who I am.
For all of you cancer survivors and fighters and thrivers, listen to me:
IT IS OK TO ASK FOR HELP!
IT IS OK TO MAKE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE.
IT IS OK TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS.
IT IS OK TO LOVE AND BE LOVED.
IT IS OK TO DO SOMETHING CRAZY AND UNEXPECTED THAT FILLS YOU WITH JOY AND HAPPINESS.
IT IS OK TO DISCOVER THAT YOU ARE A DIFFERENT PERSON AFTER YOUR EXPERIENCE SO OWN THAT SHIT!
YOU HAVE TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST AND TAKE CARE OF YOU.
BE PROUD OF THE SCARS YOU HAVE FROM CANCER BECAUSE THEY ARE PROOF THAT YOU BEAT THAT MOTHERFUCKER!!!
SAY NO TO SHIT THAT DOES NOT SERVE YOU.
FIND YOUR JOY AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AS MANY TIMES AS YOU NEED TO KEEP LOOKING FOR IT UNTIL YOU FIND IT.
Happy Cancerversory to all of us whether it’s 21 hours, 21 days, 21 months or 21 mimosas! Find a way to celebrate you AND ONLY YOU!
So, what’s your Cancerversory number? How will you honor your survival?