And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It feels like I got a promotion. Not at work; I own my own business and I’m the person who hands out promotions, and I’m very hard on my employee, who is me. But the promotion is in my cancer afterlife.

On June 27th, it will be four years since my breast cancer diagnosis. On July 25th, four years since my partial mastectomy. On September 25th, four years since my last day of radiation. On September 27th, three years since the infection that showed up in the surgical site a year and two months post-surgery, that nearly put me in the ICU and caused my right breast to collapse on one side.

Do I remember these dates? Yes. They seem to be forever burned into my memory.

When cancer is presented on television series or in movies, we often see the cancer patient sit down at the “end” of her ordeal, and her doctor says, “You’re cancer-free!” There is much cheering and happy dancing, and then the patient, no longer a patient, skips out of the cancer center and on to a new bright life that has nothing to do with cancer whatsoever.

Well, in reality, it’s not quite that way.

Yes, I am cancer-free, at least as of my last MRI last February. Four years strong. But the thing is, every cancer patient lives with a regimen of reminders. Doctor’s appointments. Tests. Procedures. The cancer is gone, but we need to make sure it stays gone.

The first year of recovery, this meant visits every three months with my radiation oncologist, my medication oncologist, and my surgeon. I loved my team, though I was horrified at needing a team. I was told many times I had a dream team, and I agree with that. At the end of the first year, I said goodbye to my radiation oncologist and I was down to two. I looked forward to the eventual stepping away of the surgeon, and then the medical oncologist, somewhere in my future.

But the infection brought things to a halt. One night, I felt like I had the flu. In the morning, I got up, stripped to get in the shower, and discovered my breast was as red as a tomato. Off to the clinic, and then to the ER. Massive infection. I had to pass two out of three tests to stay out of the ICU. The first one, I passed. The second one, I flunked. The third one…took forty-five minutes, but I passed. I was put on massive antibiotics and my surgeon called and told me to go to the mammogram department at the Cancer Center. There, an ultrasound determined the infection was in my surgical site. The radiologist inserted a syringe into that site and withdrew the fluid, and my breast promptly collapsed on one side. You know how balloon animals can sometimes lose their inflation in one part, but not the other? That’s what my breast is like. Then a drain was inserted and I had to live with that for several weeks. It lived a lot in cupholders. In my car, in my recliner. Around the house, I tucked it into the back pocket of my jeans.

An infection specialist decided that when I went for a mammogram a couple weeks earlier, the particular picture that focused on the surgical site clamped down too hard and I was injured, causing internal bleeding in the surgical site, which then led to the infection. I remember that this was the only time I cried at a mammogram. I was up on my toes and sobbing with the pain.

Eventually, after being on antibiotics for about three months, they were stopped, the drain was gone, and I was left with a collapsed breast. It has never re-inflated, so to speak.

But because of that, I didn’t continue down the shrinking path of doctor’s appointments. I saw both my surgeon and my medical oncologist every three months, alternating. I also alternate mammograms and MRIs every three months, because of the scar tissue built up from the infection and subsequent collapse.

So when my reminder came up that I had an appointment with the surgeon in early August, I sighed. Again? And again and again and again?

And then I thought, Why am I still seeing the surgeon? It’s been four years since surgery, three years since the infection. I’m fine. I have no intention of having reconstructive surgery. So…why?

I gathered my courage and called her. It’s a hard thing to challenge a doctor, especially one that was part of a team that saved your life. But as we talked, she said, “You know what? If the medical oncologist is willing to oversee your mammograms and MRIs and future decisions regarding those, you can just see him. That’s not a problem.”

So I asked my medical oncologist. And he said yes.

And just like that, I went from three doctors, to two doctors, to one. Just like that, I went from seeing doctors every three months to every six. I will still have the alternating mammograms and MRIs, at least until February when I sit down with the medical oncologist and discuss this. My next mammogram is in August. I’m still on the oral chemotherapy and will be for at least another year.

But…movement. Movement that I haven’t seen since my radiation oncologist stepped away three years ago.

I hung up the phone and whooped. I’ve been promoted! I’m not quite so cancery as I was.

Trust me, that’s a reason for joy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.
My Never Give Up rock painted by my sister.
Damn straight. And let’s keep it that way.

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