And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Well, if you follow me on Facebook, there’s no doubt what my moment of happiness was. And there’s another one now too, tacked on.
Five years ago, on June 27, 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And this past Friday, on my 62nd birthday, I took my final cancer med. A little yellow pill that caused major side effects for five years. And that was also a daily reminder of what I’d gone through.
The little yellow pill, among other things, leeched my body of calcium, and so for the 5 years, I also had to take calcium, with Vitamin D3, twice a day. The little yellow pill was so small, I rarely felt it as I swallowed it down. But the calcium pill was large and sticky and I often gagged when I took it. So I contacted my oncologist to ask if I needed to continue to take the calcium, now that the little yellow pill was in my little yellow past.
“No,” he said. “If you take calcium when you don’t need it, it can cause kidney stones. Stop taking it right away.”
And so last night, for the first time in five years, I swallowed no pills before I went to bed. No gagging before bed. I brushed my teeth, climbed between the covers, meditated, and dropped off.
This morning, I pulled the calcium pill out of my pill-a-day container and plunked it back into the bottle. No gagging this morning.
And now, it remains to be seen if I will have to continue taking magnesium and potassium, which were also depleted by the little yellow pill. Blood tests will determine that.
There’s a commercial on television right now, for a skin condition. In it, people have shards of glass sticking out of their limbs, and burning pieces of charcoal, and heavy pieces of armor. They stand up, shake their bodies, and these pieces just fly off.
I feel like pieces are flying off of me right now. In such a good way. Not like the piece I lost when I went in for the partial mastectomy.
There’s been a lot of discussion about being in the “new normal” with Covid. I am now returning to the “new normal” after breast cancer. As piece by piece drops away, such as no more breast MRI’s, mammograms returning to once a year, the little yellow pill disappearing from my pill container, members of my medical team stepping away, the radiation oncologist first, the surgeon second, leaving only my oncologist who I now only see once a year, I am wiggling myself into that new normal.
I think, due mostly to the media, people think that once you’re declared cancer-free, you step out into the sunlight and resume your life as if cancer never happened. That is just so not true. No matter the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the end results, everyone I’ve met who has dealt with any kind of cancer still has that little bit of fear tucked into them. It goes like this: “Cancer snuck into me once. It could do so again.”
I know women who are over 20 years out of breast cancer. The day of their annual mammogram, they shake. And so I’m prepared for that too, and I don’t worry about the lingering fear. Like all of the flying-off pieces, the fear flies off too. I tend to think of it when I look in a mirror. Because there, the evidence of what happened remains. But then I step away and move into my day and I’m grateful to be here.
I had someone say to me once, the day after my surgery, “Now don’t ever say you have cancer or you had cancer ever again. That’s putting it out into the Universe, and then it can come back into you.”
Good lord. I bit my tongue, but I so wanted to say to this person, “Do not expect me to be superhuman. I was a cancer victim; I am a cancer survivor. That’s not a definition that can be taken away from me. That’s not a definition I can forget.”
I also had a small handful of students who fell away because they felt the cancer was distracting me from teaching. One even said to me, “I used to learn so much from you. Now I’m not.” And this was someone who worked with cancer patients! Again, I bit my tongue, though I wanted to say, “Do not expect me to be superhuman.” For heaven’s sake, during the whole treatment, I only missed three days of work. If she wasn’t learning from me, it was because she was not listening. Not hearing someone who managed, through a terrifying time, to still reach out, to still help, to still guide. I teach writing, but I’ve always taught more than that. Especially during that time.
Maybe it was good that some of these pieces fell away.
One of the best moments I had during this whole ordeal was a friend saying, “You don’t have to be so brave. You can be scared. You can be sad. It’s all right.”
And I was. I am.
But seeing the pieces fall away, one by one…priceless. Feeling lighter, feeling more like myself, feeling like I’m still here. I’ve brushed away so much. And now…no more little yellow pill. No more sticky white calcium.
The fear? I can fold it away and tuck it into my back pocket.
And I’m okay with that. I’m okay.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.