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Fearless After Cancer

You readily see the physical changes caused by cancer, but what goes on in your mind is just as noteworthy.
I am not sure exactly how or when it started, but somewhere in the midst of chemo, I noticed a change. Things that used to make me crazy no longer bothered me. Other things that I had thought so unimportant that they had been left perking away on the back burner for years suddenly came to a full boil. It was confusing. Between being overwhelmed by cancer and exhausted by treatment, my poor chemo brain couldn’t process whatever was happening, but it knew something was going on.

I kept chugging along, constantly juggling priorities and re-prioritizing them. After a while, I noticed a change in my attitude. I was no longer afraid of the little things in life. I didn’t care if I wore the wrong clothes or said something stupid in a meeting. After my last chemo, I spent a week in the hospital with neutropenia and had another two weeks of bed rest at home. I didn’t physically feel up to doing anything that required more exertion than breathing, but my brain clicked away as I lay there. By the time I started radiation, the transformation was complete. I had become fearless. In spite of the nasty burns on my chest and the pain they generated, radiation was a piece of cake compared to chemo. I had made it through chemo and I was going to make it through radiation just fine. I had faced off the Emperor of All Maladies and won the battle. I felt empowered beyond words and completely confident that I was going to win the war.

Five is the magic number. Whether or not we consciously count the days, we all are shooting for five years. From the get-go, I knew in my heart that I was going to make it, and I did. I could exhale, finally. I wanted to do something to mark this milestone even if it existed only in my head. I spoke to the hairdresser who has been covering up my post-chemo gray these last years. We bleached my hair pink for the month of October for breast cancer awareness.  I admit, I turned a few heads with shocking pink hair. It’s certainly not something you see every day. I am not sure I would do it again, but I was ready for it then, and I think a part of me needed to do it.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
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