It is my five-year breast cancer anniversary and I will celebrate because I am here.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Anniversaries, birthdays and major life events now matter more. Today was an interesting day. I had appointments with my medical oncologist and my surgical oncologist. This was my five-year checkup. I was pretty sure from my five-year mammogram and from my five-year breast MRI that everything was currently OK but, as a cancer survivor, I never really know anymore. Both doctors agreed that things looked good. I am happy, blessed and grateful. I am a little over a year out on my melanoma, but that is a different story for another day.
As a survivor though, one never knows from day to day or year to year. The reality is that cancer can come back at anytime. It can come back before five years, or it can come back at six years, or it can come back anytime in between. Cancer can come back in the same breast or the other breast, or somewhere else in my body — bone, brain, liver, or lungs. These were the words that I learned to memorize — the places where cancer could return. It has simplified monitoring my fate. My fate has no guarantee. No one's fate has any guarantee, truly. Before becoming cancer survivors, though, we liked to think so.
Today, ultimately, is a day for me to celebrate. Five years without the return of cancer. I am grateful. I still watch. I still worry. I still hope. Both oncologists prodded and poked my breasts. Both said they have sometimes found things that hadn’t shown up on mammograms or breast MRIs. I guess nothing comes with a guarantee, especially in my body.
There is no peace. There is no final, definitive answer. I will accept bittersweet. Just like the chocolate I love, it is a double-edged sword. But you take what you get. In the end, there is no other choice. Cancer survivors are more aware of this than anyone else. The blinders have been stripped away. We know what we know. And we know what we don't know. We accept this, and move on day by day. What other choice do we have? We celebrate our victories. We move forward one day at a time.
Fear of recurrence lingers in the back of my mind. The cancer still could come back
. Maybe because it could come back, it is all the more reason to celebrate? I think so.
I could get hit by a car
isn't the same as a cancer diagnosis, so please don’t say that to comfort me. This is high on the list of things not to say to someone with cancer and people who have a cancer diagnosis know this. Those who don't mean well and probably just don't know what to say.
Hey God, I'm not even trying to knock it out of the park. I would settle for just shuffling around most of life’s bases. I can't be perfect. I am not perfect. I know my odds are better with diet and exercise. I am trying but I wouldn't color it a total success. My five-year anniversary is here: party of one. Here I am. I am showing up and sometimes that is the best I can do. Sometimes that's all I can do.
So today is my five-year anniversary. I have survived. I have a mammogram and an MRI and the poking and prodding of my breasts by two oncologists to show for it. I shouldn't say this but the truth is I have celebrated with more than one glass of wine tonight, which for me, is too much. I have been through a lot. It is my personal five-year cancer anniversary party and I am here.