Three years ago, breast cancer interrupted this survivor's life. Read more to learn how she accepted and embraced that life altering challenge.
Growing up in the 60s, I grew used to frequent late-night TV interruptions. Across our black-and-white screen, a frozen diagram would appear as the announcer’s serious voice began to speak the words, “We interrupt this program to bring you a special report.” Everyone in the household would gather round the tube to hear the important news. After the announcement had been completed, the same voice would come back on and we’d hear, “We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.” Those types of announcements have changed over the years, but still continue to frequent our digital screens.
When I received my diagnosis of breast cancer, I felt like I was receiving a public service announcement from the oncologist. “We interrupt your regular, normal, healthy life to bring you an emergency broadcast. Cancer is now invading your body. You must prepare for action!” Although my thought is farfetched, there is some validity to it. Cancer certainly disrupted my life and now that it’s been 1,096 days since diagnosis, I keep waiting for the announcer to come back on and tell me I’m being returned to my regularly scheduled program, but I’ll never be able to return to life before cancer. I can’t pretend cancer didn’t interrupt my Life. It wasn’t just a public service announcement. It was real.
Living with cancer for the past few years has changed me. When I tried to return to my “normal life,” I found it wasn’t possible. I needed to make some adjustments. Life as I knew it was gone. Everything was different. There had been not only physical changes in my body, but also emotional changes. Some changes were for the good and some were not. I found it easier to handle the physical changes than the emotional ones. At least when my body signaled that I needed to slow down and rest, I could actually feel the fatigue. It was more difficult to deal with the emotional changes. Before cancer, I’d always been a happy go lucky person. Nothing ever bothered me. I rolled with the punches. Life was good! After cancer, I felt like I had no control over my emotions. Without warning, I found myself weeping or becoming irritated. I didn’t like feeling out of control. I had to learn to reign in my patience. I’d become a little short fused. I didn’t have time for pettiness or insignificant things. I had been dealing with a major, life-changing disease. Life was too precious to me to waste one single minute, and I couldn’t understand how others didn’t view life the same way. Before cancer, I took so many things for granted. After cancer, my outlook had drastically changed.
I wasn’t quite sure how to accept breast cancer as my new identity. From the beginning of treatment, I felt like I was the poster child for breast cancer. Everything I said or did seemed to revolve around cancer, but as time went on, I started learning to let go of life before cancer. I found myself focusing more on the future and learning to live life after cancer. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was moving from the role of patient to that of survivor. At first, I was leery of using the term “survivor” when referring to myself. I didn’t quite feel like I’d earned it. I felt like I should have suffered more or endured more than I had. But as I thought about everything I’d been through, there was no way I could compare my journey with those of other women. I realized my breast cancer experience had been tough. There had been days when I thought I wouldn’t make it. There had been days when I wished I had died because it would have been easier than fighting. Then one day, something clicked. I realized breast cancer had just been a blip on the radar. It was just like one of those public service announcements. It was an interruption. And just because I had cancer, it didn’t have to define the rest of my life.
Three years have come and gone since I received my initial diagnosis. I never dreamed I’d still be here, but I’m so thankful I am! I am one of the lucky ones. Four of my friends who were diagnosed around the same time as I, are no longer with us. I could have passed away, too. As I celebrate my third cancerversary, I am extremely grateful. Cancer has taught me many valuable lessons that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have learned any other way than living through that painful life interruption. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to cherish the time I have here on earth. Since my diagnosis, I no longer wear a watch. I’ve found without a constant reminder of time on my wrist, I am more present in the moment. Living life that way is priceless. Before cancer, I was a clock-watcher. My entire day was planned to the minute. Now, I just kind of “happen” through the day. When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I visit with someone, my attention is focused solely upon them. My mind isn’t racing ahead planning the next event.
I’m thankful for the cancer interruption in my life. Once I thought I’d like to be able to snap my fingers, erase all aspects of my cancer experience, and return to the life I had before. Now, I’ve selectively forgotten how things used to be before breast cancer became part of my life. I enjoy living more now than ever before. As I celebrate my third cancerversary, I can almost hear a tiny whisper, “We now return you to our regularly scheduled program,” but instead, I know I have the power to change the channel. I choose to keep my current programming. Life after cancer isn’t a bad thing. I’m not naïve. I know there’s always a possibility of recurrence in my future, but I’ve decided to take one day at a time. Thank you, cancer, for the valuable lessons you’ve taught me and thank you for interrupting my life.