“Welcome to the Jungle” was the song playing as my new boyfriend and I raced into the Rogers Arena on September 1, 2017. The best night of my adult life seeing my favorite band turned out to be the most important and life-changing night. This is how my cancer journey began. A shower before the “Guns N’ Roses” concert and a small lump in my left breast started it all.
A mammogram and ultrasound showed a cyst, and 6 months later I had a 9-centimeter tumor, the size of a man’s fist, removed from my breast. But it wasn’t a cyst.
Three visits to my primary care doctor and an aspiration appointment changed my life forever. It was surreal, to say the least. I had been told again and again that this growing lump was “fine,” just a cyst. Like many other people, I trusted the medical system. It was this system that hurt me and saved me at the same time.
“Sweet Chemo O’ Mine”
Breast cancer, like all cancers and other chronic illnesses, is life-altering. It changes you, and not only physically. It is the mental recovery that lingers. Treatment gave me a purpose and a reason to fight. A reason to live. Chemotherapy was my enemy, even though I tried to think of it as my friend too.
Four months of weekly chemo, bone injections, chemo brain, pain, anger, and so much more. It didn’t work. The cancer spread to my lymph nodes while I was receiving chemo. I had 9 surgeries, a mastectomy, radiation, and DIEP flap breast reconstruction since June 2018. I am having more surgery on October 16, 2020.
On August 21, 2019, my life changed. One would think the cancer would have been the real life-changer, but it wasn’t. Treatment was my purpose, the poison I let into my body, and the radiation burning me from the inside out.
I did it for my kids, my parents, my brothers, and the ones who love me. Within 1 round of chemotherapy I lost my hair, so I shaved it off. And I lost something else besides my hair. I lost Anna. What I never did was surrender.
After my initial DIEP flap reconstruction, I ended up with a hematoma that tried to kill me, and I lost 30% of my breast tissue. It is hard to describe what those 30 days in the hospital were like. I held my head high, although I couldn’t breathe. I was suffocated with the fear of what next. I had already beat cancer—now this?
The Fight Doesn’t End
Many people think that the fight ends once treatment is over. That hasn’t been true in my case. Losing my breast meant the cancer was gone. For now. The thought of recurrence is always there. I choose to live life, not let life live me.
The hard part, and the part of the story that I need to share, is with people like me who feel lost. Our bodies change forever. My new breast now has stretch marks, as some of my tummy fat and skin were transplanted to make a new breast. I have deep scars.
I live with necrosis pain daily. You learn to cope and compartmentalize. I sometimes forget I even had cancer, until I’m naked and stand before the mirror. I’m proud, yet ashamed. My vain self hates it, but my grateful self is just that—grateful.
It has now been almost a year since my breast reconstruction went bad. I’m not sure how I’m making it out of the black cloud. I feel it lifting. I see others now who suffer alone.
Round and Round
Remission doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s not over. It’s just the beginning of something else. I remember a person telling me that now that this was “over,” it was time to get in the best shape of my life. Look at Lance Armstrong! I just remember thinking that I wasn’t Lance Armstrong!
I’m not even Anna! I don’t even know who I am anymore. It deflated me, yet at the same time it fueled me; lit a fire so to speak. It didn’t happen instantly. The road has been rough. The fire also lit a rage inside me, coupled with sadness.
Someone once told me that pain changes you, and until you surrender to it, you can’t truly be free. It is true that pain changes you, so now I look at my new life as a fresh start. A start, and a wish that I could help others like me who have struggled to find their place in this world. Time is limited. Time is precious. I surrender.