It’s after midnight, and my attempt at sleep has failed. I get up and stare at the mass of endless stars, which offers a momentary sense of peace. These shimmering lights are one of the most extraordinary gifts offered when living at a 9,000-foot elevation. Given tonight’s reflection off the snow, I ponder going for a hike.
My practical side sobered, remembering the bone-chilling cold that accompanies such beauty, and I accept that I am stuck in a processing mode. I begin again the requirement for a patient with cancer to sort mentally, plan, and deal with the worst scenario while hoping for the best.
Tomorrow looms as a critical day when I will be following up with a new oncologist, Dr. Carmen Matei. I recently relocated from South Carolina to Colorado and foolishly believed I had finished my prescribed time with oncology.
As a precaution, Dr. Matei ordered an ultrasound of my uterus and a full-body CT scan. These imaging tests led to a uterine biopsy, an MRI of my liver, and an ultrasound of my thyroid. Along the path to this day, I somehow lost all patience for these frightening medical tests, preferring to cover my ears and wish them away.
Can Anything Prevent Cancer?
The lump I found in 2017 while taking off a sports bra resulted in a stage IIA breast cancer diagnosis. As I struggled to pull off this straightjacket, I thought something wasn’t right. I immediately realized that the tiny pebble was alien to the soft tissue surrounding it.
Having no family history of breast cancer, this curveball came as a surprise. I live my life in a way that ought to have prevented cancer. I ran 25 half marathons and 2 full marathons. I breastfed 3 children, kept my weight down, and ate better than most. Although I will admit to having a slight obsession with chocolate.
I went through the expected lumpectomy and radiation therapy. Once I rang the bell celebrating the last day of my radiation treatment, in my mind I was cancer-free.
Casting My Dreams for Tomorrow
Yet, here I am dwelling on tomorrow. Is it possible to go from living to fighting again? Will I begin next week once again managing life around surgeries, radiation, or chemotherapy appointments? What does tomorrow look like?
Like all of us, I have many hopes and dreams. One of the surprising gifts cancer has given me was falling in love with a group of fly-fishing women and the sport itself. I took part in a retreat for women with cancer called Casting Carolinas (https://castingcarolinas.com). My fly-fishing schooling is just beginning, as my uncoordinated self hopes to conquer this ballet-like sport.
My passion has parlayed into an infatuation that requires a bundle of expensive equipment. As those birthdays, Mother’s Days, and Christmases descend, I offer the family a list of needed items. It is my hope that by spring, I will be a perfectly geared-up fly-fishing woman.
I dream of casting my line in the rivers and lakes nearby, and one day actually to know what I am doing. It takes time to learn and time to gather.
Just like for many people, COVID-19 has brought its limitations for us, as we have not been permitted to visit our new grandson. I dream of watching him grow while waiting for those much-anticipated future grandchildren.
I envision a day when my son-in-law, who is living with stage IV colon cancer, is once again trekking about the world. I hope to see our eldest daughter, who has suffered from depression nearly all her adult life, find happiness.
My husband and I had plans to hike the Camino de Santiago in 2020. COVID-19 derailed that. We have joined the rest of the world, looking forward to a COVID-free world.
I count on having the time to read all the books on my list. I accept that I harbor unnecessary fears, as my father passed away from colon cancer at age 60.
Under the Surface
These hopes, dreams, and fears hinge on the year’s coming test results. Once diagnosed with any cancer, a form of PTSD sets in. This stress sits just under the surface of your skin, waiting to reemerge when you get a whiff of a particular smell, walk the long halls of a hospital, or face the wait for an unpredictable conclusion.
Beginning with the initial diagnosis, we feel we are walking on thin ice, never knowing when that ice will crack. That word “cancer” remains a part of you.
Like becoming a parent, cancer is in the back of your mind, just as your child is, no matter the age. Parenting is a lifelong journey, and any cancer diagnosis will become a journey not easily set aside for another day.
Every Flash of Beauty
Tonight, as I reflect on my future, I realize that there is no clear path, no predictable sorrows to endure, and no detailed list of pleasures. The best one can do on this journey is to experience each moment fully, taking note of every flash of beauty.
Shine a light on your soul by loving deeply and unconditionally. Accept that life has never been about the length of the journey, but the experiences one gathers along the way.