When I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer in 1990, I was 35 with a 5-year-old daughter. My survival goals were never about making it 5, 10, or 15 more years. My goals were about time, but time measured, not by years, but by occasions.
My only goals were to see my daughter graduate from high school in 2002, then from college in 2006. As these events came and went, it seemed as though having stage one breast cancer was something that happened to me at another time in my life almost like the years since were spent in a time tunnel. Reaching those goals were nonetheless life affirming and joyous reminders that the gift of time had allowed me to live long enough to see my child start her life as an adult.
Sixteen years had passed and I was no longer setting survivor goals because I truly thought I would never have to think about having breast cancer again. I did my time and was released from the chains of having a disease for which there was no cure.
A few years later, as I approached the 20th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor, I injured my back on a trampoline, which eventually led me to making an appointment with my PCP. We laughed about not playing on kids’ toys at “our age” and she ordered an xray to check for a stress fracture. Less than 24 hours later, she called me to tell me there were “suspicious” lesions on my spine that required further investigation.
At that moment, the previous twenty years disappeared. I knew my reality had changed from having to think about breast cancer only twice each year at my biannual oncology appointments, to living the rest of my life every day – with the knowledge that I had a terminal disease. Time suddenly became a precious commodity to me. There was so much more I needed to do and now I was living with a clock ticking inside me. The Internet offered me nothing positive, just frightening statistics and prognoses. I felt that time was running out for me and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop that clock.
After my initial inclination to feel sorry for myself and give up any hope of being able to live long enough to do things many of us take for granted like dance at my daughter’s wedding, I decided that in order to help myself, I needed to help others. I had done my share of walks and fundraisers, but I needed more. I looked for a journaling group, but found none in my area.
As a result of hours of searching the web, I did find a workshop, “Writing About Cancer,” that I could facilitate. I received a grant from my cancer center to pay for the licensing fee and materials. Running that class helped me accept my new reality. I’ve become friends with several of the participants and sadly, a few have passed away. People with all types of cancer can attend the four-week workshop, but the people I’ve met and their stories have helped me be less impatient with my own diagnosis and more willing to set future goals.
I know that I am an MBC Lifer, and that will never change. I also write a blog, Don’t Stop Believing that, hopefully sends a positive message to others who are struggling with coming to terms with either having or knowing someone who has MBC.
Two years after my MBC diagnosis, my daughter got engaged. She was married in 2012 and I was able to dance at her wedding. Two years after that, my grandson, Brandon was born and just six months ago, his little sister, Natalie arrived. In 2009, I thought my time would run out well before I had a chance to see my child become a wife and mother, but time can be a blessing just as much as it can be a curse.
Do I picture myself being around to see my grandchildren graduate from high school? Probably not, but seeing each one head off to kindergarten in a few years is definitely on my bucket list. I want to live long enough for my grandchildren to remember their Nonni.
One thing I’ve learned in my twenty-six plus year journey with breast cancer is that life is a series of experiences connected by time, and the things we can and cannot control. In the end, however, I believe it is ALL about time; accepting that has allowed me to become a happier person. It has made me full of confidence and believing that a cure is coming. Even though I might not benefit from that cure, I’ve been able to live the life I wanted to live and I look forward to having the time to make many more memories!