Life After Cancer

Seven years ago, March 18 was a sunny, but cold Friday, and while many people were sleeping off their St. Patrick’s Day hangovers, I was driving to the hospital where I knew I would be told my breast biopsy showed cancer cells.

Why else the surgeon would have wanted to see me immediately? That day. Before she went on vacation for a week.

She took time off; I took a major detour.

So this is my cancerversary, a day I note each March in quiet gratitude I’m here to mark another year’s passage.

My life now is quite different from what it was on that chilly Friday.

No longer a full-time library manager, I am instead a retired librarian and part-time grocery associate at a local store.

When I realized I was looking upon my writing career as yet another thing I had to do, I stopped writing romance. I have only so many moments left in my life, and reasoned if I wasn’t making money at the endeavor and no longer enjoying it, the time had come to stop. Instead, I focused on making sure all my Cancer Lessons were re-written and posted on this blog.

Then, I started another one.

I also began working again on my family tree, I share here the first lesson in genealogy: It’s an endless pursuit because for every person you identify, there are two more to work on — their parents. I’m back five generations and still going.

Darling Daughter — who guarded me as I recovered from surgery by carefully timing my visitors — is a college graduate with a full-time supervisory position at a library (at 23!). She’s built an adult life and peopled it with friends, a book club, and a soccer team. It seems I’ve passed on not only my career field, but my shin guards too. And I’m only half-joking when I say she’s Kym 2.0.

Partly to fill the void she left, The Engineer and I started beekeeping (hence, the name of my new blog). It would be a good hobby to share, we thought, a new activity we could do together, one that would force us to learn something new.

It’s been that and more.

To answer your unspoken question, yes, the bees are still alive (so far). And no, we didn’t get any honey last year. For more, you’ll have to read The Byrd and the Bees.

People I don’t see very often still ask (in that oh-so-meaningful tone of voice), “How are you?”

The answer is “Just fine and hoping to stay that way.”

Physically, I’m much the same as before cancer. There are a few exceptions.

  • My hair, eyebrows, and lashes seem thinner.
  • If I stretch very hard, I feel my scars pull.
  • I still wear a lymph sleeve when exercising or flying.
  • I’m a little weaker, especially in my arms (for this, I can only blame me — for not being morally strong enough to force my lazy self to do push ups).

On a spiritual level, I’m better at remembering what’s important — family, friends, trying to stay healthy. If I occasionally lose focus of this, it’s not for long.

When I reflect on these changes, I wonder how many are the result of having had cancer, and how many are just because I’ve gotten older.

I don’t know.

I do know having cancer as a part of my past keeps me aware of how I spend time in the present. And remembering the friends I’ve lost to the disease reminds me I am fortunate to be here to ask that question.

I’m pretty sure they’d tell me not to waste my time worrying about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cancer Lesson #88: You Never Forget Your Anniversary

 

Cancer Lesson #88: You never forget your anniversary.

Six years ago today, at about 9:30 am, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I will celebrate being alive today.
And tomorrow.
And the day after tomorrow.
And the day after that, for the rest of my days.

English: Breat Cancer ribbons

Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Cancer Lesson #69: How to Celebrate Your Cancerversary

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Short answer: Any damned way you want to.

Four years ago today I drove home from the hospital trying to fit my emotions and thoughts around the new reality that I had breast cancer.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and I kept thinking I should be crying or screaming or raging against an unfair God.

But all I could think was, “I won’t be able to be captain of our soccer team this year. I’ll need to get Maggie or Carol to do it.”

Then I had to figure out how to tell my family. I ended up breaking the news to The Engineer over the phone because he couldn’t understand why he needed to come straight home.

We waited a few days to tell Darling Daughter. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the night before, and that’s such a milestone; I couldn’t bear to ruin it for her any sooner than necessary.

In retrospect, I see now that having cancer changed me, but not in a way I can easily explain. It’s a part of me, and always will be, perhaps not physically (please God) but in my attitude toward life.

The closest thing I can compare it to is parenthood. Everyone tells you what it’s like to have children, but it’s only after you have your own that you begin to realize what they meant.

I understand in a way I never did before that life is finite. We are only blessed with a certain number of days on this earth. I try to remember that, even when things don’t go the way I planned.

All I can do – all anyone can do – is the best I can with what I’ve got in my little corner of the world.

As Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Another quote that speaks to me about this concept is Margaret Mead’s: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I am blessed to still be here, and for that I remain grateful.

And I am humbled to remember the others who fought this disease and suffered so greatly without that reward.

So, how did I celebrate my cancerversary this year? I worked, then went to the dentist and back to work. In between, I fit in several phone calls to two banks that managed to transfer $5000 instead of $50 between our accounts.

It’s been a good day.

Question: How should you celebrate your cancerversary?

Long Answer: Any damned way you want to.