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My 3 Year Breast Cancerversary

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A most flattering picture. Tunic tops work wonders for hiding roly poly stomachs.

When I was in the shower yesterday morning, I re-enacted that life changing cop-a-feel from three years ago. You remember. When I was soaping up my boobs and felt the hard pea-sized lump that gave me pause. The only difference between yesterday and three years ago is that I’m missing the part of my right breast that the tumors were in. Oh, and I wasn’t hungover.

Three years. And my first thought yesterday morning was that I feel so bad for that woman from three years ago. She has no fucking idea what’s going to happen to her. 

The first year was the hardest because of the aggressive chemo, radiation and surgery. But also the hardest because I didn’t know what the long ranging effects of the treatments would be. My hair falling out, losing my eyebrows and eyelashes, was the least of it. Because I knew that would all grow back. I was even fascinated by the process, how my eyebrows started coming back in looking like a five o’clock shadow. 

But then my vagina became dry, and gray according to my gynecologist, and that threw me for a loop. But she guided me through that with recommending three sessions of a vaginal laser treatment and a low estrogen supplement that I inserted into my vagina twice a week and will continue doing for the rest of my life. (My breast cancer is not hormonal.) My vagina is fine now. Just ask my husband.

Next was my extreme fatigue and weight gain. Fatigue like that of a mother of a newborn and a toddler. And weight gain that I had only known the year before I got divorced and was unhappy but didn’t know it and ate my feelings.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and there is good medication for that. Life long, daily medication that you have to take first thing in the morning on an empty stomach but for me, no side effects. Just a TSH level that is in the normal range.

Of course, life has gone on for me and those around me these last three years. My daughter graduated high school and now we have three kids in college and none at home. My parents got a puppy. I went to Europe twice and Las Vegas many more times. I even celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary by renewing my vows with my husband and Elvis. 

I have lymphedema in my right arm. And it hurts to sleep on my right side, my favorite position. My hair is really thin but I’m trying to grow it out. I might give up and go short again. I’m just not sure. My neck is getting a little crepey but I did turn 53 a few months ago. I don’t think I can blame that on cancer.

And at last week’s gynecologist appointment, I weighed in at my heaviest weight ever, just above the normal level of BMI. I am overweight. I’ve never been overweight before. And this is what bothers me the most. I can’t see my vagina unless I lift my stomach up. My ass is wide. 

Of course of all the physical, and mental, effects of my breast cancer experience, this is one that I can control. And maybe that’s why I’ve not done much to fix it. But I wake up in the morning, lying on my side, with my stomach rolling over, and think, “I’m fat”. I take a shower and catch a glimpse of myself naked when I’m toweling off and think “I’m fat”. It’s liberating to make this admission to myself but something has to change.

I don’t know. When people ask me what my kids are going to do when they graduate college, I throw out a few possibilities that the kids have mentioned to me. But I always follow up those sentences by saying, “I’m not worried about them. They’ll figure it out. They always do.” And I honestly believe that. My kids are resilient. I still worry about them but their grounding is firm.

I’ll figure it out. I always do. I’m alive and my grounding is firm too. 

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(Lest you think that I am all woe is fat me, let me assure you that I am not. I am thankful for many things and get great joy out of life. Particularly being able to help others going through cancer diagnoses and treatment. Join me on April 6th as I co-chair the Sari Center for Integrative Cancer Care’s 5K trail run/walk in Riverbend Park, Jupiter. Or just donate if you can’t be there. The money raised goes directly to support cancer patients and their caregivers through counseling, acupuncture, meditation and many other forms of complementary therapies.)

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