Anniversaries come around every year, and usually they are a happy time of celebration. “Cancerversaries” are celebrated every year by survivors everywhere as another year passes since their diagnosis, and they can claim another year of health and survivorship!
Today, October 1, is my 2 year cancerversary! Sometimes it feels like just yesterday I heard those fateful three words, “You have cancer”, and other times it feels like that was somebody else’s life, or a nightmare that I was happy to wake up from. Last year’s 1st cancerversary was celebrated with pink ribbons and pink ribbon bagels at Panera and pink roses, pink sugar ribbon cookies, and shared times with good friends (other survivors) . This year I feel a little different and I can’t fully explain why, but it just feels different.
During my first full year of fighting cancer I found some people I knew who turned out to be survivors of breast cancer, yet I never knew it until they learned about me. I had read about such people too. I thought, “How could a woman just turn her back on this disease, and walk away into the fog, leaving it behind! How could a woman move on as if this never had happened to her?” I almost felt betrayed by these survivor sisters as if they had denounced their membership in our special “club”. I couldn’t understand it. Now, 2 years later, I do understand it because I feel myself trying to run away from it too. I find myself not telling others that I am a survivor the first time we meet. I find myself not allowing to be identified as a survivor. And maybe that’s because I don’t look sick anymore, and don’t have to justify the manly short haircut. I feel ready to blend back into society as if nothing ever happened. I even determined on our European vacation this summer to turn over a new leaf this year and not surround myself with other survivors anymore. I had decided not to counsel women on the hotline anymore. To stop reading all the breast cancer books people had given to me. It had all become just too overwhelming. The reality is that I wasn’t coping well with what I had been through, and this constant barrage of information, articles, news pieces, talk about it, was weighing down on me. I was becoming angry and bitter about the reality of what breast cancer does to women, and yet new women are diagnosed every single day. We have MORE breast cancer, not less, and yes fewer women are dying of breast cancer, but that doesn’t eliminate the after effects that treatment brings upon a woman.
In the last couple of weeks I have begun to see the “pinking” in the stores. You know, pink ribbons showing up on every soup can and product being sold in an effort to raise awareness, and yes, bring in funds to fight breast cancer. Part of me wonders just how much of the money raised ACTUALLY goes into fighting breast cancer, or is this just a way to appeal to the public’s sense of concern, and rake in more of the almighty dollar. We will never truly know. Like Christmas, the pinking comes earlier and earlier every year. It is sadly an all too real reminder for me of what happened to me that October 1st, and of the months following that would bring so much pain and sadness into our family. Like the loss of a loved one, whose passing strikes an anniversary date every year, it is a little hard to get through, and the date floods the mind with mixed emotion.
I know I should feel happy that I survived this and I am here 2 years later to tell the story! I realize that, and I AM happy for those things! The sad truth is, though, that every year that we go without a cure, another woman will hear those dreaded words, and another life will forever be changed. Every October shouts of celebration and woo-hoos are given up for survivorship but nothing is ever told about the realities that a breast cancer survivor must survive with. The physical trauma, the scars, the after effects from chemo therapy, the side effects of drug treatments given to prevent cancer’s return, the daily fear of recurrence, the hormonal changes, the constant testing and retesting which causes one to live in a state of post traumatic stress much of the time….the list goes on. But surviving should be enough. Why isn’t it for me?
Survivors survive in different ways, and I know that the way I feel today may not be the way I feel in 6 months or 6 years, but it is what I feel. I understand why some women just say “Enough already”. They want to move back into the realm of reality they once knew. That safe haven of innocent bliss, before cancer. I feel that way sometimes too. It makes it a bit more bearable. Yes, I will always be a survivor, and I will continue to reach out to those affected by breast cancer. Maybe I am just ready for a cancer-vacation.