Breast cancer has taken so much. As I walk through the pink swathed streets of October, people ask me if I want to give to breast cancer. And I can’t help but think, I’ve already given so much. Not only my breasts, my hair, my mobility (I suffered a stroke as a side effect of cancer,) The list goes on:
-The past two years.
-My birthday (it is now the day I found out I had the big C).
-Running marathons (I ran 5 the year I found out, now I’m working on learning to walk without a limp).
-The ability to drive a dogsled—I tried. And I fell off. (OK—I didn’t know I had that before)
-My kids’ childhood innocence, they now stop everything the minute I cough, and worry in a way no child should.
It also took away the ability to just go to the doctor for a checkup. Each appointment is preceded with sleepless nights, wondering if Cancer will once again rear its ugly head. And in a way, I have it easy there. The lingering deficits of the stroke, remind people of my constant struggle. People who appear “better”, suffer silently. It took away my time—ongoing doctor visits and scans and managing paperwork can be a part-time job at best! And the drugs you take after the initial treatment…that can be a post (or site) in itself. Hot flashes, insomnia, joint pain, those extra 30 pounds (bye-bye favorite jeans)…all or some, different mixes of side effects keeps me trying different drugs until I find the least of all evils.
And yet, I look back today through a different filter. Two years in, November 1st, is my birthday and cancerversary. I’m still disabled. I might always be, but I’m working on that. I walk better, write better, I can carry things and almost do my daughter’s hair. My hair now has grown back, and it’s crazy, awesome curls. I’m far from perfect, but far from the wheelchair I was in. I live with ongoing side effects from the cancer-fighting pills, for at least 4 more years, but more likely 9. And the fear. The constant fear and reminder that all this could happen again.
But I’m two years older and two years wiser. And I realize that while it took so much, the list of what breast cancer gave me is also endless.
First off, my dog. My husband would say sarcastically, “Winnie is the gift that keeps on giving.” She is a pain in the ass. But she helped me Win. I won back my strength and confidence through endless walks around the park. And more importantly, my kids, their happiness and their laughs through her endless kisses, distractions, and snuggles.
It also brought me the gift of beautiful friendship. Breast cancer creates a bond like no other. It creates amazing, impenetrable relationships, like the one between myself and Sally. Introduced by my boss, the day I was diagnosed, I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
And while it made my kids grow up fast, it also taught them compassion and service. And the value of hard work as they watch me fight to get better. My son and daughter will always run downstairs for water when the stairs are just too much. Or carry my bag up. They also helped me relearn how to ride a bike.
And it makes me appreciate all that I’ve had and all that I’ve done. All the places I’ve traveled, lived, having run 48.6 miles and still walk Disneyworld, time with friends, the power of social networks to stay in touch, the love of those around me, the support of my family, my career, my kids laying in bed with me watching the Yankees, the strength of my marriage. Eoin must have really meant “In sickness and in health”, because this one was/is a doozy!
But most of all, cancer taught me the power of positivity. How to look on the bright side, which admittedly I was not good at. It brought me faith. And it made me slow down and notice all that I’ve done and all I have yet to do. I still have work to do on this, but every day is a new chance to try again. Cancer also empowered me to choose my path with intention. So while it’s easy to focus on all that I’ve lost, I choose to focus on all that I’ve been given. And that’s a lot!
Denise is a mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter. She is also a breast cancer survivor, stroke survivor, 80’s hair survivor, Bon Jovi lovin, Jersey girl who is a hard-working runner, who has lived in Japan and London, and loves traveling the world with her family.