Wishes do come true. But only if you make them happen.
It was late evening on March 21, 2012. I was standing on my front porch, surrounded by the chill night air, and listening to the melting creek bed whispering notes of spring. I had just left the hospital and my MRI and there was nothing to do now but wait, and live in this moment.
I stared up at our second storey windows. Inside, my children slept soundly, oblivious to the turmoil in their mother’s mind. I turned my head to the baby’s window. She stirred. There would be no nursing tonight, the MRI’s contrast agent coursing through me had nixed that. At 15 days old, she was already getting used to my not being around. I wondered if this was to become a pattern. Would I be there to hear her first words, to see her first steps, and to watch her enter kindergarten? I was angry and determined to do away with most, if not all of these unknowns. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I was going to give it my all.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Inside, my children slept soundly, oblivious to the turmoil in their mother’s mind. I turned my head to the baby’s window. She stirred. There would be no nursing tonight, the MRI’s contrast agent coursing through me had nixed that.[/perfectpullquote]
Of course, I failed miserably. One does not simply “remove” unknowns, they are inherent in life. But I did learn to live alongside them. We actually became best buds, me and “wtf is going to happen next?” Of course this was doubly fun as there were the cancer unknowns coupled with the newborn/third child dynamic unknowns. It was pure chaos at times, pure joy at others, and somehow, some way, we made it to this day.
Today is March 21, 2017. Imogen turned five this month, and I’ve reached my five-year Cancerversary, a day that seemed a distant wish that night on my porch. I often wondered what I would write about on this day, should it ever come. In the end I thought it might be fun to record a through-the-years snapshot of my cancer experience in relation to Imogen’s first five years of life, and how we adapted to our unique set of circumstances.
Family focus: Corralling a newborn, a toddler and a 4-year-old.
Medical focus: Active treatment “Poison – slash – burn” (chemo/mastectomy/radiation).
Side effects: Many, all of them covered in my previous posts. Bottom line: I sucked it up because I had kids to raise. It was The Littles against me, and I was severely outnumbered!
Activities: Hospital visits, scans, blood work. Extreme hand-washing. Friends. Blogging! Ditching my home-made baby food and esteemed cloth diapering practices for store bought food and handier, enviro-arch enemy disposable diapers. Le sigh.
What I learned: Check your guilt at the door. Guilt was something I let go of very quickly. Except on the day that I started chemo and had to stop breastfeeding. That day almost did me in.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We actually became best buds, me and “wtf is going to happen next?” Of course this was doubly fun as there were the cancer unknowns coupled with the newborn/third child dynamic unknowns. It was pure chaos at times, pure joy at others, and somehow, some way, we made it to this day.[/perfectpullquote]
Family focus: Potty training while chasing rapidly mobile warp-speed toddler.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy (Tamoxifen – med which blocks estrogen to reduce risk of recurrence).
Side effects: Fatigue fatigue fatigue. Memory loss. Crazy mood swings. Anxiety, is that you?
Activities: Brain fog workshops. Yoga. Nutrition classes. Belly dancing. Camping. XC skiing. Peer support. Reading French books to kindergartners.
What I learned: It is totally OK to let her stay in diapers a little longer. It’s not first-across-the-finish-line. A contained bum makes for a happy mum, and I was happy not to be cleaning up messes while functioning on 10% energy stores.
Twos which were not so terrible, but sibling rivalry in full force to even things out.
Oophorectomy (ovary removal to further reduce estrogen levels). New endocrine therapy meds (Aromitase Inhibitor)
Side effects: Sudden, forced menopause. Osteoporosis. Debilitating bone pain. Morning immobility from the meds (“90-year-old syndrome”). Further memory loss and inability to multi-task. Anxiety creep.
Activities: Back to work! (wonderful timing); Myriad medical appointments for primary and complementary therapies. Camping, XC skiing and nature hikes with the kids.
What I learned: Don’t be bullied by your disability insurance company. Don’t go back to work before you are ready. I had some solid measures in place on the road to recovery (exercise, chiro and physio, mental health activities) and had to stop/reduce all of them to go back to work. Le double sigh.
Family focus: “Threenager” enters household and achieves Herculean strength just as I reach an all-time physical low.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy continues. Calcium and Vit D to combat the bone loss.
Side effects: Everything from year three upped a notch. Thinning hair. Swearing. Feeling like a bit of a fuckwit at work.
Activities: Endless appointments in vain attempt to find source of mystery ailments (cardiologist, respirologist, psychologist, sleep study); Girl Guide Leader! Young Breast Cancer network community organiser.
What I learned: Netflix used wisely is an effective strategy for taming the threenager.
Family focus: All three kids in school! Separated from spouse.
Medical focus: Endocrine therapy (continued). Biphosphonate recommended to combat osteroporosis – resisting this but it may be futile. CPAP machine!
Side effects: Everything from year three and four. Increased memory loss, loss of taste, chills, hypothyroidism. Sleep apnea. Insomnia. Mental health waning. Working harder with fewer results. Feeling like a total fuckwit at work.
Activities: Working single mom of three. Girl Guide Leader and Young Breast Cancer Networker – wait, am I still young? Mindfulness practice.
What I learned: Cancer’s wrath doesn’t end after treatment, nor after five years. Be at peace with this. Look to nature for calming. Focus on your children and loved ones, who make life beautiful.
Looking back, it has been a very full, very long five years that stretched on forever then passed in the blink of an eye. Then suddenly, it was Imogen’s 5th birthday. I watched her close her eyes, make her wish and easily blow out the first four candles. The fifth and final was stubborn, and she repeatedly huffed and puffed to no avail. In stepped her siblings, her mother and her friends, and together it was extinguished.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]What I learned: Cancer’s wrath doesn’t end after treatment, nor after five years. Be at peace with this. Look to nature for calming. Focus on your children and loved ones, who make life beautiful.[/perfectpullquote]
Our story is not ours alone. It is the human story, that of the spirit and strength of so many who surrounded us with love and support, despite what was going on in their own lives. Today I celebrate all of you, and five years of knowing what a remarkable difference people can make in each other’s lives.
My wish came true.
Ellen’s post was originally published here on her blog. For more stories from young women with breast cancer click here.