Living in the Aftermath of Breast Cancer

What is the aftermath of breast cancer?

When I think of the word aftermath I instinctively think of a war; when the fighting ends and the dust settles. I looked up the definition just to see what the true meaning is defined as.

“Aftermath is the consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.”

Sounds pretty doom and gloom and something I could get on board with. I started to write about just that. I had over 600 words about how the pain, anger and fear never truly end. Then, as I was driving to school to pick up my kids one sunny, warm, Spring afternoon, I noticed how wonderful the air felt on my face. I was driving with the windows down, singing along to the radio.

I was driving with the windows down?!?!

I never drive with the windows down. It’s either too hot, too cold, my hair used to whip around getting all disheveled (when I had hair of course!), and there was far too much potential for bugs to fly in. This is when it hit me. How I have changed. Something as simple as driving with the windows down so that I could feel the air on face and smell the Springtime blend of lilac trees and cherry blossoms.

It was soothing. I felt present. I felt grateful. I felt hopeful.

This is how I choose to define my aftermath. Not an aftermath of fear and pain, but of hope and new beginnings as this person I’ve become.

Living in the consequences that cancer dealt me, I live now for each day. I take whatever opportunity I can to listen to my kids. Listen to their stories, their wishes and their fears. We talk, sometimes for hours, so the kitchen goes uncleaned. We walk to the park to enjoy the sunshine, so the laundry goes unfolded.

My husband and I make time for us – something we always figured we would get back when the kids got older. We find the time and enjoy just being present and together.

I do things I always thought I’d get to do “one day”. I write, even if just for myself. I paint for the pure joy of creating something. As cliché as it is, I now know what it means to not “sweat the small stuff”. I take care of my mind and body as best I can.

Life was so busy before cancer. It was like I was racing through it to get to…I don’t know where! Work, kids, homework, housework…there was always a pile of things to do, a mile high, that as hard as I climbed, I was getting nowhere. Enough.

Life is still busy, but on my own terms. When my kids grow up they won’t remember there were dishes left in the sink or how the laundry seemed to live in the dryer instead of their drawers. They’ll remember that I played with them. That we talked about anything and everything. They’ll remember me for who I am because they’re getting to know me instead of just observing me. This gives me peace. One of my fears had been leaving this world too soon and my kids not having enough memories of me to hold onto. But I realize it’s not the quantity of memories that matter, it’s the quality. I want those memories to be filled with the essence of me, and us, not just events and experiences.

So yes, the aftermath of cancer can be difficult. Our new normal includes chronic conditions, challenges and fears. We live in the balance between our past and our future. But even with uncertainty, if you look closely enough, you see hope and possibility.

I’ve seen the darkness in this world, but I’ve seen so much more light.

Feel each day. Find love. Find hope. Find your passions. And whatever you do, when the darkness crawls near, choose to stay in the light. – By Tanya McLaughlin

Click here if you want to read more stories about the aftermath of breast cancer.

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