As we embarked on the year that made history with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a span of weeks my life as I knew it came to a stand still. As I got a handle of my new life, it included 4 months of chemotherapy, 1 surgery (lumpectomy), 40 days of radiation, and 9 months of targeted infusions. This for me constituted "active" treatment. I mostly brushed aside the 10 years of hormone therapy as it's "just" a pill.
I am writing today, to share that this May marked the end of "active" treatment. Those of you who have been touched with cancer are likely to be familiar with the "port". It's this nifty little implant that is surgically inserted into your chest to make infusions bearable. It has a soft padding that the needle can go into, sparing you from weekly pokes of injections. The port acts like a pin cushion saving your arm from becoming one.
Through the past year this inanimate object became a trusted companion. I could feel it's bulge right above my heart. I often touched it looking for certainty, as if, like my beating heart, it was a reminder that I was still here. Back in February 2020, when they placed the port, the kind nurse told me that the day my port was removed would mark the true end of this cancer chapter. Back then it was a distant, abstract concept - removing this thing that hadn't even been placed in me. It felt foreign (pun intended!).
That day came, faster than I had anticipated. The day my port was removed was bizarrely bittersweet! It marked the end of chemo, infusions, surgery, radiation, and more importantly, that my oncologist was ready to set me free. At the same time, it marked the end of my friendship with my port. This little thing that I could not see, but had felt for every moment of every day for over a year. It had made me feel like a super hero. This thing that no one knew was in me. Like a super hero, I could activate its force field and have it protect me from the world. It was now gone. Were my super powers gone with it?
The port, now in the dumpsters of biological waste from the hospital, had bid me farewell. I was left on the threshold of this next chapter. I felt a little lost, a little scared, and a little baffled. I had regained my life, my time, and my freedom. From the purview of the medical community, I was the poster child. Treatment worked. I was technically cancer free. I was a survivor.
Yet, here I am many weeks later grappling with hormone therapy (9 years and 3 months to go), surrounded by my new cancer community, still meeting my oncology team on a regular basis, and still dealing with side effects of treatment.
The glimpses of normal are stronger. I see my family more, my friends more, I have time to paint, and read. I have my energy back. I have some muscles. I have some hair! These glimpses of normal have taken on a new color. A color of gratitude for my friends, my family and my community for standing by me this past year. A color of faith that my life will see radical positive changes. A color of hope that my work will amount to meaningful difference to this community.
Being a cancer patient has exposed me to all the gnarly, unresolved, always changing problems of this disease, treatment, and survivorship. I am resolved in my faith to do my part to improve this system.