Until you're not.
The real shit about cancer is that you never fully get over it. It’s always there until it isn’t. You’ll always be a cancer survivor until you… aren’t.
Just when I think I’ve written my last cancer essay...here’s another.
That’s the thing about being a breast cancer survivor — it’s always there. It never goes away. The scars, the fear that lurks in the back of your mind like a boogeyman. You’re going along nicely, living your merry life, and you’re fine, until you’re not.
It could be a commercial on the TV and radio — is it just me or are cancer ads all over the damn place? — or it could be a glimpse of a Chemo Girl on the street, hollow, eyebrow-less eyes that haunt you like a ghost. That was you a year, two years ago. And you always know exactly how long it’s been — since your diagnosis, your surgery, your final infusion. Though you've never been a math person, you always do the cancer math effortlessly. Because it’s the math of your life.
The real shit about cancer is that you never fully get over it. It’s always there until it isn’t. You’ll always be a cancer survivor until you…aren’t.
The reminders remain and not just the physical ones. Besides the commercials, there are walks, fundraisers, telephone solicitations, collections at the office. And forget about “Pink October.” That’s when breast cancer is suddenly “in” again, and the media swoops down on BC survivors like a crow on carrion.
But I’m OK with it. Really, I am. I welcome the chance to educate the general public about the intricacies of breast cancer. I go out of my way to let them know about SHARE, an amazing organization that offers (free!) support to women with breast and ovarian cancer. I appear in SHARE’s fundraising video, and I’ll volunteer at their event “A Second Helping of Life.” Two years and counting since my last chemo infusion, I still go to SHARE meetings. In fact, I'm a fiend for them. There’s something to be said about being in a room where every single woman there is a BC warrior like you.
It's October, and I am again a breast cancer poster girl. There are calls from TV and radio stations for interviews. And I don’t mind. I’m very happy to tell and retell my story. Again and again. I look at it this way — if I help just one woman make it through her cancer journey without falling apart, if I give just one woman a shred of hope that a breast cancer diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, it’s well worth my time and effort.
But when all the cameras are gone, it’s just me and my “history of cancer.”
Make no mistake about it, I’m not OK with having had cancer. And I never will be. Part of it is “why me.” Part of it is vanity. Part of it is stone-cold terror. I’m alright most of the time. But sometimes my heart drops when I get undressed, and I’m confronted by my mastectomy scar. Even though it’s gorgeously masked with a cherry blossom tattoo, I still don’t have a breast.
It’s true what my Grandma Rachel (a 21-year breast cancer survivor) told me: sometimes you forget your breast is gone, that you even had cancer. And that’s great. But then the realization hits you, catches you off guard, and you feel a little sorry for yourself, especially when you get a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and the empty space where your breast used to be.
Other times, it’s loud and clear, taunting you. Like when you can’t buy a pretty bra off the rack at Victoria’s Secret. Or when you see a great dress with a plunging neckline and realize you can’t wear it because there’s no way to mask your one-sided cleavage. Or when you walk down the street, feeling sexy and hot, and a cute guy gives you that look, then you imagine his horror if he knew your secret. Would he still want you then?
But I’m one of the lucky ones — I’m still here. I’m still alive and well to bitch and moan about only having one boob. Until…