Tuesday, October 23, 2012


In terms of birthday excitement, not much has changed since I was a kid.  I still suggest desired presents months in advance.  I still like to be excited by the potential presents lurking in the house prior to my birthday.  I intentionally avert my eyes when I open the closet door, just in case a present is peeking out from behind the coats.  How old am I going to be, anyway?  That's right, 32.  Well, I am currently baking my own treats to bring to school work tomorrow, and only big kids grown ups can do that.  So there.

It is also an exciting birthday because, well, it marks another year that I have survived on this earth.  One never know which year will be the last, but since facing a breast cancer diagnosis four days before my thirtieth birthday, making it to 32 seems monumental.  I had a terribly aggressive cancer that has a high chance of recurrence (less than 50% 5-year survival rate, with the highest chance of recurrence in the first 1-2 years!!!!).  Knowing these statistics made it hard at times to visualize my 32 birthday.

But what is a 32nd birthday, anyway, compared to something like high school prom.  Prom is often a one-time event, in addition to being an important event at an age in which you are perhaps just beginning to have diverse important events.  Youth brings further significance to milestones.  So at some point during treatment I quit trying to visualize my 32nd birthday and instead started visualizing myself helping my youngest daughter prepare for her high school prom.  Surviving until your 32nd birthday is a lot less stressful when you set your goals for somewhere around your 46th.  And I am in no way capable of picturing myself at 46, so I have the distinct pleasure of assuming my continued existence until then.

IBC statistics, come and get me.    

My transition from concern that I'd make it to 32 to the assumption that I'd still be here doesn't make the birthday any less special.  What it does is allows me to enjoy a normal birthday like I always have.

The girls each got to choose and wrap a present for me.  The gifts are perched on the buffet, awaiting tomorrow with more patience than I have.  Ian said he took them to a craft store and that they wanted to buy me everything, including an entire row of fuzzy fabric bolts arranged by ROYGBIV.  It will be so cute to see what they chose in the end, but I actually don't need any presents at all.  I already have everything I need.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Going the distance

Saturday marks my two-year anniversary from my inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis at age 29.  It has been almost one year since my last treatment.  It has been five months since my last mammogram on my remaining breast.  It has been two months since my last and final PET scan.  And here I am.  Cancer-free.  Just another standard-issue vegetarian midwesterner once again.

Ever since my last PET scan I have been suffering from unexplained bouts of anxiety.  All sorts of normal things cause these flutters of anxiety:  picking up the kids from pre-school, grocery shopping, checking work email.  This has been very strange for me because I am usually a relaxed person with a good grip on stress control.  I figured the anxiety originated in my last appointment with Dr. Oncologist because she said I no longer had to have more PET scans.  This is of course glorious news because I hate PET scans (false positives are my nemesis), but also scary news because no one will be watching what's going on inside my body.  My rational self is not afraid at all, but I think my heart flutters mean that I have a subconscious, irrational self who harbors fear.

Turns out it's hard to control the subconscious, irrational self.  (Perhaps you knew that already?)  However, I am pleased to announce that I have gained the upper hand!  I have forced the anxiety to occur much less frequently, like maybe once or twice a week, and it no longer happens around my heart.  Now it is something like butterflies in the stomach, which I find to be much more familiar and manageable.  The mental aspect is not as easy to explain, but it seems to be correlated to the act of surviving.  Since I intend to survive a bit longer, I will continue to work on killing those butterflies.

By the way, happy breast cancer awareness month!  Oddly enough, breast cancer awareness month celebrations have contributed to the butterflies.  Today there was a presentation at work by a local oncology nurse.  I couldn't hardly handle the first few slides about the statistics of breast cancer occurrences and survival rates.  Luckily she didn't go into IBC-specific stats, otherwise I might have left the room.  Soon she got into the importance of self breast exams and my heart slowed back down to a reasonable beat.  Statistics are a bummer unless you're on the good side of them.  You just never know which side you're going to be on.  

This whole month puts survivors on a pedestal, and I am not yet comfortable on that pedestal.  Surviving breast cancer is indeed an amazing achievement.  But it's also a lucky achievement.  Because of this luck I am struggling to be comfortable as a victor of a fight.

Who needs to be a victor, anyway?  I am normal, and my new normal is becoming more and more comfortable.  Life is great.  And I am cancer-free.  Yippee!!  I will work on my pumping up my victor spirit in time for the Race for the Cure next weekend.  The survivor in me will attend in spirit if not in person.