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.        


  1. Love u HK! The survivor in you is an inspiration to others. The notion of celebrating is fragile. Perhaps a big hug with those adorable little girls will suffice this year.

  2. Canada loves you! Can't wait to see you in less than a month!

  3. Oh Heather - I hate that you have a cancerversary :-( But . . . . I LOVE that you have waged such a long, hard, amazing, transcendent, sucky, joyful fight against cancer. You rock! I have learned a lot from you and your little family in the past two years. It's been amazing to pass little bits of lights back and forth between you and yours - love you.

    At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
    Albert Schweitzer