I tried on a dress today. I was shopping for something specific, something that would cover up the skin that had recently gone through radiation. Admittedly I don’t own a lot of high-necked summer wear so instead, I’ve been throwing light weight scarves around my neck to cover up. My skin is alarmingly red at the moment but I know that, in time, it will fade away as if nothing ever happened.
My hair continues to grow. Four months post chemo and my hair looks like it was intended to be like this. I’ve had a few people tell me that they couldn’t even imagine me with long hair. I suppose this pixie cut suits me in a way, but it’s unlikely I will keep it. Side note: I’ve really enjoyed rolling the windows down in my car, blasting the radio, and not having to worry about my hair being destroyed.
My face looks like me again. When I look back at photos, I notice it had a sickly yellow tinge that couldn’t be made to look good, even with a pink wig. My eyebrows and lashes are back too. It’s a relief not having to draw them on anymore. I have come to a point where no one would look twice as I walked by.
For the most part, I can pretend nothing happened. Shopping at the local mall seems like a completely natural and normal thing to do. Facing myself in a dressing room mirror is a bit harder. I’m used to not having breasts any more, but seeing the scars under those unforgiving fluorescent change room lights can be shocking even for me. Those are easily disguised under clothing but prosthetics are uncomfortable against my sensitive skin these days.
Breast cancer is a nasty thing. It steals from you. It stops you in your tracks as you walk down a familiar street. It tells you to hand over your hair, your breasts, your skin, your health, your energy. In some cases, you hand over your life. I handed most of those things over, temporarily. I am one of the lucky ones. I am in remission but there may be a difference in how the mind heals versus how the body heals from this.
People say to me “You must be so happy!” I suppose I should be. I have completed the cancer treatment trifecta over the course of 8 months and it worked. That entailed chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy, followed by radiation. I’m done. I’m relieved. The cancer is gone. I really want to be happy. I rang two bells for goodness sake.
This is a difficult topic to write about I’ve found. The other blogs seemed to just spill out of me. I was motivated to talk about what was happening and push ahead to the next hurdle. I wished away my days like never before. I was so focused on getting through it and getting past it. I still have several hospital visits ahead of me this year but the worst, by far is over. My last radiation treatment was July 26th, a date that will stick with me like so many others of significance this year. I wonder if that’s the same with all cancer patients. What day were you diagnosed? When was your surgery? I’m sure we all will remember. The problem is I have to look back and not ahead for this blog. It’s tough and it’s emotional. Beside me, on the desk I’m writing at, sits one of many scribbled upon notes. It reads “April 26, 8:20am St. Joe’s.” I rack my brain to recall what it was for and then I remember…pre-op. These little reminders are all around the house. More and more, I tuck them away or toss them out altogether. I only just recently put the dozens of get well cards into a box. I need to move on with my life after it was so rudely interrupted. My friend Barry, who I met in radiation, said that there’s a reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small. I get the point.
These past eight months have impacted me, in many ways for the better. I have witnessed remarkable kindness from others and have had the most incredible support system anyone could ask for. I’m going to take this moment to encourage those of you who have recently been diagnosed to not keep it a secret. You need others to get you through this. Don’t take the burden on yourself, and definitely don’t just lean on one person. The weight of this is so much lighter with many hands holding you up. People kept telling me how strong I was through this. I hope they knew it was because of them that I was so strong.
There is something to this whole “positive attitude” philosophy. Do I think having a positive attitude saved my life? No. There are many people with better attitudes than mine who succumbed to cancer. Staying positive is a great way to cope though, even if it is a bit of a mental decathlon. When I started to lose my brave face, I would call a close friend or let my husband know that I needed help in that moment. I had this reputation of being so courageous and positive but I couldn’t keep that up all the time and certainly not alone.
I also liked to convince myself that cancer wasn’t going to ruin me. I did a lot of “normal” things even when I wasn’t feeling normal at all. Sadly, I had to step away from my job temporarily because TV is not a great place for those going through chemo. Obviously there are the many appearance-related side effects but it was my lack of brain power that was the real catalyst. Most of the talking on The Weather Network is script free and I didn’t want to be searching for words every couple of minutes. I did manage to do a radio interview every week via phone, host a major fundraiser, attend a Blue Jays game and appear in a Run for the Cure commercial.
Funny, I mostly picture myself lying on the couch binge watching Netflix, but apparently I got up once in a while. I think it’s easy to hibernate during treatment but I suggest you get out on the good days. I have heard from others that the longer you wait to go out, the harder it is when you finally do.
I have made some beautiful connections through these past months as well. Breast cancer has brought some wonderful people into my life and being a survivor has thrown me into a very powerful sisterhood. It has put my life into perspective and made me realize what’s truly important. That’s a gift.
It has also given me a voice and opportunity that I could not have foreseen. I’m so anxious to recover and make the most of this second chance I’ve been given. I know I’m one of the lucky ones and I plan to do whatever I can to shine a spotlight on this disease, bring awareness, and raise funds to find a cure. Then I will be happy.
Full length commercial for CIBC Run For The Cure