If only I had known then, I wouldn't have cried so much.
I also might not have savored life as much.
That’s why I celebrate everything. It’s all a “get to.” I don’t have to do anything. I GET TO. I get to do the laundry. I get to take out the garbage. I get to write the next book.
It’s also why I eat a bowl of chocolate Mitchell’s Ice Cream every single day. No regrets at the end of my day, just Mitchell’s.
When my fingers found that lump in my right breast back in 1998, it felt like my body was carrying a loaded grenade. One I feared would blow up my life and send shrapnel into the lives of all I loved.
Instead, I lived. And kept on living.
Twenty one miracle years. They are all bonus years.
When we found out the cancer was Stage 2, that the cancer had spread to at least one lymph node to possibly set up camp elsewhere in my body, my oncologist Jim Sabiers -- a gem of a man and a savior to me - tried to explain my odds, because isn't that what everyone wants to know: How long will I live?
He told me that one third of those with my cancer would live without doing chemo, one third would live because the chemo saved them and one third would die no matter what.
What third was I in?
"We don't know," he said.
So I did it all. A lumpectomy. Four rounds of Cytoxan, Adriamycin and Five F-U. (Personally, I think every cancer killing drug should be called F-U) I did radiation every day for six weeks. I walked around bald for a year and weak for two years. When I learned I carried the BRCA1 gene, I had a double mastectomy and had my ovaries removed. Instant menopause. Not pleasant, but a “get to” considering the alternatives.
I learned to love the body I was left with, and all the scars, and that lovely blank canvas where my breasts used to be.
Today, I love me. I love that I lived.
Oh, what I would have missed had cancer in 1998 declared The End to my life.
I would have missed half of my daughter's life. She was 19 when I got diagnosed. She turns 41 in March. I would have missed her college graduation, her meeting and marrying the love of her life. I would have missed knowing James and his family and missed the births of all three grandbabies and every smidge of their lives that I savor and celebrate every day.
I would have missed our children's graduations and birthdays and weddings.
I would have missed most of my marriage. We'd only been married a year and a half when I got cancer. My forever boyfriend kept telling me, “I’m in this for the long haul.” He still cherishes me. What a gift that is.
There's no way to tabulate it all. That's why I still weep every now and then for Monica, Erica, Kevin, Denise, Nancy and Bill, people I loved whose lives were cut short by cancer.
Last year, I quit wearing prosthetic breasts. I now fully embrace me, as is, and love those scars which remind me every day to love life unconditionally, in all its awesome and awful glory. And it is both. The secret is to love it all, without any preferences. It’s all good.
Mark Nepo wrote, "We've been told that scars are ugly. I think they're beautiful traces of how we're touched by life. To have no blemishes means we've fallen through time with no meeting. What's the point? To die unchanged is to be an arrow that never lands."
I thank all that cancer changed in my life and all those who helped save my life.
It was a life worth saving.