Five Years Since my Cancer Diagnosis: Chemo and Surgery

A Toast in SingaporeDecember 29, 2015  Five years ago today, I received the call that I had breast cancer. Five years later, I am here. Alive. Toasting to the next five years. Looking back, 2011 was clearly the most difficult year with the majority of the treatment covering the entire calendar year. And 2012-2015 has involved regaining health, making choices, and embracing life.

From Zero to 5K a Day
The Fall of 2010 was probably the last day I recorded a series of miles around the lake at any sort of respectable speed. For 3+ years, I resorted to walking, cardio machines, and yoga as I had space and capacity. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same stability in my reshaped body nor the endurance and breathing room to do much more. In order to cross the physical and mental threshold, I had to relearn to walk and run. Meanwhile, I had a doctorate to finish and I did. Crossing that mental and academic threshold led to new work. In that new work I’ve had to do, I have the fortune of doing strengths work with amazing people, fantastic clients, and inspiring colleagues. I celebrate the three years with Aeritae and eight with Leadership Vision. As things became ordered and I became stronger, I found my physical health improving as well. And then just this past year, walking turned into running and I even started a workout in October 2015 that I affectionately named “5K a Day.” And let’s be honest, this turned into “5K Almost Everyday.” Asking my avid runner husband if he had any tips for me. He simply replied, “Run faster.” And so I did. But I ran not to train for a race, but to strengthen and prepare for choices I needed to make.

My 40’s
I marked December 29th in our blog on the first, second and third anniversary of my diagnosis. Last year, I chose to have a party instead of writing about it in a blog. We filled our home with friends who celebrated my 4 years clear and 40 years of life. We shared wine and gorgeous spread of tapas courtesy of my best friend, Michele.

The 40-year marker is significant for me in many ways because I have longed to be 40 since I was young. Modeling by others when they hit the 40-year milestone and studying the work of Bobby Clinton’s on Leadership Emergence, beckoned me to this new decade.

I’ve recently been reading Richard Rohr again. In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Rohr talks about the second half of life compared to the life we lead up to 40. He offers that, “The first half of life is discovering the script, and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.”

Rohr goes on to say,
The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”

This second half of life is not about being perfect or wise. Rather, it is about what we do with our imperfections and the imperfections of those around us. In all of my imperfections, I continue to make choices and take steps toward healing and wholeness.

The Choice of Chemotherapy and Surgery
Although the celebration continued into 2015, a cloud remained and I needed to make another choice. Semiannual check ups with my oncologist brought reassurance and reality. The reassurance was I was doing well, had responded to the chemo and radiation, and my cancer was cured. The reality was the fact that in my body, estrogen unlocks cancer cells. Dr. J was matter of fact when he drew the picture on the back of my chart. Around the squiggles and chicken scratches, he pointed out that estrogen is found in ovaries, fat cells, and the stress response of adrenals. And with sharp “X’s” he then wrote “Block the estrogen.” I couldn’t pull the trigger on this next choice until I was ready.

But nothing looms with darkness over a survivor than the dreaded word “recurrence.” No one wants to hear the word “metastasize” either. I knew I needed to do some grieving and contemplating before I could take action. Then in the last 5 months, former colleagues and friends who had their own fights with breast cancer during the last 5 years, tragically passed away. With the reality of death ringing in my ear, and my greatest sympathies extended to the families that lost powerful women, I had to make a radical choice that would, in the end, bring amazing peace.

In the summer of 2015, I made the choice to endure monthly chemo injections to put my ovaries to sleep. Back to the infusion room I went for the last half of the year. Sitting among death, the reminder of death, and the awful side effects of those injections led me to a clear path: surgery. With my family by my side, I endured one more surgery on the darkest day of the year, December 21. My skillful and confident surgeon, Dr. Teoh came highly recommended. The day after my surgery she came into my hospital room dressed to the nines in a short skirt, high heels, great jewelry and white coat to tell me that my surgery finished in record time and that it was a text book surgery no signs of additional cancer. She told me that I would receive the results of the full pathology report “next week.”

So today is “next week” and 5 years later I once again received the results of a pathology report. This time it was from my self-assured and well-dressed surgeon. She wrote that I was clear of cancer, “The report showed no abnormalities.”

Yes! Brian and I both cried tears of gratitude. I can breathe again and get ready to get back at it with my “5K Almost Everyday” regimen.

This day that has been marked by a cancer diagnosis has now been redeemed. No cancer. I am recovering and resting with a renewed invitation to live into my 40’s. I choose life once again. In each day, with each choice, embracing each test result, I am finding the contents my container was meant to hold.

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