today i came across someone on social media who battled a different kind of cancer around the same time i was battling cancer. she’s been in remission for a lot longer than me and her hair looks incredible. it made me sad and happy at the same time. to see that her hair had come back and looked absolutely amazing. that she could sit in a salon chair and have foils wrapped around her strands. but happy for her that her suffering is behind her. but still sad that the altered pieces of my life still display themselves. that my scars sometimes peek out from the tops of my bathing suits. or that i can’t wear certain colors because my amputation scars are like targets on my chest. that the altered version of me is the only version that gets to exist. and how sad it still is to think of the person i was before my fateful day. the two year mark is closely approaching. marking two years since a breast surgeon told me my cancer was more advanced than we thought. she told my mother on speakerphone that chemotherapy was the only way to tackle it. and that there were at least twenty seven other malignancies in my right breast alone. and if we were to biopsy each one, i wouldn’t have a right breast left. it’s been two years since i dropped the news into the laps of my family and some of my friends. some of those friends aren’t even in my life anymore. because cancer alters every part of you; including the parts where people stick around. and healing after being altered; wellllllll, it’s about as easy as nailing jello to a tree. it’s slippery and complicated. some days it feels like you’ve been walking uphill and you’ve gotta be close to the top. and other days, you feel like you’re in the exact same spot as day one. and people drift in and out. some recognizing your healing for what it is. some only here for the good days. some not here often enough. because alterations aren’t perfect. sometimes the hem is too short. or there are snags in the fabric. maybe it’s lopsided or ugly. it’s imperfect. that’s why you have three try ons of your freaking wedding dress alterations. it can’t be perfect off the rack.
and i think there was so much pain and suffering for so long for me. after the stay in the icu battling the virus. the forty two days of isolation. the hellish months of havoc it wreaked on my body. to a diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer and eighteen months of grueling treatments and a fairly gnarly recovery from an amputation surgery. and with all that pain behind me, i just assumed this exciting world of healing and growth and survivorship would be . . . something different. easier, perhaps. or faster. or not as painful. or not as grief filled. but honestly, it’s a lot like the rest. feeling altered. sometimes feeling stuck. feeling lost in your own world. still making sense of it all. and sure, i have come a long way in my healing. i checked all the boxes. saw all the right doctors. did the therapy marathons. wrote the letters. stopped hiding my hair. donated all the cancer things. threw all the meds away.
but it’s more than that. it’s more than anyone will ever see. it’s seeing hair on someone else and wondering if my turn will ever come. to wear braids or a ponytail again. wondering when i can begin to highlight my hair and if i should even bother buying a new flat iron. it’s looking down in the shower and seeing the massive bullseye scars on your chest. or noticing a wicked sunburn that you never even felt. it’s wondering if wearing a bra will change anything. or if tattoos will make a difference. it’s catching the glimpse of the eighteen inch scar and wondering what people think. someone recently asked me at a pool party about my children. i replied that i didn’t have any. they had assumed i had a poor c section recovery. nope. just had to use my abdomen to save my own life. it’s wondering if people still see me as me. it’s wondering if this whole thing has changed every relationship and every feeling about me. it’s about the two years i missed out on. a whole year of my career. the scariest moments of my life were when i had to be alone to be safe. and the loneliness has created this immense desire to never be lonely again. but healing is lonely. alterations are lonely. this part of cancer is lonely. two years after that fateful day. one year after finishing treatment. eighteen months in remission. it’s still hard. it’s still lonely. it still feels altered. and for a stint of this, i was genuinely giving myself a hard time. for not being further in healing. for not being over it. for not being past it. but i realized that if that’s not what i am capable of doing- that’s okay. my life was altered from the very start. from the days where i fought alone in a virus cell while the world shuttered. from the day my first opinion breast surgeon told me my tumor was way more than just a tumor. from meeting alison, my first opinion breast care coordinator who took me to a pink wallpapered room and held my hand. to meeting my incredible oncology team at mercy. where i had the most angelic team of care- angie & colleen & barb. where i cried and laughed and slept. where my mouth was so infected and i was so dehydrated. and anna always made sure i had a seat for hydration tuesdays. and no one ever made me feel small. and i am crying while writing this because those days were so hard and the pain was so immense. and the pressure to feel invincible and resilient was so heavy. and sometimes, it still feels heavy. to carry the weight of it all. to remain hopeful for yourself. to carry compassion and empathy for those who couldn’t make it here. to recognize that you are lucky and unlucky in the same moment.
to be altered. without consent. to be altered by the universe. to remain faithful to that same universe. to know it could all unravel again. to stay hopeful that you’ve tied the thread tightly enough in survivorship. to hope the needle and thread you chose, were the right choice. to be altered forever. and to begin to take the small steps in looking at the alterations and still deciding to wear the damn dress.