This month, I’ve officially made the five-year survival mark at being cancer-free.
I had really bad cancer, so living just five years is all I had to do to get pronounced "cured" by my doctors. That’s because the breast cancer I had was so bad and fast-growing that my doctors said, “if it hasn’t come back and killed you in five years, it’s gone.” Other cancer patients have to wait longer – it’s a good news, bad news comment.
This month I made it! It means I have lived to see 2018, and my 2018 is a year chock-full of major, lifetime milestones. Had cancer won, I would have missed this!
- I turn 60 and so does my husband (60’s the new 30 right?);
- My husband and I celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary (epic, frankly);
- My daughter is getting married (she is our first child and first to get married);
- My only other child got a job with his dream company (so he’s launched in an industry he loves); and
- I no longer run my 27 year-old medical practice all by myself. (I merged with another local doc, and his office is taking over –which means I ASKED for help, and I said "yes" when it was offered).
Five years cancer-free means I’m here for all this!
- If I had died, I would not have been her for the first four milestones.
- If it was not for cancer, I don’t think I would have let-go for number 5. It’s huge!
For those of you who don’t know my cancer story:
It was exactly five years ago, after celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary, that I found a small, hard and odd lump in my left breast during my monthly self-breast exam. (Self breast exams save lives, do them!) I get annual mammograms and promptly scheduled my 2013 one that was just due.
I always read the mammo films looking over the shoulder of the radiology technician (it’s handy to be a doctor when you’re getting a medical test), and this time my heart stopped – that lump was surrounded by a worrisome density on the mammogram image.
My doctor prepared me for bad news, and I knew what that sort of talk meant. Well, after an MRI and biopsy, the news got worse. That lump was the most aggressive type of breast cancer, I actually had TWO – one in both breasts, totally unrelated but the same size. I also had the BRCA gene mutation!
It’s impossible to understate the degree of shock that rocked my doctor-mind at the time. The BRCA gene mutation AND bad cancer! It meant that cancer was my fate, and I never knew it.
My 55 year-old body was born filled with cancer time-bombs – each cell in my breasts and ovaries. The breasts had an 87% risk of cancer and the ovaries had over 40+%. Key anatomic parts that make me a woman were time bombs ready to kill me! And, the cancer stats climb as a BRCA positive woman gets older - like 55.
Statistically speaking, I was not going to get out of a long life without cancer. I’d been planning for a healthy and functional old age by eating well and exercising regularly my entire life. I had no idea that my intention to live a long life meant inevitable cancer, because my cells were literally ticking, cancer time-bombs.
But, it’s been five years – I’ve made it!!
Dose-dense chemo (aka scorched earth chemo with barbaric old-fashioned drugs at really high doses, given more frequently than was previously safe, because of a new drug you get that keeps your bone marrow from failing due to the chemo!).
- Both breasts dug out of my chest (bilateral mastectomy) with a collection of lymph nodes tested, too, in both armpits (aka, the surgeon injected radioactive dye into my breasts and rooted around for the radioactive ones, digging them out amid all the nerves that anatomically reside in the "axillary vault"’). My pre-op anxiety was epic and the post op pain unfathomable – but I made it. Needless to say, I have lots of numb areas.
- Tubes and ovaries out, leading to Menopause II, the Sequel – but I made it.
- Reconstruction surgery, so that I look sort of normal again if I chose my clothing carefully.
Of course, then my gall bladder blew up, and I got another surgery. About 16 or 18 hours of anesthesia in 12 months – I lost count actually.
The left over consequences in The Cancer Year are that chemo took the feeling in my hands and feet, the cumulative impact of anesthesia left me with The New Brain (short-term memory "issues" and a few other cognitive "misadventures"), I look pretty normal if I don’t wear scoop neck shirts.
But, I’m here for the 2018 Mega Milestone Year. And, I’ve learned to be nicer to myself. Hence, milestone #5!
Cancer also put Thriving ahead of Accomplishing in my life goals. I’ve written a book about how I managed to Calm the Chaos of being really ill and going on to survive and thrive in spite of it. Maybe this year I’ll get it published! That’s another story.
The "silver lining" to cancer is that I’m grateful for a new approach I have to life, even if it meant having cancer.
Thank you for reading my blogs and being part of Dr. Bailey Skin Care. I've been through a lot and hope that I'm able to help as many people as possible have healthier skin... and provide a little inspiration in the process!