PART I is here.
PART II is here.
And what follows is PART III. (the last one.)
What does cancer feel like?
>like I’m lucky. The drug Herceptin is approved for use in early-stage breast cancer patients, and I get in on it right before my window closes (it must be give a certain amount of time beyond chemo, but not too long after). I sign up for one year of this drug therapy, and I report for infusions every three weeks. It does not make me sick, I do not lose my hair, and research says it can prevent my chance of recurrence by 50 percent.
>like hair confusion. My blond, straight hair goes away, and dark curls take its place. I start liking my new hair better then my old hair, and, over the years, it gets straighter and lighter, and I realize I want to keep the dark but not the curls. I invest in a flat iron, and I find a stylist who helps me try to keep it dark (but it’s hard because the blond wants to come back).
>like I have a purpose. I’ve been blogging since diagnosis to keep friends and family informed of my progress, and other people are finding me — like other survivors and loved ones of cancer patients and editors asking me to write for pay. I end up with a writing and editing career because of cancer, I get a few speaking and radio engagements, and the disease begins looking more like a gift than a curse.
>like an inspiration to live stronger and healthier. I go on assignment to Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, and I write about surviving after breast cancer. The trip inspires me to eat clean and exercise hard, and I lose 15 pounds and gain the momentum to run a 5K, then a little more, then a half marathon.
>like repulsion, marked by the inability to eat for five years any of the foods I consumed on each of my chemotherapy infusions.
>like a chance to help fund a cure. I raise thousands of dollars over the course of a few years for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.
>like a routine. I attend follow-ups with doctors, I get mammograms and MRIs, and I hunt down every symptom I have that may or may not be worth chasing because I’m crazy like that now that I’ve had cancer. A headache is not just a headache, and a sore arm is not just a sore arm. If you’ve had cancer, you understand that every bump and lump and twinge of pain is just another cancer waiting to be discovered.
>like an out-of-the blue scare when the MRI at seven years survival shows a “malignancy considered” and sends me into a week-long tailspin.
>like I learn something new every day, like that my MRI mental breakdown could have been prevented had I been properly scheduled for the test — NOT during my cycle but seven to 11 days out from onset of period, because MRIs pick up everything, like hormonal tissue changes that might appear to be cancer, and why, oh why, did someone not ever tell me that before?
>like an on-going process that does not end when the doc says, “you’re cured, go home.” In the next year or so, my heart will be monitored because the life-saving Herceptin can cause heart damage, but it doesn’t usually happen for years and years, and, so, my ticker will undergo some testing to determine just how fit it is.
>like survivor’s guilt, because I have been given seven years so far, and people like my friend Amy don’t get nearly that much time.
>like a chance to help others. That is why I keep writing this blog all these years after cancer tricked me into thinking I would die long before my babies, now 11 and 8, could grow up. And that haircut? Yep, just a haircut. I did not die. I am alive and well, and I want YOU to know that while cancer caused me plenty of dismal and hopeless days, I can count many blessings bestowed upon me by a life-threatening disease no young mom of wee ones ever thinks she will get. Will I be mad if cancer comes back? You betcha. But for today, I’m going with blessed. Just blessed.
And that is how cancer feels.