I made my first visit to New Jersey this past weekend and the circumstances surrounding this trip are pretty freaking cool. I belong to a Facebook breast cancer support group which I also help moderate. There are two admins and one other moderator of this group, and I met all three of these kickass ladies for the first time at Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. One actually lives in New Jersey, one lives in New York, and the other lady and I are from Arizona. Mary’s Place is a spa/retreat for women undergoing cancer treatment or are recent cancer survivors. We each had our own rooms with our own bathrooms, common areas for recreation and dining, and vegetarian breakfast and lunch were provided. The food was excellent. For dinner the four of us went out partying, raised hell and painted the town pink (which is actually code for walking to the local pub and taking Uber back to Mary’s).
During our stay we were offered complimentary treatments such as gentle yoga, oncology massage, reflexology, meditation and others that escape my memory just now. There were other ladies outside of our group staying at Mary’s for the weekend and all but one were breast cancer survivors. This is how prevalent breast cancer is. It’s disturbing and sinister.
Besides having the opportunity to visit this incredible retreat and meet my three group admin counterparts, we conducted a Facebook Live Q&A and prize giveaway session for our group of nearly 7,000 members while we were there. One of the interesting aspects of our collective experience, is all four of us had varying diagnoses and treatments. All four of us have undergone bilateral mastectomies, three of us have had chemotherapy, one has had radiation and three have had reconstruction surgery. So even though we are all not necessarily boobless anymore, we did lose our breasts. The ones God gave us. The ones that showed up at puberty and later fed our children. They were perky and saggy, big and small and somewhere in between. We might have loved them or hated them or a combination of both during our lifetime but one thing is for certain-we never wanted to lose them to cancer. We now have each other to lean on, to lift up when we are down, to understand how much of our lives are affected by this disease. I cannot imagine my life without these ladies in it. #breastfriendsforever
It has been almost two years since I finished my active treatment. Bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and now pills to block the estrogen that fueled my breast cancer. I will never live my life as I once did wandering around like cancer can’t touch me, all cocky and invincible. Life is fragile and it’s taken me several stages throughout my life to realize that. I had a mother who died at 54 from health related crises and a brother who died at 40 in a motorcycle accident so one would think I would’ve had an appreciation for my tenuous existence here on earth.
I once said breast cancer wasn’t driving my life any longer but it was still a very noticeable passenger in my car riding shotgun. I think I am able to say it’s moved to the back seat now. Cancer is actually not the first thought in my mind when I wake up in the morning which I thought would NEVER happen. I mostly go about my day without obsessing over my fear of recurrence or my constant symptoms from my cancer prevention medication. For those who are still in the thick of it or just feel as though they are, make no mistake my anxiety and fear is still present, but it’s no longer in the foreground. Sometimes it wanders there if I feel a new ache or pain, but it no longer has me by the figurative balls. I feel like if a recurrence does happen down the road (and being Stage III it would not be unheard of), I am more prepared. I don’t know if it’s just time passing, or something I did subconsciously to change my mindset but a new kind of serenity and acceptance has been slowly creeping in. No matter what happens, cancer won’t stop me from living my life while I am here, however long that happens to be. I am continuing down the road of life and eventually cancer is going to get kicked out of the car completely, we’re just not there yet. FYI he’s an asshole so don’t pick him up.
Something I see frequently is breast cancer survivors saying that they want their old life back. In my own case, I can say with 100% certainty that I do not want the life that I was living at the time of my diagnosis back. That woman is someone else. It’s not that I don’t like her, but I like new me better and for me, saying I want my pre-cancer life back is analogous to saying I want to be 25 again. I definitely do not want to go through my 20’s again especially without knowing what I know now. Can you imagine re-learning not to drink different types of liquor throughout a night of partying? Or that your utilities will actually be turned off or your car will be repossessed when you don’t pay the bills? How about realizing that you are not even close to being as clever as you thought you were? Maybe you guys were a lot smarter than me but in my 20’s I pissed away more money, took the most terrible jobs, and made the worst dating decisions ever. I do hate more than anything that I got cancer but I would never want to undo the knowledge, strength, determination and hope I discovered within myself because of it. And the friendships. I have met the most extraordinary people on this journey. If going back in time means I lose all of that, NOPE.