I love living in the tropics but I have never been a fan of the summer. In my opinion the months of June through August are the worst with oppressive temperatures and steamy, sticky, humid, days. The dog days of summer refer to the hottest days of the summer when the heat is intense that even dogs can’t do much more than lay down and sleep. Unlike the summer heat that is constant and predictable; my life has changed over the past couple of summers.
As an empty nester, I remember summertime for different reasons other than the temperature. I looked forward to having my kids back home from school during their long awaited summer vacation. I miss those days and the energy of a full house. The sound of laughter, music and video games filled every part of our home. Although it was hot, there was much joy and happiness in being together as a family.
Two summers ago, I was just coming up to a new milestone in my life. One which in my younger years I would never have imagined that I would traverse. I had just completed my grueling 8 rounds of chemotherapy for my stage 4 breast cancer. Having been diagnosed in early January 2021, I had been thrust into a battle for my life. I was unprepared but luckily very well supported by my family and friends. I had to put my life as I knew it on hold for one full year to do chemotherapy, a mastectomy and then radiation treatments.
On August 6, 2021, I enthusiastically completed my last chemotherapy at The University of Miami Sylvester Cancer center. I was declared cancer-free but only half way through my treatments to ward off future cancer and to ensure that no residual cancer cells lay undetected. It was a powerful, emotional and victorious day for me which I shall never forget. Finally, the months of chemo, the pain and suffering caused by exploding brittle veins, tedious infusions, and the angst of the unknown before each session had come to an end. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life and I had completed it.
Today I am two years older and wiser and I can look back at these moments with a sense of pride and a deeper appreciation of my life. I weathered a storm and this gave me strength to move forward to another very difficult stage in my life and womanhood. It was at this point that I could focus for the next month on a stage which had frankly scared me from day 1. I knew that I would have to remove my breast, but as a woman, this was something which I grappled with for a while.
How would I see myself afterwards? How would I feel and look afterwards? How would this loss psychologically affect me? How could I ever feel whole again? These were questions which lay in my subconscious and taunted me.
Hypothetically, it is fairly simple to accept that a cancerous area must be removed. Something that is sick, fetid or rotten must be cut out in order to give the other unaffected areas a fighting chance of survival. However, it is quite challenging to be the patient and the subject whose body part is being removed.
As a woman, I felt at the time that my anatomy would be deformed as the breasts are a part of body which outwardly distinguishes us as female. I spent months being tortured by the decision I would need to make about reconstruction. I was only able to make a clear decision about whether I would undergo 18 months of reconstructive procedures after my surgery in the month before my mastectomy date was planned.
Usually I am really good at dealing with multiple things at once but with this particular situation, I had to deal with one thing at a time. I decided that I would not reconstruct my amputated breast. It would not make me happier or feel better about myself as a woman.
I am happy with my decision and have never regretted this choice. I now realize that having breasts should not define our femininity. The most important advice that I can give to anyone going through this is that the decision on whether to reconstruct or not must be made wholly and completely by the one experiencing this and not by anyone else. Love and support is all that should be given by family and friends.
In this past year, I have felt good, and I am comfortable with my body, my healing process and where I am in my life today. Very often I find myself reflecting on just how far I have come. Is the cancer center just a memory to me today? No!! I still have to see my oncologist several times a year for consultations. I do blood tests regularly to check my blood levels and to monitor my health and well being.
As a post-cancer patient, I live with the reality that cancer cells are sneaky and if given the right environment in which to grow and flourish, they can reproduce exponentially in a short period of time. As such, it is imperative to do all of the necessary follow-ups to remain proactive and vigilant. My immunotherapy medication is a bit like chemo medication and I experience some unfavorable side effects which I have learned to live with everyday. I pray that my vigilance and serious approach to post-cancer maintenance will mean that I never have cancer cells develop in my body again.
Although I am generally a very positive and strong person; I have had a few moments when I have felt sad and unattractive. Fortunately, when I have felt this way, I have been able to shake off any self-doubt and negativity. I realize that I need to take a little extra time to feel better about myself. Negative thoughts can be like falling into a rabbit hole. I try my best not to take them too seriously, or self-doubt. If I catch myself falling I say some affirmations. We are our biggest critics. I recognize this and have put some work in to better myself and my thought process.
I can look at my upper body with no shame or regret and I am less self-conscious of my scars. I have long accepted that my body is forever changed but I take comfort in knowing that I am alive and well today for doing the treatments and surgery. I still lose my hair due to my medications and I still get tired sometimes as my medication causes low white and red blood cell counts. Yet, my days are filled with activity and I am always busy in my kitchen, gardening or sewing or quilting something. My life is full and productive and my dreams of publishing my cookbook are still alive and well.
Is there a normal life after cancer? Hell yes!! I have found that my outlook on life has a lot do with my perception and the way that I deal with things. Accepting the changes and knowing my worth and why I fought so hard to overcome the despicable cancer is huge in moving forward and living well and happily.
If you or anyone you know has cancer now, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is normal to occasionally feel sadness or to be discouraged;but the bad days will pass and at some point they will become just souvenirs of a past experience. To me they are life lessons which will make you stronger for having been through them and survived.
1. Try to find some positive each day to help you to move forward. Remind yourself that you are perfect in your imperfection.
2. Be mindful that life is fragile and that good days are to be lived to the fullest.
3. Do things that you may have always wanted to do when possible.
4. Be kind to yourself.
I am forever grateful to so many who lifted me up high when I was low and kept me in their prayers and positive thoughts. I probably would not have been here today if it were not for the support team of family, friends and care givers.
This August 6th, I celebrate a second year of being cancer free. Before all of this madness I really disliked the summer heat and the long hot sticky days of the season. Today, I realize that the dog days of summer are the harbingers of my life post- cancer as they announce another season of life and hope. I manifest positivity and blessings for many more summers and years of good health ahead.
Peace and Blessings to you all.