This morning I was reminded by Facebook that 2 years ago this morning, I was sitting in the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital Cancer Center Chair receiving my first Chemo Transfusion. I remember being nervous and a little scared. Are the drugs going to feel like fire running through my veins? (I imaged bright green vile like in a Marvel Film) Am I going to throw up immediately? Will I loose my hair? I also ironically remember feeling strong, indestructible and calm.
I remember sitting there with my fresh pixie hair cut and loving it. I remember laughing with the nurses, my mother and friend who was there. I remember how I hiccuped and started feeling loopy when my mom started reading off the side effects of the drugs I was taking and said it may make you feel drunk. We laughed. I remember a social worker/therapist came by to chat with me, I guess standard protocol, but she said she was nervous because I had marked a high stress level on my form. My mom made me write a higher stress, she's like girl you are 30 with breast cancer and own a stressful business in the wedding world, you gotta have a higher stress level. So I agreed, sure. But as I sat down with this sweet social worker, I realized I was in one of the most calm moments of my life.
I've come back to this a lot over the past few months as I'm struggling to find purpose, strength and self. I think in that moment, I had no control of my life, it was up to the doctors, nurses, technology, god and the universe. I was just along for the ride at that point. I wasn't worried about going through the ends of the earth to make a client happy. I wasn't worried about a printer, vendor or myself accidentally screwing up an order. I wasn't worried about my clothes not being the coolest and most local on the C'Ville scene. I wasn't worried about trying to be the best friend, boss, business partner, sister, daughter, girlfriend. I wasn't worried about if I wasn't doing enough and being enough. Because in that moment I was off the clock.
I realized today, I have been fighting for that moment/person for the past year. Not the person in that exact chair with the drains and doctor appointments. But the person who was sitting in that chair, that strong woman who could conquer cancer and not give any F's.
I've tried, but every turn I seemed to take this past year, where I thought I was going be able to move on, something kept on hitting me. Right when I celebrated one year of being done (my last surgery), one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, her surgery was the same weekend as my childhood best friend' wedding, whose mother passed from breast cancer. I literally left a waiting room talking to one friend's surgeon to go meet the other friend and grab a champagne glass to get a pedicure and be an the top notch maid of honor. A few months later my dad's cousin officially got diagnosed with breast cancer, I say officially because she refused to get tested until the tumor came out of her skin. Then my friend's mother passes from breast cancer, one who was super positive to me during my treatment. And then a few months after that my childhood 2nd mom/next door neighbor gets diagnosed with breast cancer. Then my cousin's wife gets diagnosed with breast cancer, where I spent Black Friday in the surgery waiting room. A place we are too familiar with. I mean does all this breast cancer come to everyone else in a 6 month time frame? Oh and then throw in a summer filled with non stop urgent care/doctor visits because I find I'm allergic to the sun and a bunch of other new things which is probably from the chemo or tamoxifen or whatever else. Oh, oh and then throw in a bunch of Nazi's protesting and murdering someone in front of my store, which leads to international attention on the block where you run your business. Oh and just the news in general, whether it be political or natural disasters. Struggles of owning a retail store and invitation company in the world of Amazon and Minted. And add a little sprinkle of a long distance relationship (really good point though) with one who is trying to start a new career (him). It was a rough 2017. I awaited the day I could walk into my therapists office and say nothing crazy happened this week.
I was exhausted and utterly drained. Don't get me wrong, I am so happy I was able to be there for all my favorite friends, family, community that were involved with all of the above. But I'm still drained, but at least on the up hill climb of it. I think I hit my low. I never thought I would ever be a person who claimed to be so low (man I can't even say depression). But I did, I was. I couldn't see my lighthouses anymore, I couldn't dance like no one is watching, I couldn't laugh freely. I seemed to fall back into that role of trying to fix things and be in control again, but get devastated when it didn't go my way or someone else close to me got diagnosed. But silly me, I didn't learn my lesson. I cannot change the things that are out of my control.
I've tried support groups, writing courses, art classes, therapist, health coach, faith, church, adjusting diet, workouts, meditation, journaling, sketching, painting, edibles, screaming at the top of your lungs, programmable coffee maker, bangs, the list goes on. The good news is, I've acknowledged the problem and trying to fix it and now have a collection of tools in my toolbox to go about it to try and find that strong ass girl who fought cancer like a badass.
Just a few weeks ago, once everything in my life was coming to a successful hold (everyone got cancer free (or stable) news, Holidays were coming and my tools were starting to work, my sister and I received the news that we have a Genetic Mutation that links to Breast Cancer. If you recall, I did a few tests at the beginning to test against the BRCA 1 mutation that runs in my family and the next high risk mutations and was negative. A bit of a shock if you recall my family history (I was the 9th person to get it in a funnel of family members). So my sister went to get tested (crazy what new tests they have after 2 years) and my sister and I both have the Chek 2 gene mutation. What this means is that we are 25-45% at risk of getting breast cancer at a young age. So my sister now has a 45% chance because of my diagnosis. I'm at like a 10-15% chance with my mastectomy and chemo. And the only other cancers that seem (that they can claim) to linked to this gene is Colon at a smaller percentage (unlike BRCA that has ovarian, colon, pancreatic and a bunch more that claim high risk). My mom is currently being tested to see if it is from her side of the family (her mom) or if she has the other BRCA 1 gene. BUT our results came back saying this specific mutation is common among Slavik heritage, which may mean I got it from my Dad. Ironic little twist. With all these results, 1. I geeked out the genetic counselor with having 2 Breast Cancer Gene mutations in my family and the potential of 2 more (Glad my family's cancer history can add to your geeking out I joked, as I'm geeking out along with her, this gene stuff is cool) and 2. Aside from wishing my sister didn't have it, being declared with this gene just helps kind of CHECK off that list and helps that little question, why I got it and what to look out for in life.
Quick Shout out to the people who told me that I didn't eat enough greens, I used the wrong pots and pans, I ate too much meat, I used birth control, I used aluminum deodorant, or that I was too aggressive by getting a double mastectomy...Seriously, people told me all this while I had cancer. Screw you, my genes are genetically designed to grow cancer.
And to those who don't have a "gene" per say, it is also just this crazy world we live in, YOU did nothing to get breast cancer. It is probably just a gene they haven't found yet. Remember that.
Yes, I feel like finding that gene was a bit of a closing argument to my year and part of my journey with breast cancer. We cannot change things that are out of our control, we just have to learn to live with it, be preventative to the negative outcome as much as possible, find the positives, be reminded of your strength and roll with it. I've been told when you seemed to be stripped down, it is only to pave the way for a reawakening. I've got some projects on self and other things that I'm excited (finally) to work on in this next year to help me follow my own words I just wrote. So stay tuned.
And to 2017...you may have tried to break me down, but Chek Mate. I win.