It is hard to believe that I am still here. And doing well. It can be mind-blowing. I would never have guessed that life after receiving a diagnosis of HER 2+, stage IV cancer (with mets in my liver) could become routine.
Or as my Italian Gramma-in-law would have said, “Can you Believe It?” Hand up in full Italian emphasis.
I have been able to remain on my initial treatment protocol. Herceptin and Perjeta. Every 3 weeks. (I had several months of the chemotherapy drug, taxol, in the beginning) Scans and oncologist visit every 3 months. My various scans continue to show “no evidence of disease” just some inflammation around joints. My heart scans took a little dip several months ago, so I have added a cardiologist to my care team as well as a couple of low dose heart meds to my daily intake. I can still get fatigued and have some aches and pains, but overall, I am doing very well. I will be on some sort of protocol for the rest of my life. I cannot currently use the terms “cured” or “in remission” as that will only be fleshed out over time and would prove to be miraculous.
I am able to do the things that bring me joy. I can still work with students almost daily through Play to Your Strengths. I can garden. I can walk the beaches of different coastal areas. I can get out into the sunshine and be grateful to have seen another season of brutal Minnesota weather pass into spring. I no longer find myself wondering if this might be my last. I marvel at it all. I make plans more easily and rarely filter them through the what-ifs. I have gone from looking at how to survive to living in the “surviving.” I have been figuring out what life sounds like, looks like and feels like in a new kind of season. I am not in “crisis” mode any longer. I can breathe deeply. I can still enjoy the blessing of perspective that I have earned through experiencing the last few years.
If I could walk you through a new diagnosis, I would offer you this; Be in the moment. I know that sounds weird as you have just had a grenade dropped in your lap. But what I mean is Take that first step. Give yourself permission to feel all the feels. Do not google the stats- so many are outdated and you are a unique you that will have experiences that are unique to you. Try to decrease any stressors you can. Continue to do the things that bring you joy! Fight for those. Ask for help when needed. Take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually along the way. Live in gratitude even when it is hard. Find that One thing each day, one thing that was extraordinary or just plain good. Or unexpected. Have patience with yourself. Surround yourself with people who help you laugh, are comfortable with your tears and your fears. Lean into those who will pray with you and cheer you on.
One more thing…
It is ok to talk to strangers. Sometimes they can be an unexpected burst of sunlight along your path, and they may need your sunshine upon theirs. Infusion lab can be an odd place for connection and community but as you see the “usual suspects” who are on the same or similar infusion schedules they will become like familiar friends. You will be surprised how comfortable this place may become…no, really. I have met some really amazing people on infusion days. It becomes a place where cancer is tackled and no one is afraid to talk about it. It can be hard to see the rollercoaster of ups and downs but if you allow yourself to be vulnerable it can be something so sweet. We have prayed for and cheered on each other as we pass by on so many “infusion Fridays”. It is a blessing to share that time together.
It all boils down to this
Love well and find those who can love you well in return. Life continues. It will look different then you expected. But there can be good things in there. So much good.