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Monday, October 10, 2016

From patient to survivor

Survivor (noun): One who continues to live after illness, accident or war. 

 "So when do I go from patient to survivor," I asked my oncologist earlier this month. It's a question that has consumed me since surgery in July. 
Clockwise from top left: Flowers sent to my work from my hubby and boys;
certificate of completion from radiation; bathroom is full of creams and gels;
champagne and balloon from my good pal and neighbor.

"Oh, Wendy, you were a survivor the first day you walked in here," she said. 

Love her optimism. It's one of the reasons I chose her as my oncologist. And of course she's right. There was never any question of survival in my mind. But I wanted to know at what point I refer to myself as a survivor. 

"I'd say as soon as you're done with your radiation," she said. 

Today is that day. Chemo, surgery and radiation are now in my rear-view mirror. I'm far from done with breast cancer. My tumor fed on estrogen. So for the next five years, I'll take a pill daily to block the estrogen and hopefully prevent any recurrence. Reconstruction will be next summer. It takes about six months for the skin to totally heal from radiation. And then we will resume the expansion process to prepare for reconstruction surgery sometime next summer. 

The journey has already been 13 months and I have survived. April and Anne Marie, my radiology techs, told me they had a special song for me today. And as I began my series of deep-breath holds one last time, I heard Elton John sing, "I'm Still Standing." Made me smile. 

Cancer stays with you. The physical reminders are many--mastectomy scars, chemo hair, fragile veins and a burned and blistering armpit from radiation. I'm managing with my assortment of gels and creams and hope to see improvement by the end of this week. 

But even when the physical reminders have healed and reconstruction is complete, cancer will remain a part of my psyche. The challenge is to not let the worry keep me from living. Treatment necessarily requires you to press the pause button on many aspects in life. 

Today,  I'm pushing play.

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