It is January. It's cold, dreary, and full of frozen yuck.
Four years ago this month, in January 2012, I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. It was not the worst time of my life, but it was close. My reality changed irrevocably.
I spend that entire year undergoing cancer treatment. It wasn't as hellish as you might think, mostly due to good drugs, and even better friends and family. I had at least 4 or 5 surgeries, months of chemo and radiation. I find there are many bits I don't remember. Watching a video, Firelord will say "We've seen that", but it seems new to me. The kids will mention something they did, and I have little to no recollection of the incident. I remember taking trips to Steamboat, meeting my cousins in Yellowstone, girls night in our basement. I remember over a hundred meals being brought to our house. I don't remember suffering too much - then.
I suffered more the year after. That year I was supposed to be relieved and grateful. My hair started to grow back. My chemo-yellow skin pinked up. I looked "normal". But I didn't feel normal. I wasn't what I had been. I needed to sit more, and more often. My words stuttered and fell unspoken. My short term memory was no longer sufficient for many every day activities. I had constant pain, not just from the surgeries, but from peripheral neuropathy.
I looked fine. I was expected to get back to "normal" life. I consistently let people down with my inability to meet expectations - myself most of all.
I tried to tell folks, but no one wanted to hear it. I learned that the only acceptable response to "How are you?" is "fine". If I told my truth I was "complaining" and after all, "You're alive, right?" Which was funny, since alive hurts a hell of a lot and didn't always seem to be worth the price I was paying.
Just before one of the surgeries the nurse asked "DNR?" to which Firelord shouted "NO!" He told me "You don't get to choose, you have kids." I wasn't allowed to survive for me. I didn't survive for me. I survived for my kids. To do otherwise was too selfish to be allowed. Because I was a mother I allowed myself to suffer the torture that is cancer treatment.
Of all the things a cancer patient is supposed to be, selfish isn't one of them. Cancer patients should be warriors, bravely battling. Cancer survivors should be happy, grateful for the treatment that probably saved their lives. Cancer patients should be cheerful, remembering how many people are working to support and save them. God forbid the patient/survivor notices that the cancer hadn't yet done any harm and that the treatment did significant permanent damage. God forbid that we ever express impatience with our new limitations and continuing pain.
2013 was a really, really hard year.
2014 was a little better. By last year, 2015, I realized that this was it. This was as good as it was going to get. Three years out - I had made all the improvement I was likely to make from my cancer treatment induced injuries. It wasn't bad as it was that first year of survival. Now I've gotten used to it: wrapping my hand every night to minimize the affects of lymphodema, the constant pins and needles of neuropathy, the joint pain, dry skin, and poor memory caused by the aromitase inhibitor...
I've accepted a new normal, and it's not so bad. It's not that it's all kittens and rainbows. It's that I can see past the constant every day pains and discomfort in my body to the every day joys and trials of my life. Bit Boy will graduate high school this spring. He is planning on going to university. Lego Kid is a 9th grader, learning the ropes of high school and exploring a new kind of independence. Hot Dog is approaching adolescence, but still a boy, my last child. I get to see them every day. They still have their mom. The price I paid for that is high, but not too high.
The effects of cancer treatment are something that I will never be allowed to forget. But the experience of raising my kids, of getting to see them grow and change, that's something I will never dare forget.