"Hold on to sixteen as long as you can, changes come around real soon make us women and men"
-John Cougar Mellencamp, "Jack and Diane"
Ahhhh, the wisdom of rock and roll. A lyric can capture a moment in time like a snapshot, and every time you hear it, you are immediately transported back to that time in an instant. The song “Jack and Diane” always reminds me of a simpler time. When I hear it now I can still see the teenage girl I was back in the summer of 1982; heavy metal on my teeth and Maybelline’s Nautical Blue eyeliner ringing my dark eyes. I spent my days at the community pool hanging out with my friends as we wondered what life had in store for us. Would I become a famous fashion designer? Did the cute boy in my health class like me as much as I liked him? Would I ever meet any of the members of Duran Duran? As my chlorine and sun soaked days ended my friends and I spent most nights glued to this brand new cable channel called MTV. The carefree life of a teenager! I know I can’t go back and prepare my younger self for how much more wonderful my life would be than I even imagined, and how much more difficult it would be too. And that sometimes this life, my life, will be both wonderful and difficult at the same time. The yin and the yang. The good with the bad. It’s all about balance.
A quick recap…The weekly journal I began keeping after my first breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, evolved into a book called “Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald? How A Fashionista Fought Breast Cancer With Style.” My book release coincided with my five-year cancerversary. A freshly inked tattoo on my wrist representing my ‘wings of freedom’ from cancer was beautiful and my doctors began using the other ‘C’ word…cured. I was on top of the world, so excited to find out that by writing down my experience as a young woman with breast cancer I was helping other young women cope with their own diagnosis. That was the good…
…and here comes the bad. Six months later a routine MRI showed a malignant growth in the same breast. To hear you have cancer once is devastating. To hear you have it again is nearly incomprehensible….so now, here I am, finishing up another tour of duty in Chemoland, long after I thought I had won the war.
What makes my situation so unique is that my original cancer did not recur as many people that see my obviously hairless head assume. And I think that is what most survivors worry about. A recurrence. What I was diagnosed with was a different type of breast cancer entirely, an anomaly that can happen 20% of the time.
My team of doctors, luckily for me, are fanatical about follow-ups. Since completing my initial treatment of dose dense chemo, radiation and Herceptin, I have been checked every six months so that if (ugh-when) the unthinkable happened it was caught before it grew and spread into my lymph nodes and became a more complicated situation. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. I cannot stress this enough. It’s your life. Take control. Align yourself with your doctors and work together as a team. If you get to a point where you do not think your doctor has your best interest at heart-or they seem dismissive of your concerns, CHANGE. The major surgeries are out of the way, the hard core chemo is done-and this time around I did not need radiation. I will, however, remain in adjuvant treatment through the end of 2013. My hair is beginning to grow in and my life feels a little more normal each week. I will continue to blog here on Patch about the life of a reluctant but grateful patient.
So always play the hand you are dealt-no matter how bad it is. Find a reason to smile everyday. Embrace your inner teenager, “hold on to sixteen as long as you can.” Listen to loud music. Shave your hair into a Mohawk before it all falls out.
... And by all means, live your life-because life with cancer is still a life worth living.