I am lucky. Today is the day. It is my last day of undergoing radiation for breast cancer. At least, I'm hoping it will be.
It is a great day — or is it?
Sure, I won't have to drive a half-hour to the cancer center each way for a few minutes of lying on a table, baring everything above the waist, as a machine zaps me painlessly; 33 days of this hasn't really been a big deal. But it's not over; it never will be.
I think back a few months ago, when I first heard the words from my doctor over the phone, saying that what I have is ductal carcinoma. "Carcinoma? That's long for cancer, isn't it?"
Yes, it is. And it is real, and it is here, and it has hit me. At the ripe old age of 42.
There is no history of breast cancer in my family. I exercise most days. I eat right. I don't drink too much. So what explains the big "C"? Bad luck? Bad genes? Hormone shots from fertility treatments? Does it really matter why and how?
And so it started … the biopsies, the blood work, the MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, X-rays, genetic testing, surgery, radiation. Thank God, there was no need for chemotherapy. I'm so very lucky — and I mean that. It was caught early, through a routine annual mammogram.
Probably the worst part of being diagnosed with cancer is what seems to be an interminable amount of waiting for test results. Not knowing what I was going to be dealing with and how widespread the disease might be plagued my mind: Can they get it all? Has it metastasized?
Worst-case scenarios dominated, inciting fear and sleepless nights. At times, when my two small daughters provided a welcome distraction, the reality slammed back into me like a ton of bricks.
It was only once I received promising concrete lab results and had a plan of action that I could calm down.
If there's a bright side to any of this, it's the support I received from friends and family. After surgery, friends scheduled dinners to be brought to my house for my family. There were cards, flowers, visitors, phone calls. The comfort and kind words meant more than anything. It may sound corny, but it's nice to know people care about you.
And it's also okay for people to talk about it. It's not the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If it gets people talking — resulting in women going for annual mammograms — then I'm all for it.
I can't really put this behind me. It's with me for life. And even if I wanted to, everywhere I look, especially this month, I see pink. Pink is the new green. That's a good thing, the awareness. In my world now, awareness is 12 months a year.
And early detection is key. My breast surgeon told me that I am the poster child for early detection. I caught it early. And you can bet that I will be watched more closely from here on in.
But how long will my luck last? The fear of a recurrence is pervasive. I'm finished with my treatments, but the fears don't end with it. Will my anxieties be triggered by the Tamoxifen pill I will be taking each day for the next five years? Will it be a reminder of my diagnosis and increased risk for recurrence?
I get nervous just thinking about it — a nervousness I'm sure will resurface often. After all, it's human nature to feel this human.
Beth Forman Rondinelli is a lawyer and stay-at-home mother of two in Downingtown. E-mail her at: [email protected]