Two Years Cancer Free

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This weekend is another milestone in my breast cancer journey. I’ll be cancer free for two years. Queue the celebration music and gifs.

These milestones always give me a reason to pause and reflect.
I’d like to share some of my reflections with someone who can relate. I don’t personally have someone like that in my life, which I know is a good thing even though it’s difficult.

Two years ago I still had my own breasts.
Two years ago I still had my ovaries.
Two years ago I was bald, and the last time I had hair it was long and straight.
Two years ago I finished chemo, and waited for my double mastectomy.

I hated that I had to decide who would go into the hospital with me. Would it be my boyfriend who has been with me every single day of chemo? Would it be my mom who traveled over six hundred miles to be with me?

I hated that I got Covid for the first time delaying surgery. I hated that I had more time to torture myself over that decision of who to take with me.

I hated that I had to call my parents twice to let them know that my surgery date changed less than a week before the originally scheduled date (my surgeon also had Covid). I knew it was unlikely that they’d be able to get out of their Airbnb reservations with such short notice.

It wasn’t all bad though.
I loved that I had more time with my parents.
I loved that I had a boyfriend that stayed by my side.
I loved that I was able to unwind a little longer between chemo and surgery.
I was happy, grateful, and supported.
I was also tired, scared, and nervous.

Would my boyfriend look at me differently afterwards?
Would I look at myself differently?
How would my body handle this surgery after I just put it through chemo?
How am I supposed to put it through radiation therapy after that?

Hasn’t it already been through enough?

After surgery I still felt tired, scared, and nervous. I also felt fragile. I was so grateful that everything went well, but I couldn’t sleep and I hated being in the hospital alone that night. Recovering from surgery was rough. I had to try to proactively practice sleeping on my back, but was wildly unsuccessful. It was not any easier after surgery. I tried to be proactive with strength training, too. I loved exercise, and I knew I’d be out of it as I recovered from surgery, so I pushed myself before surgery.

Two years later I still struggle with getting back into workouts. They’re painful now no matter how easy I take it. It’s incredibly frustrating. I got the call that I had cancer, but I never got the call that I no longer had cancer. I went to my post op appointments. I went to chemo despite having already rung that bell. Finally, I asked about it. Am I considered cancer free? When considering my five year mark, which date am I looking at?

Two years later it still feels strange that there were never any tests declaring me cancer free.
Two years later I still don’t recognize myself.
My body feels foreign to me. I’m still trying to get to know myself again. To accept this new normal.

Nobody told me that I wouldn’t bounce back quickly. That I would stay in menopause in my 30s. Was I supposed to have known this all along? What did I miss? Adjusting to life after cancer is hard. In some ways harder than active treatment. I expected that to be difficult, but this? This took me by surprise.

I’m not sure if I’ll feel the way I felt before cancer. I don’t think I will. I don’t see how that could be possible. Cancer changes you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cancer has taught me many valuable lessons. I found out that I’m capable of a lot, and my excuses were just that. You make time for what is important to you. Make sure that you are something important during and beyond cancer.

By: Molly Gaynor