This has been a special year for me. I use the word “special” to describe the experience because although it has been the most challenging, all-consuming, emotionally and physically draining battle I have ever faced in my life, there were times during this fight where I have experienced such raw and unexpected moments, and I have honestly been exposed to such beautiful and remarkable things. There have been times during this incredible journey where I have learned so much about myself. Being slapped in the face with your own mortality can provide that opportunity for a person. I have learned, the hard way, that I am one heck of a fighter. That is not even me bragging. At this point, that is just pure, indisputable fact. I have learned that cancer scares me to death, but not enough to keep me away. Not enough to slow me down. Not enough to fear it. I have been surrounded, more than I ever thought was even possible, by the comforting love, support, and kindness of others, and I have seen what life is truly about. Complete strangers have come up to me and told me how much they appreciate my words. I have received emails from people around the world in support, and this would have been simply unimaginable six months ago. I have also learned so much from an educational standpoint about breast cancer and the challenges we as a community are faced with for the hundreds of thousands of women who will be diagnosed this year alone. Because of this, my first goal post-chemotherapy is to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Columbus, Ohio this upcoming May with the goal of raising $5,000 that will be donated exclusively to breast cancer research efforts, screenings, and education. Family and friends are coming in to town to walk with me and it is a sort of symbolic “Bon Voyage” to cancer. Although this organization may have run into some issues earlier in the year that, I will admit, gave me my own concerns and reservations, I believe it would be unfortunate to ignore what this organization has done for millions of women in this country, many of whom I now call my friends.
During this journey, I have realized how many of the resources for those fighting breast cancer are geared towards women forty-years-old and above, and understandably so, because that is the group that is hit the hardest. Only approximately 4% of all breast cancer patients are below the age of forty. But, I strongly believe, after facing this disease head-on, that this does not mean women below forty can be overlooked. I have learned that it is also, at times, much more difficult to diagnose younger women with breast cancer because of the difference in breast tissue between younger women and older women. I know, for me, a mammogram was not the first test I took after finding a lump in my breast that ended up being a four-centimeter malignant tumor. Rather, my doctor determined an initial ultrasound would be more effective. This leads me to my second goal, which is to help younger women with breast cancer have a voice and have an accepting place to go and use that voice. Perhaps it may be in the form of advocacy work for more screenings or different types of screenings that are better designed for early detection in younger women. Perhaps it will be the organization of a support group in my hometown designed to help younger women work through the unique emotional challenges that having breast cancer at a young age causes. But I do not plan to stop there. I want to help the movement to end breast cancer all together and I don’t believe, after going through what I have gone through, that I will or can allow myself to stop at anything less.
Today is a monumental day for me. Today, I will walk down the hall to the chemo room for my last chemotherapy round. There were moments where I honestly did not think I was going to make it. I remember back to my first round, when the nausea was so bad and the vomiting was so intense that I could not leave the bathroom. I could barely move at all. So, I curled up on the bathroom floor with a pillow and a blanket and just waited for the next wave of vomiting to commence. I remember lifting my head up and seeing my sister there on the floor with me, with her blanket and pillow, not wanting to leave my side. I remember a time after round six when I was at my absolute breaking point and I looked up and screamed aloud like a madwoman, “I GET IT GOD!!!!!!!” I remember my mom scouring the Internet every time I developed a new side effect to see what she could do. Just trying to make it more manageable for me. Doing everything she could to just get me through it.
But today is different. Today, I will walk in that chemo room and I will not walk in with fear, but I will walk in with hope. That hope is the hope that this is my last time in a chemo room where I am the patient. That hope is the hope that after a few weeks I will look in the mirror and I will see a few sprouts of hair coming in on the top of my otherwise bald head. That hope is the hope that I will get through the next stage of my treatment, thirty-five rounds of radiation, with some level of peace. That hope is the hope that I will slowly get my strength back. That hope is the hope that I will soon be able to run, not walk as I do now, my old running route. That hope is the hope that my nose hairs will grow back. That hope is the hope for no nausea, no bone pain, no numbness of my hands and feet, no acid reflux, no hot flashes, no brittle nails, no debilitating fatigue that I cannot escape. That hope is the hope that I will wake up one morning and the first thing on my mind will not be, “I hope I can just feel ok today.” That hope is the hope that with the coming of the spring I can have my own rebirth of sorts and grow out of and beyond this chemotherapy-laden winter and really bloom. That hope is the hope that one day when my favorite person in the world, my dear, sweet, nephew, Max, asks (as he does faithfully every single time he sees me), “Are you feeling better today, Aunt Abby??” I can respond, “Yes, Max. I am all better now.” That hope is the hope that I can regain my old strength and energy that used to come to me so naturally and seem so limitless, so I can begin to help others.
Generally I fear chemo days. I know what is coming. The waiting is torture and I honestly lose my mind for a bit the night before. I am sitting here, a day before my final chemo treatment, and I can’t wait to get in there. I can’t wait to suit up and get in the ring one more time. I wish I could go in right now because I know that I am so incredibly close to freedom. Yes, it will knock me down for a few days and there will be at least one morning when I look at my mom who will be dutifully standing next to my bed, having fetched some pill I need, and my eyes will well with tears and I will say to her, “Mom, I am so over this.” In the chemo room I will look around and see syringes with red liquid in them, just waiting to be pumped into patients, and I will know that is the Red Devil that some woman is about to have to endure. She will go home and have a few hours of peace and then hell will take over for a few days. Her body will seem to turn against her and she will just pray for it to pass. When I see the faces of those women that have to go through this, I know what I am walking for this May. I know why I am filled with hope. I am walking so one less person has to go through this. I am walking so one more person is able to catch the cancer early and get off easier than I did. I am walking so children don’t lose their mothers prematurely to this disease. I am walking for the hope I have right now that those women that have to return to the chemo room for more treatments will be in this walk with me next year, that they will be in this life with me next year, cancer-free, smiling, and strong. And for all of you readers, friends, and family that have helped me get through chemo I want to say thank you. You have all given me hope.
Please donate to my walk and join me in the fight against breast cancer by clicking on the link below: