As Good As New

I work at an organization that helps young adults faced with a cancer diagnosis get through their journey. Because of my position, I hear about and see individuals get diagnosed with cancer every day. I hear their stories, in many ways I walk down that same road I walked down, but this time it is with them. At times that is challenging. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. The same emotions do appear. It is easy to fall back into that place of darkness and seclusion. But, at the same time, I can connect with these people in a way someone who has not faced cancer cannot and I find that to be invaluable in the work I do every day. I can tell them, “I know how you feel,” and really, really mean it. I can say, “I’ve been there,” and they are assured that I truly have. The kind of connection that makes between two people faced with similar challenges is what I believe the cancer community, in many ways, thrives on. It is what it is built upon. I don’t think it could operate any other way. This is because, at the end of the day, no one that has not gone through a doctor sitting them down and telling them that there is something inside their body that is trying to kill them, can understand, I mean truly understand what that person is going through. They haven’t received news that they have something that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year—something that takes mothers away from their children, that claims the lives of children, that does not discriminate, but rather goes after anyone it can—and because of this, they cannot truly understand what it is to fight cancer.

***

A funny thing happened the other night. I was getting ready for bed, winding down, and I realized something that stopped me in my tracks. Something had crept up on me and I was standing there, by my bed, and the most beautiful realization entered my head—I hadn’t thought about cancer in like 29 hours!! BUST OUT THE BAND PEOPLE! This is a freaking breakthrough!!!!!! This is monumental. This is acceptance-speech-worthy. I had done it. I had reached another step in the healing process.

Of course, I had thought about cancer in the abstract. In my line of work I am helping survivors every day, but I had not thought about my own cancer in like 29.25 hours.

When I first went back to work after my doctor essentially relieved me of fighting-cancer-duty, I was still a novice. I was just a young pup in cancer terms. Everything was still fresh, and as a result I worried about cancer and its aftermath every day—sometimes every minute (no exaggeration).

I have a friend at work that is a nine-year survivor and when I first started my job I found myself oddly envious of her achievement. In the cancer world—survivor years are the crème de la crème. They are so coveted you would do unspeakable things to get them. They mean you are OK in a much realer way than you feel you are. One day I was speaking with this survivor friend of mine about the fears and emotional torture survivorship can put you through and she said that eventually, there would be a day when I just didn’t think about what I had been through. I would go about my day thinking about things like the tasks I needed to get done, what I was going to have for lunch, and those cancer-crazy thoughts would not even enter my brain. I didn’t believe her. I believed, very strongly, that I would be a nut job forever.

Well, the verdict is still out on that, but I did achieve a cancer-free-mind for a day and it was simply remarkable. It took eight months since I finished treatment. But I did it. So, the next morning I woke up and thought, “OK I was able to accomplish that once. I am going to try it again.” This time it wasn’t so easy. You see, cancer has this way of playing crazy mind tricks on you. You think that if you do not give cancer enough credit it will somehow come for you. Like, if you aren’t scared out of your wits of it, it is comin’ for ya.

So, I approached the next day differently. Instead of just trying not to think about it, I actively gave myself permission to spend a day free of cancer-think. I thought, if I just took it one day at a time, if I just allowed myself a 24-hour reprieve that would be OK with the cancer gods. So I did just that! I embraced my free day and took full advantage of it. It felt great and I thought, “This is life. This is how I remember it. Just focusing on other things, not allowing fear to conquer, but rather embracing the ebb and flow of life.”

I do this every day now. I actively tell myself that I am not going to live in the past today. That today I am in the present. I am not going to live in fear, but rather I am going to give myself a break, focus on something else, just live.

***

Perhaps one of the reasons I have achieved these worry free days and feel more back to normal is because of something that happened a few weeks ago…I had my very last surgery over the holidays. It was a reconstructive surgery to essentially put the finishing touches on my breasts. (No, there is NOT a less creepy way to put it, I checked.) So, after 15 months everything is, at long last, back where it belongs from a physical standpoint. In the weeks leading up to my final surgery I did not find myself too concerned about it. I had become so used to feeling different about my body that I never really felt as though I would find complete peace with it again and I accepted that. That is a difficult thing to accept as a 29 year-old female still searching for a lot of missing variables in her life. But somehow I did.

I remember my surgeon telling me the same day he told me I had breast cancer what a mastectomy was. I honestly didn’t know. I had heard the word before, but I was completely ignorant to the whole process. I didn’t know the advances reconstructive surgery had made. I was unaware I would be made “as good as new.” But that is just what my surgeon assured me after he told me about my treatment plan—I would eventually have breasts again…nice ones! I write this part for my many survivor sisters out there that are just now receiving word that they have breast cancer. I write this to those who are just now trying to grapple with the concept of a mastectomy and what that means for their body image and their self image. I did not believe my surgeon when he told me I would be made as good as new one day. I did not believe him when he told me that one day I would look at myself in the mirror and like what I saw again when I took my shirt off.

I was very lucky to have one of the most amazing plastic surgeons in my corner. He has told me, “I am just a man. I don’t have a magic wand.” But I am convinced he does because he is extraordinarily good at what he does. He is simply the best. The day after my most recent surgery my mom and I decided to take off the bandages and see what it all looked like under there. I was convinced my body would require my mind to, once again, adjust. But, when I took off the bandages and stood there in front of the mirror, over a year after I had essentially said goodbye to my old body the night before my mastectomy, I sat there in disbelief. Not only was I tolerant with what I saw, I liked what I saw. I was completely blown away.

This blog post is not to toot my own horn about how great I look. (OK maybe it is a little.) But the main goal of this post is to tell other women facing breast cancer that are kicking off their cancer journey with a mastectomy—you will like your body again. It took me awhile and several surgeries, but I like my body, no I love it for getting me through cancer, and I love what I look like again at long last. The scars have faded and as I said in my very first blog post, all the ladies beside me in assisted living someday are going to be so jealous of my extraordinarily perky breasts.

So, for any of you reading this facing your own journey, I have been there. Right where you are. Sad about the surgery, but knowing it is necessary to save your life. And, I guess, my point is to say that it does get better. The scars heal, the implants go in, and eventually you will find yourself getting ready for bed and realize cancer didn’t even enter your mind today and you will be grateful knowing that, and stronger because of what you have been through, and you will be, at long last, as good as new. 

 

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18 thoughts on “As Good As New

  1. “As good as new”. 🙂 I like that. Congrats Abigail. I hope life continues to be as good as new in your present and future. For you and your brothers and sisters in your journey. And thanks for the updates. They’re a blessing and inspiring for everyone-those who have been there in that very intense and specific way, and those who haven’t..but know ppl who have. Anyway, I’m glad you’re still you’re beautiful self, and having fun at your job. Keep it up. -JK

  2. Abby, you are as beautiful inside as you are outside! You continue to amaze us all. Your writings are and will continue to be an inspiration to many, many ladies. HOORAY for “normal” feelings and congrats on your new beautiful body. Every day is a new miracle – enjoy your daily miracles!

  3. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this blog entry! You touched on so many things that go through my mind every single day. I just finished radiation (two weeks ago tomorrow) and I can’t wait for so many things: the day I go 24 hours without thinking about cancer, the day I’m done with surgeries, the day I can look at my body and not cringe- and the day my hair is as long as yours! It’s nice to know those days really will come. I hope my blog helps others the way yours has helped me… Cheers to many more days of not thinking about ‘c’! Xoxo

    • Congrats on finishing radiation!! Wooohoooo!!!! How do you feel!? Thanks for the sweet words about my blog. I really appreciate it. Whenever I can connect and help a fellow survivor sister, I feel as though I need to keep writing. We have to stick together 🙂 And we experience a lot of the same things and I know I forget that sometimes. It is such a powerful thing to know we have each other. And just know that your blog has helped me. Your outlook is beautiful and I admire your charisma. Take care and thank you for reading. xoxo

  4. Abby, you have grown into a very special young lady! You have been a blessing to so many and continue to give of yourself to help those in need. May God bless you in your work and in your life. We pray all good things to come your way.
    Love you! 🙂

  5. That is so totally awesome to have a “cancer-free” day!!! What a breakthrough indeed!!! I’m so proud of you and all you’ve been able to accomplish. You’ve done a fantastic job!! I’m very sad you had to go through any of this, but happy you are able to use your bubbly personality to be a living testimony to those going through similar situations as you. God is using you in a mighty way, I just know. I don’t know why bad, awful things happen to good people. I’ve been asking myself that w/ our latest debacle, but know that ultimately God is in control. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to us, but he allows his hand to be removed at times to allow these bad things to happen. He can know use both of us in a way we never could have been used before. We have a special, unique experience that we can share to help strengthen others. There is light on the other side. You can make it through. God will be right by your side. I love you bunches and so happy your last surgery was successful!!! Can’t wait to see you again and especially to show off our lil man!! Love ya!!!

  6. A cancer-free day…that is what every cancer patient and survivor longs for! Thank you, for once again daring to open yourself up to all those who are faced with a devastating diagnosis (and the friends and family who walk with them through their journey). Encouragement is so badly needed…thank you! Hugs to you and congratulations on ‘Victorious thinking’ !!!

  7. Yeah Abby!!!
    Actually, you did it soooooo fast. Congrats!! I’ve shared your blog with others and it is so appreciated, God has truly gifted you!
    The other thing we survivors search for is a longer term survivor than us. The day I found mine I was so thrilled! Yes we crave every increment of time – it is like a new mom, my baby is 23 days old – eventually, we do start to focus more on living and way less on the possibility of dying. The new mom will start speaking in months and years and so do we.
    When we truly look at the possibility of our death, knowing God is totally holding our hands and hearts, we can stop fearing death and start living our new LIFE!!!
    You bring tears to my eyes with every blog and memory, may God bless you and your amazing family, Sue (4/23/87 and still counting – in years! Thank you God! And my wonderful Mike, Jason, Ryan and Jackie!!!)

  8. So happy for yet another blessed milestone for Abby!! You are going to have so so many stars in your crown when we get to heaven! And won’t it be wonderful that no one will have to fight cancer anymore, and that our bodies will be made anew! Praying that God will bless what we share of ourselves with others encountering breast cancer!
    Love you!
    Debbie

  9. Abby,
    This is wonderful!! You really ought to put this experience in book format….I’m sure you are an inspiration to many! YAY for you, Abby! Many more wonderful days for you!

  10. Glad to hear Abby that you continue to progress, that the medical field is so advanced, and that you are who, it seems, you always were.

  11. Hello Abby, I 27 years old and I was diagnosed breast cancer last year, in July. I underwent a double mastectomy and I have finished my chemotheraphy last month. I was hoping that after theraphy everything was gonna be normal again, but it’s not. I am angry at what happened to me and I find it unfair because I am too young. Probably you can understand me…
    I read your blog and it is awesome. I was hoping to write you a private message but I couldn’t find a way. Anyway, I hope this message reaches you.
    I really admire you and I wish I had your strenght. 🙂
    keep up the good work!

    Stefania

    • Steff, thank you for reaching out!!! I am glad I can show you that you are definitely NOT alone. Please feel free to email me anytime if you need to talk, vent, or share. My email address is abbynramirez@gmail.com. I know the feelings you have can be challenging. Trust me, I have had my share of anger, denial and fear…pretty much every single emotion. But each day is a new day to change that so when I am having a bad day I just focus on making the next one a little better and focusing on the things that are going my way. Trust me, you are normal for feeling the way you feel. We have all been there MANY times. Taking it one day at a time is cliche I know but, I have found, is necessary when dealing with cancer both during treatment and after. Take care and know that I am here. Much love!! xoxo

  12. OMG!! Are you going to publish this into a book…. went through a roller coaster reading all of it. It’s brilliant…in a sense of being a serious eye opener for us who have not been a victim to cancer. You still look good Abby!! You’re doing big things in life! Well done… I hope to be an inspiration to people one day… I am looking to try the medical school route…Anesthesiologist! Here I come! 🙂

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