Cancer Update #2: This Wild and Precious Life


The last month have included some of the darkest days of my life.  Days where the pain and the sorrow and the confusion go on, seemingly without end.  And the helplessness, the utter helplessness.  I can’t use my arms for virtually anything, and mentally…well.  The realization of how little of life is within our control – the minutiae at best – leaves me on very shaky ground.

At times I would lose sight of my “real” life.  I would forget that this shitty diagnosis, this horrible recovery, this breast cancer didn’t define me.  Although, for the last several weeks, they have certainly defined my world.  The scope of my entire existence has been narrowed down to a single day.  An hour.  My next medication.  The four walls of my room.  Putting one foot in front of the other.  Humbling doesn’t even begin to describe it.

During the darkest days, my brain divided my life into the before and the now.  Before breast cancer I was happy and now I was in misery.  And for many days, the now never seemed it would end.  It’s as if I was at the bottom of a very tall hill.  And I couldn’t see the top.

Eventually, the fog started to lift.  My pain stabilized (for the most part) and I could venture out of the house for short periods of time.  Slowly, I started to climb.  I’d apply lipstick and ride along on a coffee run and I’d feel my legs pushing against the side of the hill.  Someone would call and make me laugh – really laugh – and I could feel my fingers grip as I pulled myself up a little more.  One night I’d actually be awake enough to snuggle with Mike and even watch a movie and it was like finding a toehold and up I’d go, up the hill.

Days and then weeks went by like this – with me, clutching and clawing my way up to the top.  Not just me, but Mike too.  And my boys.  With their kisses and their hugs and their talk of bravery, we all climbed that hill together with sand between our toes and dirt getting uncomfortably under our fingernails and sometimes losing ground but we did it.  We made it to the top.

And then we realized it was a cliff.

That cancer I had?  That stage 0, non-invasive stuff?  It turns out that it was hiding something else.  An actual tumor, hidden through all of the biopsies and ultrasounds and mammograms and MRIs.  Found only in the post-op report of the mastectomy.  It’s a tiny little thing, as you might imagine, estrogen and receptor positive and HER2 negative (for those who understand these things) and my lymph nodes are clear and as far as tumors go, this is all good news.  It’s a beautiful tumor, if ever you could call a tumor beautiful.

There’s just one problem:  it’s mildly aggressive.

In the oncotype test that they perform on these types of tumors, I scored a 26, which is right in the middle.  “Mildly aggressive” doesn’t sound all that bad if I were, say, 70 years old.  But the harsh reality is that it has a 17% chance of reoccurring somewhere else in my body in the next 10 years.  And once that happens, there is no cure.  There is only maintenance and hope.

I am thirty seven.  My boys are five and two.  There is no decision to be made: I start chemotherapy in September.  The day after Raines starts kindergarten.

Chemo will cut my risk of recurrence roughly in half, and 5+ years of a drug called Tamoxifen will hopefully do the rest, lowering my risk of recurrence to somewhere in the single digits.   And yes – I will lose my hair.  Most likely by mid-September.  Oddly, this feels harsher than losing my boobs.

Speaking of boobs….my reconstruction is being moved up.  My plastic surgeon has been “filling” my tissue expanders, and since I’m pretty small (boobs included) there is, um, only so much you can “fill”.  So I go in for my implant surgery on Wednesday.  Wednesday!!  Just days away.

Life feels like one big crazy mess right now.  Weeks are flying by, days are passing slowly.  The clock is ticking, and often, I’m terrified.  We are standing at the top of a cliff.  In many ways, this cliff has always been in my life (my mom had breast cancer at 48) and I feel as though I’ve been marching to this cliff for years.  No matter what path I took in life, no matter what my choices, I would’ve eventually ended up here, on the edge of this particular cliff.

I can’t tell – and won’t be able to for many years – if 2013 was my worst year, or my luckiest one.  All I can do is walk to the edge, grip the hands of my husband and my boys, and jump.




Thank you all for your love and support.


S  (the soon-to-be-bald fashion blogger)


ps.  The title is from my very favorite Mary Oliver
poem, The Summer Day.  (Thanks, Amy.)  I find this part especially inspiring:

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?