Today would have marked my five-year, cancer-free anniversary.
What that means is that five years ago today was the last time that any cancer was found in my body, not the last time I underwent treatment.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 3, 2006 following a lumpectomy to remove what the doctors suspected was breast cancer. Indeed it was, though thankfully, only a Stage 1, the size of a blueberry, completely contained, no lymph node involvement.
Chance of being cured at that moment in time? 98 to 99 percent – particularly if I underwent a double mastectomy, four rounds of “just in case” chemotherapy, and an oophorectomy. Which I did. And it worked.
At least until the defective BRCA 1 gene I carry refired in the smallest bit of leftover, healthy, microscopic breast tissue, causing the tumor that wedged itself between my left breast implant and my reconstructed, “fake” nipple. That’s what grew into the grape-sized tumor that I detected on January 9, 2011, quite by accident.
Don, Theo and I had been out back, ice-skating on the lake. We came in when our ears were burning from the cold, our skate blades dull. I flopped on our couch and pulled up a blanket to warm myself. And that’s when it happened.
I brushed my forearm over my left breast as I was pulling that blanket up and over my chest when I felt it. A weird, marble-hard sensation through the sweatshirt I was wearing. I reached down under my sweatshirt and felt it again. Then I called Don over. He felt it. “Was this there before?” I asked him.
“No,” he said.
And just like that, we were thrust into this latest diagnosis, Stage 4 breast cancer. Just like that, our world was turned upside-down. Again.
Don and I, along with all of our friends and family, had been ticking off the days, weeks, months, years to that five-year, cancer-free date that would have been today. It wasn’t to be.
But that doesn’t mean today is not cause for celebration. I may not be cancer-free, but I am still here. I am still a Survivor! And a five-year Survivor at that!
Tonight, I will celebrate with the members of my girls’ group, the Six Pack, at Famous Dave’s BBQ. If you happen to be at Famous Dave’s tonight, look for me.
You’ll know me when you see me. I streaked my blonde hair Breast Cancer Pink — actually, fuschia — this morning.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson