As February comes to a close, I can’t help but think about where I was this time last year. February is my birthday month. It’s a month when love is in the air and everyone on the planet gets engaged.
Last year, this is exactly when life started to unravel for me, beginning with my relationship. The realization that my relationship might end after five wonderful years, and big plans for the future, hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had no idea this turning point would turn into the landslide it became.
I’ve spent my last five birthdays celebrating with Duane in frigid northeastern temperatures. Before I met him, I spent most of my birthdays in Aruba.
So this year, I went back to paradise.
My best friend April introduced me to the beauty of Aruba about 10 years ago. Lately, she refers to it as “the healing waters of Lake Minnetonka,” also known as “buttajuice island.”
I fucking love April.
April and I met when she interviewed me for my first corporate job out of college. Soon after I was hired we realized we’d grown up just a town away from each other on Long Island. We put the “LOOOONG” in island, and I’m pretty sure April and I share a brain (we definitely share a language).
She also had a rough 2015. Her mother passed away suddenly over the summer and she’s since been caring for her father from afar. We both needed this vacation badly.
I stayed with a dear friend who lives in Aruba year round, rented a car, drove myself to the beach everyday and felt right at home.
We bronzed ourselves on the beach, pool hopped, drank fruity tropical drinks and local beers, treated ourselves to massages and ate fabulous dinners.
I also spent time with many other friends who either live in Aruba or who always come down at the same time of year. Aruba is a tiny island filled with kind, happy people and tourists who return year over year. It’s easy to make lifelong friends there. It’s not a bad place to know people.
It’s been five years since I’ve seen many of these friends, so we had a lot of catching up and celebrating to do. It warmed my heart to learn that so many of them have been reading this blog, following my journey and praying for me. It’s a blessing to have friends on a tropical island who care that much… not many people can say they have that.
Wearing a bathing suit again with this new body was interesting…
Before I left for vacation I tried on every single bathing suit I own. None of them looked the same as they did before my double mastectomy in August. Some that I used to love, looked terrible. Some that I used to hate, looked terrific. My new boobs are starting to settle into a better shape. They are slowly softening and feeling more natural.
I’m actually starting to like them. Imagine that…
I credit 6-7 days a week at the gym for that. And I credit myself for having the stamina to keep up that pace… I’m officially a gym rat.
And I’m totally okay with that.
While most people become obsessed with the gym because they want to lose weight, that was not my sole purpose.
The radiation I had when I was 16 for Hodgkin’s Disease basically killed my thyroid and caused precancerous polyps. So, I had my thyroid removed in 2010 and have struggled with weight gain ever since, despite medication, lots of attempts at dieting and regular workouts. Since nothing has really worked, I’d just resolved myself to thinking, weight will be an issue that is out of my control, forever. However, I knew I wanted to get blood flowing to the numb parts of my body which have been destroyed. I wanted to be able to do a push up again without collapsing, now that my chest muscles are in a different place. I want to stimulate the nerves in my chest with hopes that some feeling may come back.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it… and I have.
I also never really understood until recently that cancer feeds off of fat tissue and sugar, which seems stupid for someone who’s spent her life as a cancer survivor and who has worked in the healthcare industry for her entire career… how did I not realize these things? I’m still at risk for developing another cancer, which is why I take Tamoxifen everyday. If I can do more to prevent my invasive cancer from becoming incurable metastatic cancer, like trying my hardest to eliminate fat from my body and sugar from my diet, I’m going to.
And now, two months later, I’m noticeably stronger. I have more endurance. I’m sleeping more soundly, except for when I have a hot flash and start sweating profusely. Feeling is starting to return to areas of my chest and the sides of my torso underneath my arms. I’m more flexible. My posture is better. The shape and feel of my implants is improving. And, while the scale has not gone down, my clothes noticeably fit differently… better.
Sometimes when you set your expectations low, you surprise yourself.
Managing my risk of a cancer recurrence also means keeping up with all of my new “ologists.” And, I’ve already had my first scare… I’d forgotten what being a “new” survivor was like.
Luckily, I’ve had enough health scares in my 30+ years that I know not to completely freak out until it’s time to completely freak out.
My body is going through many changes because of the Tamoxifen I’m taking, which blocks estrogen and hence messes with a woman’s reproductive system. My menstrual cycles have changed quite a bit, which is to be expected, but is also somewhat of a cause for concern. There is a whopping 1% risk of develop uterine cancer while taking Tamoxifen (usually if you are older than 50), and during a very thorough exam with my OBGYN, she detected what appeared to be a polyp in my uterus.
… OF COURSE she found a polyp. She actually found two polyps.
To be safe, I had them biopsied. I wasn’t worried, I’ve had tons of biopsies in my life and have been fine. So, because I’m very much in the “if I handled breast cancer and a grueling double mastectomy I can handle anything because I’m superwoman” mode, I didn’t think this would be a big deal.
It was totally a bigger deal than I thought.
First off, I had to insert a pill into my lady parts the night before, which the child in me was totally annoyed with.
I woke up with some discomfort, but nothing major… I thought I’d be in and out and going about my day afterward.
This hurt like a bitch.
Seconds before my doctor performed the biopsy, she asked if I’d taken Advil before I came in… of course I hadn’t because nobody had told me I should have. She said, “Well, this is going to cramp a little…”
I’m pretty sure I now know what childbirth feels like…
I’m absolutely sure I said “fuck,” very loudly, more than once…
I’m positive I went white as a ghost, almost passed out and started hysterically crying on the table…
Note to self: if I have to have another one of those, which I’m sure I will, I’m taking a whole lot of Percocet beforehand.
Luckily, the biopsy came back benign. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.
All in all, February treated me right. Looking back, life has certainly taken a 180 for the better. My new flexible working lifestyle is saving me from the stress I used to endure and I’m grateful. I’m able to prioritize staying healthy above everything else.
Most importantly, my mind is clear to continue paying attention to the small things that you miss out on when you’re working around someone else’s priorities.
I could get used to this… Happy birthday to me… in just 365 days, things went from really bad, to seriously badass.