It’s three years today since my first ever routine mammogram with Breastscreen found four triple negative tumours in my left breast.
Three years is an important milestone for anyone that’s had triple negative breast cancer. Just about the first thing you learn about this type of cancer is that it’s rare, aggressive and more likely to kill you inside the first three years.
The good news is that once you make it to three years that risk drops. Make it to five and your risk is back to being the same as the general population. So triple negative is the worst breast cancer to have, but the best one to beat.
I’ve let friends know. I’ve put a post on Facebook reminding them that if my diagnosis three years ago prompted to get a mammogram then they’re now overdue for the next one. It might save their life. It saved mine.
Other than that it’s just a quiet, rainy day at home with my husband, listening to Idea of North CDs, watching the cats fight for warmth of the fire and eating homemade sourdough. We had a great night out last night with friends but it wasn’t about my three year ‘mammoversary’.
I’m very happy to still be alive. I’m deeply grateful to have made it to three years. But there won’t be a party.
It’s been a long journey. (Yes, I know there are those that hate referring to it as a journey but there you go.) I’ve navigated the rough bits by focusing on the present, being mindful and being grateful. I’ve had wonderful support from so many people, including some that I didn’t know until I started up this mountain. They’ve kept me going.
It’s been one foot in front of the other for so long. Some stretches have been easier going and some have been one step forward and two steps back. I just kept going.
I’ve lost friends along the way. Some were taken by death and some left of their own accord. I still kept going.
Like all great quests this one has changed me. I don’t look the same; no breasts and this amazing head of silver hair. Thinner. But the real changes are on the inside. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to taking my health or my life for granted. I think I was happier not being quite so intimate with my own mortality, but I think my life is now richer and deeper for that knowledge.
All sorts of things that I used to get wound up about just don’t bother me anymore. I take great joy in the smallest things. I have no need of overseas adventures or marvellous distractions. I am fortunate to have a partner that loves me, a daughter heading off into the world to make her own mark, a few close friends that love me the way I am, a home, a bed, a garden.
The journey has cost me. It seems my hands will not recover from the peripheral neuropathy (although they are better than they were). I still get strange gaps in my memory (but perhaps this is just age and nothing to do with chemotherapy). I will never complain about growing old. It sure beats the alternative.
The hardest challenge is to trust my recovery. I know that at three years my risk is reduced. I also know that there’s still a risk, and that there will always be the possibility that cancer is what ultimately kills me. Have I won the war or simply the battle? How to know?
I hear from friends that thought they’d beaten it only to have it come back many years later. There are no guarantees. So there’s no party tonight. Maybe I’ll feel differently on the 10th of July. That’s the official date of my original diagnosis. I guess it’s not really three years until then.
I think I’ll curl up on the lounge with Graham and watch a funny movie. It might be one of the children’s movies that got me through some of the roughest patches.
Mostly I have this feeling that I’ve been so focused on getting up the mountain, of putting one step in front of the other, that I’m finding the peak a bit disconcerting. There’s nothing here but vertigo, and a two year journey down the other side.
It’s also an opportunity to thank everyone that’s helped me, including all of you, the people that take the time to read my blog posts and the people that make the effort to leave comments. All of you have helped to motivate me to keep writing when I thought I’d give it up. One of the most gratifying things has been to know that sharing my journey has helped you with yours.
Surviving triple negative breast cancer is possible. I think doing it with gratitude and joy is possible. My heart felt thanks to all of you for encouraging me to stick to my values and keep moving forward.
Life goes on.
Until it doesn’t.
Every day is precious to me now and I don’t take anything for granted.