Five years ago today, at about this hour, Neal and I met our girls at the end of the school day to tell them I had stage IV cancer. After those two conversations, it was off to the hospital to stabilize my two broken vertebrae, and to begin my new life as a person with metastatic breast cancer. A month or so into the diagnosis, when I finally mustered up the courage to do some independent research on my condition, I discovered that the odds were not in my favor: five years out, the Mayo website said, 80% of those who have what I have are dead.
It’s not surprising, then, that I’m a bit stunned to be here for this fifth anniversary of learning I have a cancer that kills most people it attacks pretty quickly. I’m stunned. I’m grateful. And I’m sobered by this reality.
Rather than being comforted knowing that I’m in the minority of folks who get to observe more cancerversaries than most others with the disease, I spend my time hoping and praying that the percentages will soon shift, where one day it will be 80%--or even 100%--who live longer than five years. That maybe even one day there won’t be a need to observe cancerversaries anymore, because cancer will be a thing of the past.
Over the years, many people have told me not to let statistics define me or my outlook. I think that’s good advice; I try to follow it. At the same time, my family and I have no choice but to live in very close proximity to stage IV cancer and its ongoing infringement into our lives.
And living with the cancer continues to be our goal. Last Thursday I had a pet scan to see whether the cancer was active anywhere it already resides (vertebrae, hips, pelvis) or had spread to any new places. Over Thanksgiving I did something to my back; it didn’t feel better immediately, which set us all to worrying. Before my diagnosis five years ago, I lived with back pain for months before doing anything about it. Since learning that an aggressive cancer was the source of that initial back pain, it’s challenging to know what to do when more back pain arises. But we just heard back from the oncologist that the pet scan doesn’t show any new cancer activity (Thanks be to God!), so the back pain is most likely muscular.
Last night, as she set out the things she needed for school today, Annika located her breast cancer pin and attached it to a pink shirt—her way of preparing for the observance of today's anniversary. Her nightly hug and kiss for her mother turned into a tight-gripped, minute-long hug. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered.
I can write my response more easily than I could say it last night: I’m so very glad to be here, too.
In the midst of a frigid Minnesota December, I’m so glad to be here. In the middle of the last week of the semester, I’m so glad to be here. In the week following my 47th birthday, I’m so glad to be here. In the middle of my eldest’s senior year of high school, I’m so glad to be here. In the middle of our 23rd year of marriage, I’m so glad to be here.
On the cusp of a new year, I’m so grateful to be here.
Thank you for all the ways you have contributed to my ability to still be here. Blessed Advent, Christmas, and New Year to all. Much love, Deanna