Feeling nostalgic tonight and thinking back to October 22, 2009. I had checked in that morning to Mercy Medical Center for some routine tests, including a routine mammogram and before the day was over, I had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, met with my primary care physician and was scheduled for a surgical consult. It was a Thursday…a day that completely changed life as I knew it and shaped the rest of my life forever.
Unbelievably, it is now five years later. If you followed my two blogs over that time period – cathystunnel.blogspot.com and beyondcathystunnel.wordpress.com – you shared this journey with me. In some ways it seems so long ago…and yet, not. Through those years, and through all that I went through, in the back of my head, my focus was always on October 22, 2014. Why? I’m not totally sure, but it seems like cancer statistics always focus on a five year survival rate. That seems to be when you reach the proverbial “long term survivor” status. It’s just another milestone, but, an important one, I think…and one I have been focused on since Day One.
That is why, when the annual pink frenzy began again this October, I couldn’t help but feel some excitement…and I began counting down the days to my Five Year Cancerversary.
Today, I saw my oncologist. My labs were good. My general health is excellent. There is no sign of cancer. I MADE IT! Tomorrow, I will celebrate five years of survivorship and, for that, tonight, I am feeling very blessed. I must admit that there are times when I wonder, why me? Not why did I develop cancer but why did I survive when others have not? So far, I don’t really have an answer to that but it is something I will figure out. In the meantime, I have a short story I want to share with you.
Back on that day when I was diagnosed, I was going through a battery of tests, prescribed by my primary care physician as part of a new patient work-up. I had just transferred my care to him after a lifetime of care through another office. His name was Dr. David Lucke, a genuinely caring and diligent physician who ended up walking with me through this journey for all of these past five years, calling me in every few months just to see how things were going and to stay on top of things. His was a very comforting presence in my life, so I was saddened when he announced his retirement several months ago.
Following my surgery, back in November, 2009, I was referred to an oncologist, Dr. Sudarshan Doddabele. I was so frightened going into that appointment. But, he, too turned out to be an amazing physician…calm, reassuring, assiduous and just downright nice. Over the past five years I am positive that I had more appointments with him than I have had with all other doctors combined in my lifetime. And, his was a very comforting presence in my life as well. Sadly, he left Sioux City a couple of months ago for another opportunity in Tennessee.
As much as I hated to see both of these men retire and / or leave the area, it now occurs to me that this is an obvious indication of the closure of this chapter in my life.
In our bedroom, there are two boxes that have been sitting on the floor for five years. One, I call the cancer box. It contains the paper trail from my entire cancer journey…from diagnosis to treatment procedures to all of my lab results, etc. The other contains all of the hats and scarves I used to cover my bald head during my many months of chemotherapy. As this chapter closes, I think it is probably time to remove those boxes from our bedroom and from our lives as well. It is time to truly move on.
And, I also think it is time to do some soul searching on where the next chapter of my life is leading me. I am at this crossroads for a reason. I am so happy to have reached this point and I intend to make the most of it. Every day is a gift. It’s up to us to use those days wisely. I hope that I will.
And now, one more thing. As I said, my cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected. I had no idea going into that mammogram that there might be a problem. My doctor had no idea either. My cancer was found on a routine mammogram. This is breast cancer awareness month. If you, or someone you care about, is due for a mammogram, please don’t delay. Do that for me. It could save your life. Take it from one who knows.