Ain’t Nobody More Badass Than Survivors

Guest author: Catherine Avery – and yes, that’s a photo of Catherine!

Once again, I steeled myself for the conversation that goes nowhere.

Maybe just maybe…after four and a half years of begging to stop taking Letrozole and literally take anything else, my oncologist would say the words I longed to hear: “You’re done with it.”

Imagine my shock this time when he said simply “You’re done.”

Two words and a nearly eight-year cancer journey had come to an end.
We did all the things – exam, discussion of my appointment in September, 2024.
So I’m done…but not really.
I mean I AM a cancer survivor.
But still no oncologist for over a year feels magical. 
I like him.
He’s a great doctor.
I just want to close that chapter and open the next.

As I left the building, I was sobbing and laughing all at the same time.
Concerned staff members, likely thinking I had just heard the worst, asked me if I was OK.
I just said “happy tears” as I retreated quick to my car so I could process all the BIG feelings alone.
I had no idea of the weight I had been carrying.
I had no idea of the relief I would feel to no longer be defined by cancer every six months.

I had no idea how simultaneously terrifying that would feel.

Would I be OK with no meds?
Was it safe?
Would it come back?

That fear still hasn’t left two weeks later but it’s much, much quieter.

After the post-biopsy call from the radiologist (September 11, 2016), the surgery and the chemo and the porticath installation just prior to round 2 and the radiation and the Herceptin and the porticath removal, the biggest shock I had was learning I would be three years on post-cancer meds. 
Or five. 
Or seven.
Or ten (not ten – hallelujah – but that number was lobbed out there).
The goalposts kept changing.
There’s always one more damn thing.
That’s the part no one tells you about.
And no one supports you through.

When you’re going through chemo, nearly everyone rallies to your side.
Meal trains are created and delicious food arrives magically at your door on the dot of 6:00 p.m., friends drive your child to ballet or sports, flowers and gifts and cards surround you, another friend creates and manages a prayer group on Facebook and of course the church prayer group rallies.
Everyone knows how bad chemo is.
They know what to do to be helpful.
Though I still wish someone had done the damn laundry. LOL!

You’re surrounded with more care than you ever could have dreamed of deserving.
You wonder how you’ll ever pay all of these kind people back.
And over time, you learn to receive all of that with a gracious thank you and the knowledge that you’ll never pay them back. 
And you don’t need to.
Because you’ve been paying it forward many times over.

Learning to receive was my biggest lesson on my cancer journey.

Then you head off to radiation, still so exhausted that what little hair is now sprouting still hurts.
A lot. 
Not literally for the people who haven’t experienced this.
Well, until my skull skin toughened up it did hurt.

You’re bone-crushing tired and all the support goes poof!
Now the battle is yours (and your immediate family if you’re blessed enough).

I didn’t ring the bell when I finished chemo in January, 2016.
I didn’t FEEL done.
I knew I had a long road ahead to October.

But the road AFTER.
That part knocked my socks off.
Multiple times a year at different appointments with the radiologist, oncologist, breast surgeon confronting the cancer fear again and again.
Slowly rebuilding my life.

Dealing with side effects of post-cancer meds, the ones that would help prevent cancer from coming back.
First Tamoxifen.
Two plus years into that I started having breakthrough bleeding.
We were at a slime conference (thank goodness the slime years are over) helping our then early teen daughter sell her Slime by the Sea, when I whispered to my husband with fear in my eyes, “I think I’ve got my period.”
I was afraid of getting pregnant!
That would be the least of my worries!

On Monday, I would call the gynecologist to nonchalantly ask about birth control and be told I needed to come in for an ultrasound immediately.
What? I’m not pregnant yet!

I remember asking if I could run home for a shower first since I was just returning from working out (yes).
Ends up I had grown a monster polyp in my uterus – the size of my uterus!
We scheduled surgery for early November and I had a nasty recovery through Thanksgiving.
Mostly because I wanted holidays to be as normal as possible since holiday season 2015 was anything but.

I was taken off Tamoxifen and put on med #2, Letrozole.
I didn’t sleep for four months.
Apparently a delightful side effect is insomnia.
At my next appointment, I mentioned my crushing lack of sleep and my oncologist gave me Trazodone.
I hate taking a pill to counteract the effects of another, but I was really tired and would do anything to get some zzzzzzs.

I’m still on Trazodone and love it.
It’s a low dose SSRI which helps take the edge off my anxiety.
Or maybe it’s the good night’s sleep that does.
Either way, it’s a win in my book.

About a year in, the joint pain started (side effect #2).
At first it wasn’t that bad.
Exercise helped a lot.
I love to walk so this was easy.
But over time, I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. with hip pain that could wake the dead.
And thus, began falling on the regular, including down the stairs twice.
My hips would just give out.
I could never be sure if they would hold me erect on the earth.
Homo pronus or fallus (either works) was my new way of being.
Thus, my broken record of begging to stop Letrozole.
This past winter, I fell three separate times which put the kibosh on my ski season as fast as it began.

Monthly falls were not in my plan. What’s next? Weekly?
My reply is no.
I had to look up first what a Magic 8 ball is called and then the phrase to come up with that moment of wit.
“Can I still blame chemo brain nearly 8 years later?”
Doesn’t matter because I know I will!

Speaking of chemo brain, that sh*t’s really real.
Chemo messes with your head. 
And I’ve already got ADHD so I didn’t need any help with that!
Ironically, I forgot about this part of the story so let’s roll back to spring 2016 during radiation.

The immediate aftermath of chemo meant taking brain training classes because I swear, I couldn’t remember my own name.
In chemo brain training, I bawled when a lady told her story of losing a pork chop.
I was losing my mind.
Not really but I did have a doozy of chemical depression.
God bless the hospital staff who had me into the oncological psychiatrist within 24 hours.
I got wonderful help, including antidepressants, for a couple of years.

And now that I’ve filled that early gap, we’re back to today.
I’m still recovering from a broken finger sustained during fall #3.
By the way, a finger doesn’t hold your full body weight. Don’t try this at home.
There’s that humor again.

My friend Amy (20 plus year survivor) and I laugh about the jokes only survivors get to make.
We’re part of a sisterhood that we wouldn’t choose but we love fiercely.
Because we’ve walked through the fire and survived it.

I’ve got a schedule that will ensure the girls are being checked three times a year – breast surgeon in winter, gynecologist in spring, oncologist in fall.
I get a summer vacation apparently!
But all of it feels so much lighter.
At long last.

Last but not least, if someone you love has or has had cancer and complains about an achy knee or dizziness or hot flashes to beat the band (so real y’all) or some other side effect, reminding them that “they’re so lucky to be alive” is not helpful!
Strike those words from your vocabulary right now.
Because they just piss us off.
You moan with a cold and whine with a broken toe.
Don’t tell me you don’t.
We’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.
Cancer survivors (really anything survivors) wake up every morning in gratitude that they’re still breathing and walking this planet.
We say a prayer before our feet hit the floor.
We already KNOW how lucky we are, thank you very much.

Ain’t nobody more badass than survivors.

We’d love to get your thoughts on this. Post them below!

Share with others.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment