Today is the fourth birthday I’ve had since being diagnosed with cancer. So far, I’m still dancing with NED (which means my cancer tests since treatment still keep saying “No Evidence of Disease”). Around my first birthday after cancer, I went out and got a tattoo. On my leg. Not pink. Not a ribbon. Yeah, it’s the one on my leg in the blog logo pic. It wasn’t my first tattoo. It followed these little black dot tattoos that I got — involuntarily — when I had radiation. I went for my leg tattoo with another breast cancer sistah. The tattoo artist turned out to have lost his sister to breast cancer a few years before. Instant support group. Stuff like that happens in Cancer Land.
If I had any advantage going into Cancer Land, it was perhaps that I’d already been through menopause, so I wasn’t suddenly thrust into it by cancer treatment for my hormone-positive cancer. So, I had already ‘adjusted’ to hot flashes and night sweats and having a thermostat that was permanently stuck on high. I shelved all my turtlenecks and saved a lot on heating oil. Didn’t mean I had no hormones left, however. I came to value my remaining meager supply when I was put on tamoxifen, which proceeded to annihilate what remained of them. After a year of suffering through headaches, joint pain, hair like straw, brain fog and endless fatigue, I decided that I wanted to hang onto my remaining dribble of hormones. The 7.5% decrease in my recurrence risk that was supposed to be conferred on me by tamoxifen just wasn’t worth the suffering in the meantime. When you’re over 50, you’ve already bumped into a few challenges to your quality of life, even without cancer. So you get pretty snarky about hanging onto what you’ve got left.
Age and language and stereotypes are funny things. Dr. Susan Love once publicly referred to certain kinds of breast cancer as ‘granny cancer.’ I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that. Since the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommended that routine mammography for breast cancer screening should start at age 50, there may be too many folks who think of breast cancer as ‘granny cancer.’ Tell that to my friend Rachel’s husband, who just lost his wife at age 41 to metastatic breast cancer. Personally, I don’t like anyone referring to any kind of cancer with glib, age-ist phrases. The birthdays stopped for Rachel, and they continue to stop for 40,000 American women and men every year because of breast cancer.
So, I’m just happy to have another birthday. It’s a bit sobering now to be within two years of my sixtieth birthday, but we baby boomers, especially we of the younger contingent born after 1950, seem to be benefitting from a whole rethink on age expectations. I’ve been old enough to be someone’s granny for over a decade. Or two. But I and my life bear little resemblance to my own grandmother’s life. Thanks to increased longevity, better nutrition, more exercise, sunscreen, and really good hair coloring, we women of a certain age have a much different life than our predecessors.
So I’ve been a little (a lot) ticked off that cancer has seen fit to interrupt and rearrange my own expectations in this decade. In fact, the word ‘expectation’ has changed irrevocably for me in the past few years. I expected to slow down a bit as I got older. I didn’t expect to get my sorry butt handed to me on a platter by post-treatment fatigue. I expected to plan how many more years I had to work until I could afford to retire. I didn’t expect to become leary of making plans at all. Heck, I expected to be symmetrical, more or less. Now I’m not. Whatever. Old news. I’m getting over it. One day at a time.
I do expect to be here today and tomorrow. I could be wrong about tomorrow. You never know. I do expect that I will continue to love dark chocolate, and daffodils, and temperate weather, and my friends, and laughter, and cats and dogs, and writing, and making pictures. I’m not sure I ever expected my snarkitude quotient to multiply as much as it has in the past three-and-a-half years. But since it has, I expect it to continue. And I’m planning to enjoy all of this and more today. And every other day I keep dancing with NED.
So, how’s the whole birthday thing for you now?