Thursday, October 19, 2017
This is me about four years ago, around the time of my first October post-diagnosis. When I look at this picture, I notice how small Tobin's hands are and how he still has his top baby teeth. He was seven--right between the ages Evan and Lauren are now. I also notice my hair and remember how glad I was to have it back, even if I was self-conscious about how short it was. I had only recently shed my head scarves and caps; I felt relieved and exposed.
Prior to my diagnosis, October and its "pinkness" in honor of breast cancer awareness had been a simple, positive association. But October 2013 felt complicated. My first encounter with this feeling was when I walked into Kroger to do my weekly grocery run. As I lifted two-year-old Lauren into the cart, I noticed a huge display of water bottles, all with pink labels. Behind them was an ad with a picture of a young woman, smiling with her head covered in a pink scarf. I felt a rush of tears--not the good kind--and wanted to run from the store. It felt traumatic, seeing all the pink, making me think about the disease that had turned the last seven months of my life upside down.
A few days later, I was driving into Chapel Hill for one of my last radiation appointments when I passed a pink fire truck, driven by a smiling firefighter. Tears welled up again--this time, the good kind--as I felt what I'd guess was intended by the color of the truck: a sense of solidarity with women like me, fighting the good fight.
I don't know why my reactions to these two instances of pink were so different. All I know is that there's a before and an after. Now that I'm in the "after," I'll never experience October like I did before. I feel like I can also speak on behalf on a lot of my breast cancer survivor friends: it's complicated and different for all of us. Some embrace it; some hide from it. I think I might be somewhere in between.
October happens to be the month I finished treatment. On Monday of this week, I saw my oncologist for my semi-annual checkup. She confirmed I was in good health and, most importantly, my MRI from last week was clear. Tuesday marked four years to the day of my last radiation treatment. It felt surreal to talk with my oncologist about my next appointment in April 2018, when I will be past the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis and likely switch to once-a-year checkups.
This morning, as I drove across town en route to the two-school drop-off, listening to my kids sing along with the radio, coffee in hand, and my heart pumping a little fast from the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to get everyone out the door on time, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. I am so grateful for this season in our lives. I am here, in the thick of it--sometimes a little too busy, often stressed out, and never handling it perfectly. But I'm here, watching my kids grow and change, laugh and cry, win and lose. I'm cheering them on, comforting them, and laughing with them.
In this month--this moment--that's what pink means to me. I can look at this picture and be thankful for what has changed and what hasn't. My hair is longer and my boy is (a lot) bigger, but we are still in this together. I can hug him tight and then let him go.