Life had been pretty good up my 31st birthday. I was married for two years and enjoyed my job and my work colleagues. The only exception was that I was experiencing a few minor health problems that were more a nuisance than anxiety-inducing in the previous few months. When I first found my breast lump on a self-exam I was exasperated that another thing had to be checked out. I fretted that my doctor was going to think of me as an hypochondriac with all my little complaints. Even on the day for excision of the breast lump, I had been looking forward to a holiday the following week, not realising that my life was about to change enormously. Triple negative breast cancer wasn't even known in 1999. All I knew was that I was ER-negative, that I needed chemotherapy as well as surgery and radiation.
Time moved on, and all my friends’ lives were progressing as normal: having children, changing jobs, getting promotions, and yet time seemed to stand still for me. I was afraid to plan long-term, as I didn't know whether I had a future or not. My memories of that period in my life are that of anxiety underpinning and colouring everything I said and did. I was at a very low ebb at this stage and my family weren't sure how we could overcome this, as all of us were flailing around trying to make sense of this terrible period in our lives. My sister bought me a few books when first diagnosed, some inspirational, some factual, on how people managed to live with their cancer.
On reading one particular book I immediately liked the concept of it, as it enabled me to empower myself and regain some element of control at a frightening time in my life. The essence of the book was about how our beliefs and attitudes can affect and influence how we cope with, manage and recover from illness. It is out of print now so obviously didn't resonate with so many others, but for me it was my anchor and the beginning of how I managed and controlled how I felt about my disease. There was a chapter that prompted me to write my own five year and twenty year plan!….Imagine! The premise of this, according to the author, is that if you set goals in a life plan your mind will unconsciously work towards achieving them.
As my life was in a bit of a hiatus, I decided to plan towards when I regained good health. I gave myself five years to recover before considering starting a family. Instead of waiting to be well again, each step I took was a step closer to achieving my goals. As part of my recovery, hubby and I planned our garden. As we planted blackcurrant bushes, apple trees, pear trees and plum trees I visualised our future children weaving in and out, shrieking with pleasure as they outran each other. I went back to college and obtained a degree and I gained a promotion in work. Luckily for us we were blessed with two children but it took eight years rather than five before it happened. That is another story for another day!
Reflecting on the past number of years, I reckon I achieved most of my goals in my Life Plan, the important ones anyway, albeit sometimes in a roundabout way and the path was a bit thorny at times. What I have learned over the years is not to fear the future as we have absolutely no control over it.
When I was diagnosed with a local recurrence in 2013, I figured that this must be the beginning of the end as I was lucky to get nearly fourteen years remission. This time around, I was told my tumour was triple negative breast cancer. The internet was at my fingertips, and I was horrified and terrified on reading the statistics. I could not think past a month at a time, and holidays and family events were all abstract events. Again my mind went into a tailspin as I tried to deal with my worst fear. I then realised I probably had triple negative breast cancer before but didn't realise how aggressive it was back in 1999 and I survived. What is not to say that this can happen again?
I reached for my book again and practiced all the interventions it recommended, such as yoga and positive affirmations. I visualised being present at my children’s weddings, watching their grown up faces taking that final step towards their adult lives moving away from me. Slowly, painfully I found my way again. It has taken me longer this time to recover from the treatment but now I will be soon at the five year mark again! My energy levels have improved, I am at home with my children, watching them grow up and being part of their lives. I still need to care for my health and take measures such as a healthy diet and regular exercise to ensure it is in optimum condition to try and reduce my risk of another recurrence. I have recently started a mindfulness course so continue to nurture my mental health. I do not think too much into the future, as it is fruitless. I do not fear a recurrence anymore as it has already happened and I managed to live for longer than I had could possibly have hoped for in 1999. Of course, I am always wanting to live for just that little bit longer! I am approaching my 50th birthday this year and for me it is a huge milestone.
So thinking of the future? I don't really anymore. If cancer does return at any stage I am hoping that research will have found a targeted therapy for triple negative breast cancers. I feel we are on the cusp of amazing things about to happen for all people with cancer and how it is treated. For now, I have opened myself to all possibilities and am letting life happen…. One of my goals was to start blogging once I felt well again and hopefully bring hope to some of my fellow triple negative breast cancer survivors, hence the title of my website (mytriplenegativelife.com) and that in spite of all the negative stories one can have a long, meaningful life and find joy again.
This story is courtesy of Catherine at mytriplenegativelife. Thanks for sharing with us!