Resiliency Is The Key To Life

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at a relatively young age. I had just turned 35 years old. I went to the gym every day and was seemingly healthy and fit, and now I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. What was I going to do? I never considered myself a vain person until faced with decisions that would mean losing my hair and my breasts, almost seemingly immediately. It's scary in a way that's indescribable until you've sat in a doctor's office and heard the words:

“You have cancer.”

Everything around you goes silent. All the words after that sound like they're coming from the “Peanuts” teacher. You can't hear anything other than your heartbeat pulsing in your eardrums. Information comes rapid-fire and quick decisions about treatments and many other things need to be made. It's terrifying. I thought, “Who am I if I don't have my red hair and natural breasts?” Decidedly, I'm a whole person... and I constantly need to remind myself of that even when I question it.  

I went through chemotherapy treatment and my hair grew back, albeit not the same as it was. I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, and while not like I was before, it is what it is. I don't think you feel yourself for a while. Like everything, it takes time to adjust to the new normal. I have no sensation in my breasts. My nerves have been severed and I have had to build myself back up because I've been torn down to nothing. Underneath the physical scars are emotional scars.

That's not the end of the story, though.  Having recently undergone a prophylactic (preventive) salpingo-oophorectomy due to my increased risk of ovarian cancer, I've had to adjust to yet another physical alteration to my body. This one has had a tremendous impact on how I feel, given that I was premenopausal before the surgery. I experience symptoms that go along with surgically induced menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and vaginal dryness. It's not easy.

But so what... I'm alive. And while I type this out, I'm sitting on a beach in Mexico sipping a piña colada and grateful for my life (true story). My barometer is no longer what it was – vanity. I have a newfound appreciation for the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool breeze on my skin; vanity be damned. I'm happily sipping my piña colada and thankful for the opportunities to reduce my risk of a recurrence and/or secondary cancer.

You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have. Resiliency is the key to life.

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