Five years ago today I found the lump in my left breast. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about it and what to call today. Is it an anniversary? A cancerversary? A 5 year celebration of survivorship?
I’m very literal, words mean a lot to me, and it’s important to me that I use the exact right word for every instance. So these words have never quite worked for me, because they have connotations of celebration and joy, which are emotions that I don’t connect with the day 5 years ago when I was first aware of the lump in my left breast.
And then recently someone I respect said I was in remission, and it sat right with me.
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health defines remission as:
A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.
Hooray for remission.
For me, it puts context around the controversy over breast cancer survival data and how these survival rates are defined within a five year post-diagnosis window, not accounting for women who have a recurrence after that window. The 5 year survival data is so confusing and very controversial and it makes my head ache and just fills me with ambiguity. At times, I have actually feared my 5 year date, since I was sure it meant I would have a recurrence right before, or immediately after the day.
But remission I can deal with, remission I can own.
So. I celebrate today. Because, holy smokes, it’s 5 full years after I found out that I had breast cancer, and I am strong and active and full of energy and full of life and full of joy and full of hope for the future and…..just full.
I have my strength back, I feel just as strong and vibrant as I did on the day before this day, 5 years ago, when I didn’t know that the lump in my left breast even existed.
In those 5 years, I’ve witnessed landmarks that many people are never able to achieve. I’ve seen my oldest child graduate from high school and head into college; next year my youngest will do the same. I’m grateful that I’m able to be here for these moments and will only shout out my joy at the universe for giving me these years as I grab on for a lot more to come.
That’s my stake in the ground. I own this. I will not give in to the notion of recurrence, I will own my remission. And I declare into the universe that I will continue to own it for another 30, 40, hell, 50 years to come.