I made it 15 years. Happy cancerversary to me.

July 28, 2023

I have no idea how I really feel today. I'm all over the place emotionally. I've been a weird moody mess for about a week or so now. I'm tired. I'm sad. My anxiety is elevated. Most of all, I'm scared. 

On July 28, 2008, at around 9:00 am I received a call at work from the pathologist who conducted my core biopsy. It was a brief call. When he told me that I did have breast cancer, I was stunned. I don't remember much of the conversation after those words but I know there weren't too many. I hung up the phone and ran to the bathroom and cried. I tried to pull it together but I just couldn't stop crying. My manager told me to go home for the rest of the day. 

Everything was different after that moment. 

Okay... fast forward 15 years and now I'm here. The moment that I heard I had breast cancer, I did not believe that I would live to see this day. I have been really fortunate. I've lost many friends over the years and sadly I know that I will continue to lose more. To be fair, I also have several friends who were diagnosed after me and who are still going strong in their remission. 

I stopped writing on this blog years ago. I didn't intend to stop. I just needed a break. But whenever I tried to come back to it, I couldn't come up with anything else to say. My journey - for the most part - was over. And while I will always have a heart for cancer patients and survivors, I was struggling to keep depression from overtaking me as long as I was immersed in this world. I had to find a way to get back to Nicole without breast cancer being the center of my world. So I took a break. And after a while, I just couldn't come back. 

At the time I felt guilty for feeling this way. When I was diagnosed I did not understand how some women seemed to move on so quickly after their treatment. I felt abandoned by the OGs who went back to their lives. I needed to see survivors who had made it 5, 10, 20, 30 years post-diagnosis. I needed to know that life went on and returned to normal after all of this. So I felt as a survivor I had an obligation to remain connected and active in this community. The challenge was that it kept triggering survivor's guilt for me. I was upset every time someone I knew was diagnosed. I was upset every time someone I knew passed away. Which means that I was constantly upset and sad and crying. I learned to cry quietly and alone but I cried often. I tried not to burden other folks with my outbursts. 

So what's been happening since I last shared my story? 

A lot actually. 

I think my last post was in 2018. I got married in 2019. We all went through the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and partially in 2022 I guess. We were still masked up in 2022 for sure. In 2022 I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. That was a horrible experience. Very close to death and with no understanding of what was happening to me. The CHF is directly related to my breast cancer treatment. Something else that I wasn't quite prepared for because of this disease. My husband saved my life. Twice. He has a hardheaded wife. (she's still a lovely person though) 

The first time was when he forced me to go to the ER to get checked for a horrible cough I'd had for weeks. That's when we learned that my heart was failing. That was a week-long adventure in the hospital. 

The second time was a few months after that diagnosis when I collapsed in our bedroom. Luckily for me, he was working from home that day and heard me fall. Despite my objections, he called the paramedics and I was back in the hospital for another week, too close to the edge for my nerves. They figured out what was happening, adjusted my meds, scared me with talk about what my future could look like... and then I was home again. 

I've been hanging in there since then. To be honest, I'm still getting my footing around having a heart condition. I'm constantly worried. I'm always scared. I don't say anything. Unless it really feels weird. All of this is overwhelming and annoying and anxiety-inducing. But I'm here. 

I feel more like myself every day. But I'm definitely not the girl I used to be. I'm a new person. An entirely new woman. I remind myself regularly that I'm here, I'm loved and taken care of and these are the things that matter the most. Everything else is negotiable or forgettable. 

Despite feeling like a wounded bird most of the time, I love my life. My husband is really great and the kids are truly bright stars in my heart. In the non-perfection of my days, I smile and laugh far more than I frown and cry. I dream and hope far more than I worry and fear (though I definitely have worries and fears). And some days I even look kinda cute too. 

African-american woman sitting in oversized yellow chair surrounded by pumpkins and flowers
Nicole enjoying a moment in the sunshine after leaving the hospital. 
I feel like I'm in the "in-between" place when it comes to breast cancer and my feelings about it. It's a very complicated relationship. I'm always going to be a survivor but now I don't need to remind myself or others about that. It's something that happened. Something that shifted my trajectory. Something in my past though. I cannot forget it - it's a grief that does not go away. Any moment can become a bad recollection and a quick cry. However, it isn't encompassing all of my thoughts the way it did for many years in the beginning. There's still worry - and always will be - but it's not the only feeling there. I worry, cry and then laugh. 

I have become more introverted. I blame it on the pandemic. I focus a lot more on laughter. I'm the meme queen (in my mind at least). I stay in the kitchen a lot more than I used to. Basically, I've found a plateau of peace. 

I am sharing all of this because I know one day someone will be diagnosed with breast cancer and she will want to know what life looks like after the treatment ends. For me, life became less about breast cancer and more about enjoying the days I have now. It won't be quick and it actually may take much longer than you expected to feel okay again but you'll get there. You really will. 

-------- Nicole McLean is a survivor of Stage 3 breast cancer and the Founder of the award-winning breast cancer blog, My Fabulous Boobies. Leading with compassion, empathy, and passion, she helps other survivors and their caregivers understand and prepare themselves for the breast cancer journey and life after breast cancer. Her focus is on survivorship and reconnecting with the "you" that gets lost after diagnosis. She consults with businesses and individuals (or families) on ways to make this terrible experience a bit more manageable. She has written several books regarding specific aspects of the breast cancer experience, with several more in the pipeline. bit.ly/FabBoobiesBio  << Nicole's bio for FabulousBoobies.com bit.ly/FabBoobiesBooksbyNicole  << List of books written by Nicole for FabulousBoobies.com bit.ly/FabBoobiesShop  << The FabulousBoobies.com Gift Shop (cancer tees) This blog post may contain affiliate links for items to purchase. Using these links will result in a commission for the blog. Using these links will not increase any price you pay. I'll be grateful if you click the links though... the money earned helps to keep this blog up and running. Thanks!

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