I am still hiking on. I am not bitter, but I am better.
Each year, I do what I am supposed to do: I get my pap test, my cholesterol, my ears and eyes checked, and my mammogram. Every year I never worry. I was called back for a second mammogram, but because my breasts are so dense, the radiologist had a hard time reading it and did an ultrasound immediately afterwards. She then recommended a breast biopsy. Still, I wasn’t worried.
Thursday, October 4th, 9 pm, I got the call. I had invasive ductal breast cancer. I was devastated and angry. I felt betrayed. I had never experienced anxiety be
fore. It was a wild ride of emotions.
In 13 ½ months from biopsy to final treatment, I had 50 doctor appointments and 125 medical procedures. I opted for a lumpectomy. The pathology report discovered a second, noninvasive DCIS tumor and abnormal cells in the lobes called LCIS. The tumors were triple positive, ER, PR and HER2+. I had six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks. Herceptin infusions continued for a year. After chemo came 37 radiation treatments. Aft
er that, I started on Tamoxifen. My last cancer treatment was on November 7, 2013. That date, to me, was when I became a survivor.
Throughout cancer, a tremendous amount of support came from friends and family. I truly had no idea just how much people cared. I also joined a support group. Nothing beats advice from people who have walked your path before you and can validate your feelings as normal. The most loving support came from my husband. He tells me all the time that I am beautiful.
When I heard I had cancer, I thought my plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”), a 2650-mile trail extending from Mexico to Canada, were over. Soon however, it became my resolve, my focus, to hike as much as I could. Before cancer, we hiked 122 miles. During cancer, we hiked an additional 244 miles. I refused to let this stupid disease defeat me. Those miles were hiked while dealing with baldness, anxiety, thrombophlebitis, anemia, low immunity, neutropenia, rock bottom B12 levels, cellulitis, shingles, and other stuff that would be TMI. Oh, and I had chemo brain. Because of the radiation, my trail name then became “Glow in the Dark.” I was just happy it wasn’t “That Bald Girl.” I was happy on the trail. It became healing for me. The trail let me live my life, not cancer. It was an escape and a chance to refocus on what is important. The PCT gave me strength.
After my last cancer treatment, in my quest to be back to my old self, I was going to throw away everything in my house that said cancer. I wasn’t going to go to group anymore or wear the banner. As I was getting ready to toss my hats and scarves, I looked at them and thought, “These are actually really pretty.” I had an epiphany. I can’t erase what I’ve been through. It’s part of who I am now. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. I now embrace it. I am wearing scarves and the banner. I’m so happy just to have hair and curls! I still go to support group. I am still hiking on. I am not bitter, but I am better.