Five Years Clear!

I admit it. I’ve been remiss. (First, because this was written weeks ago, and I forgot to post it…) I almost let the most important recovery milestone pass without fuss – not only in “real life”, but on here, too. Considering that Killerboob’s raison d’etre, that would be a particular injustice. So let me fix that:

June 28th marked five years all clear of cancer. (Holla!)

There are varying opinions on what exactly this means, why precisely it is a big deal. There is even uncertainty as to how exactly one counts this.  My original oncologist, the amazing Doctor Professor Neven, said that the 5 year mark is when my risk factor drops back to that of someone who’s never had it, and that I was considered “clear” just after my mastectomy, since there was no cancer in my lymph nodes and they had, after all, just cut the damn stuff out. Technically it was all gone.

So. There you have it. Five years to the day, no cancer found. I had blood tests and a bone scan in May (for unexplained neck pain), so I can feel pretty good that my last clearance was thorough. And that’s saying something since I have been rather uncertain about the NHS (National Health Service) since moving to the UK last year. But that’s for another post.

The strangest thing is how I let this anniversary float by, like barely noticed driftwood. For those of you who know me well, that is not much of a surprise. I don’t like to make a fuss. Not for myself anyway. Throwing a party for anyone is incredibly angsty for me; I certainly would not dream of doing it for myself.

But I wanted to make an exception for this anniversary. It wouldn’t be celebrating “me”, after all, but the death of an awful thing. You know: Ding Dong, the witch is (by some official measures) dead!!

That deserves something really special. It didn’t have to be a party per se. It could have been anything giddiness-inducing. But what? A hot air balloon ride. An extra-splurgy vacation. Some Botox? A pedicure? Good lord, something!

Doing nothing felt like saying it wasn’t special. Or that I wasn’t grateful. Or that I don’t remember the number of friends who were not lucky enough to make it to the same landmark….

So I upset myself a little when exactly that happened. For six months I watched it coming. For six months I said I was going to do something. At least have a champagne toast, for goodness sake!

When the 28th rolled around, the whole family – including best friends and in-laws – were in Ireland, in a castle, all together and everything. That’s already special – all I had to do was claim that this event could double as an honor of the anniversary. But I’d gotten distracted in the 2 months prior, planning for that vacation. The 28th came, and the 28th went. And no one said a word.

On the 29th I remembered. And everyone said, “Oh. Huh. Five years. How about that?” And then we talked about something else.

I feel weird about this. Perhaps my sister is right, that forgetting is the best gift of all. Forgetting means I’ve healed in a lot of ways. Forgetting means we have already moved on, that we’ve not let it scar us. Forgetting says, “Take that, cancer. We don’t even care about you anymore.” But I just don’t know: is that a wise thing to say? Is that sort of like cash-baiting a mobster?

So part of me remains unsatisfied, and I struggle to put my finger on why. Perhaps I am just being superstitious. But whatever the reason, I’m not letting it go by here. So, not for the first, but hopefully for the last time, I’ll say it properly:

Ding dong the witch is dead!*

*Ahem. By some official measures 😉

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5 Comments

Filed under breast cancer

5 responses to “Five Years Clear!

  1. Elle M

    Truly a milestone to celebrate!

  2. Jess

    Cancer twin, I can’t begin to tell you how you feel or how you should feel. But its a compelling question. Ever since you mentioned the anticlimax of this anniversary on Facebook, I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about it. Because I feel like I should have a strong opinion. Why don’t I?

    Maybe its for the same reasons you mention. The gift of NOT having to remember. Maybe it’s because I don’t know when to mark the anniversary. Officially I was cancer-free as of my first clean PET in Nov 2006. But I did 2 more months of chemo after that, was hospitalized for a blood clot, did 6 horrific weeks of radiation, temporarily “failed” a CT scan, and finally got the official bon voyage in April 07. Then I left everything behind and started my life over in May 07. When exactly is cancer “over?” I have trouble finding that line and tend to I think of that year as a giant tunnel through which I came out differently than I entered.

    I have never celebrated a cancerversary but since cancer, everything in my life seems defined by a “before” and an “after.” Do you feel that way too? My cancer history is present in everything I do. And I reflect on it often. In the first few years, I measured everything I did in terms of its distance and “progress” from cancer. As if I was running from it with a long string and success would be measured by how much of it was stretched out behind me. Every milestone was measured against it, every inch past it was proof that I was more than cancer.

    I relate to the idea of not wanting to let it go too easily. And not wanting to just let the victory slip too quietly. I once read the catch phrase “don’t waste your cancer” and it’s stuck with me as a mantra. Dare I say it, I am kinda glad I got cancer. It taught me so much. It made me a happier, braver, more ambitious, more grateful, more satisfied person. It razed my life to the ground and I got to build something new and better. I have cancer to thank for that. It’s there in my every day.

    With all that philosophical stuff out of the way, maybe you and I should start our own tradition. We have so many parallel milestones. I would welcome that.

    Until then, cheers!

    • Jess, it was my sister who told me how much she treasured that you shared this letter here “in the open, where everyone could see”. She was touched by it, and learned from it and wanted me to thank you.

      Of course, I love it for all the reasons I don’t have to say. But you’re right. Let’s start our own tradition. (Does that mean I can obligate you to come to London once a year?) x

  3. Congrats!! I read your blog a lot years ago when going through my own bc ordeal, and am sooo happy for you that you’ve reached your 5-yr anniversary! Also, in a way it’s kind of cool that you were having such a good day that everyone forgot about the awfulness of 5-yrs ago. Not that everyone forgot a day that was important to you, but that you were there, with them, in an. Irish, Castle. And not talking about the darned c-word,

    Anyhoo, congrats! May you have many many more anniversaries to come. 🙂

    • Thank you for that Amya. It is so nice to have a reader follow this far and, knowing how thrilled I am to hear when those I have been following hit 5 years, I take your support to heart and know how much you mean it. And that touches me. Keep in touch!

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