Surviving and Thriving – 15 yrs Past Diagnosis
Fifteen years ago today, I answered my (clunky!) cell phone and heard the words every woman dreads: “You’ve got breast cancer.” My mind immediately went into overdrive, considering the potential meaning of this statement in terms of how many years might still be in front of me – or not. I also thought a lot about my two young daughters, then 7 and 10, who would need the care and guidance of a mom for many years to come — helping them learn to drive a stick shift, bake lasagne, pitch a tent, select a prom dress, negotiate broken hearts, and so much more.
Fortunately for me, the doctors had caught the illness at a very early stage. They had proactively started me on mammograms at the early age of 36 on account of a history of the disease in my family. So, on the films that were done when I was 40, they were able to determine a very subtle change — the presence of some tiny microcalcifications, which sometimes (though not often) indicate cancerous activity. The subsequent biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. There was no lump, and my lymph nodes were all clean — therefore I had no need for hard-to-handle adjuvant therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation. Yet I saw my doctors many times in the following months and went under the knife many times to accomplish treatment and reconstruction. And so it was that one year later, following no less than seven surgeries, my doctors turned me loose and said they thought I was probably cured — though they reminded me that there are no guarantees.
I didn’t really need a mortality scare to remind me to experience life as fully as possible, as I’d learned that lesson several years earlier when my mom had died at the relatively young age of 61. Still, I gained a whole new appreciation for each subsequent experience that I might not have had — but for the skill and foresight of my doctors.
Looking back on the past 15 years, I am so grateful that I’ve been able to watch my daughters, Dana and Holly, grow into wonderful young women, now 22 and 25. And I’ve had some fantastic adventures during the past decade and a half, both with the girls and by myself. I’ve seen the majesty of the Tetons and watched the geysers in Yellowstone during a backpacking trip with one of my daughters. I’ve felt the spray on my face while riding the Maid of the Mist with the girls at Niagara Falls. I’ve seen the amazing art, sculptures, and historic ruins of Rome. I’ve hiked the South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon and have gazed up at Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. I’ve cycled for 250 miles in four days with Cycle North Carolina, pedaling along country roads from the pastoral (and hilly!) piedmont to the sparkling coast. I’ve been to Nicaragua to visit my younger daughter at her internship on a farm on Ometepe Island, and I’ve watched the sunset turn the sky a lovely pale orange color behind the silhouette of nearby Volcan Conception. I’ve adopted an adorable mixed-breed dog named Cricket who has become the best adventure companion ever — canoeing with me on the New River, scrambling up to rocky overlooks on the Appalachian Trail, and willingly hiking for miles with me along the C&O Canal towpath during my training for the recent One Day Hike.
I’ve had adventures at work during the past 15 years, too. I’ve helped create an urban greenspace as part of a downtown redevelopment project while working for Durham Central Park. I’ve learned about energy efficiency and passive solar construction during my employment with Green Home Builders of the Triangle. I’ve discovered how fun it can be to help people find the right gear for their outdoor adventures while I worked for Great Outdoor Provision Company. I’ve helped children and adults learn about and appreciate nature during my employment with the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. And now, in my job with American Hiking Society, I get to spend my days helping the terrific AHS team promote and protect America’s hiking trails, their surrounding natural areas, and the hiking experience.
And so, today, I will look back with thankfulness for these adventures and will look ahead into the future with hope for many more exciting experiences. And I send my appreciation to all who have shared this path with me — and to all who will walk with me in the days to come.