Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reflections: 2 Years After Cancer

2 years ago. I remember it so clearly. It was a Thursday that started off like any other. My mom came over to play with our 3-month old, Ryan, who was just starting to roll over from his tummy to his back. She didn’t have chemo that week, so she was feeling relatively good, and she wanted to spend time with us and help baby-sit. I ran some errands at Target and happened to return at the exact same time that my husband was arriving home from work. As we were walking in, I remember telling him that I had been feeling sort of “weird” that day. It was probably just because I didn’t sleep well the night before. We were getting ready to sit down for a dinner of homemade tacos when the phone rang.

It was the doctor. As soon as I heard the word “malignant” my insides felt numb and my head felt confused and dizzy. In that split second, nothing in the world made sense. “We need to discuss your treatment options.” The doctor might as well have been speaking gibberish because my mind was frozen in shock.

I passed the phone to my husband.

I sat down next to my mom and could barely find my breath to speak. “We both have cancer.”  It didn’t feel real as I said the words. I felt like I was repeating a lie, or simply reciting lines in a play. It felt like I was telling her a cruel joke.

I will never forget the look on my mom’s face. For the first time since I had known her, my strong, brave mom did not try to act like she knew how to make everything okay. She just wrapped her arms around me and we cried. That night, I held hands with both my husband and my mom, with our baby sleeping beside us, and prayed to God to give us all the strength that we needed to get through this. And He did.

The day before I was diagnosed;  Two days after I was diagnosed.

Today I am cancer-free and starting a whole new chapter. Barry, Ryan, and I are looking forward to some exciting changes coming up very soon. I have finally reached the two-year mark, which is a big milestone and we have been waiting a very long time for this. I have finally been given the all-clear to be normal again.

Although, I know that I will never be “normal” in the sense of being the exact same person that I was two years ago. Our experiences shape us into who we are, and I am thankful for all of mine, even the difficult ones.

I now have firsthand memories of what it is like to be hooked up to an IV line for weeks at a time, watching poisons flood my body, and contemplating whether it is worse to risk dying from chemo side effects or from the cancer itself. I remember when the cancer wing of the hospital felt like my home, and I learned to be okay with that. I learned how to give myself injections, clean open wounds, and how to adapt myself for my body’s unpredictable needs at any given moment. I learned how to find the balance between taking care of myself and letting others care of me.

Sleeping and cuddling with my little one; A few weeks into chemo with B, R, and my mom.

I learned how to lean on my husband and to appreciate him. I am now able to see how much more certain things matter that I had never even thought twice about before. I feel more understanding and caring towards other people because I know that everyone is struggling with something, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.

I have learned to accept the inevitability of death, to value life, and to desire to live fully while I am here. I have learned to trust in God’s plan. I now know that when something bad happens, I will get through it because I have to.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”   
~Helen Keller 

I believe that we all have the capability to think in a way that puts things into a positive perspective. No matter what situation we are in, there is a way to somehow experience happiness and appreciation. We have to make a conscious choice and put considerable effort into our thinking, but it is worth it. Outside circumstances, monetary possessions, and health statuses do not determine the quality of our lives. Happiness can only be achieved by our attitudes. It requires no effort at all to simply exist and to allow negative thoughts enter our minds automatically. But I would much rather put some extra effort into creating positive thoughts each day so that I can thoroughly enjoy my life.

“The tragedy of life is not the fact of death, but in what dies inside of us while we live.”   
~Norman Cousins

Instead of feeling a sense of entitlement and having high expectations about what the world should do for us, it is better to focus on what we can contribute to the world. Making a meaningful difference in this life is the only thing that will still matter long after we are gone. When all is said and done, you only live once, and have ONE chance to be the person you will forever be known as, and to accomplish whatever you desire to do here on earth.

I have found that when you expect nothing from the world, people seem to rise above your expectations and you become genuinely happy and pleased with what is happening.

We took a beach vacation to celebrate three weeks after I finished chemo.

Throughout my chemo treatments and surgeries, I was blessed to have people in my life who were very understanding and supportive of me. Most people accept that a person is going to be completely exhausted when they are going through chemo, but they often don’t realize how long the fatigue and overall lack of energy continue after treatment is over (especially when a particularly strong regimen of drugs was involved).

My body is no where near as capable as it used to be. People seem surprised when I can’t keep up with “normal” physical activities: housework, errands, going to school, chasing after a toddler, socializing, and not to mention exercise (I wish!) It takes triple the amount of effort and energy to do anything now. But I am okay with that. I still plan to live every single area of my life to the fullest.

The hurtful part is when other people aren’t okay with that and judge me for not being able to do more. Or when they try to restrict me from doing something that I want to do.

It is hard to explain. I am pushing myself and my body to appear normal because I refuse to let cancer hold me back anymore than it already has. I feel like I have spent enough time being restricted and limited from activities, so now I want to “do it all”. I just may need to rest for a few days afterwards, and I want that to be okay.

I want to be trusted when it comes to knowing what my body can handle, and knowing when I need a break. I am completely accepting of the fact that things will probably be more difficult and complicated for me than they are for other people. But I will not let that stand in my way of experiencing happiness and fulfillment, because I know that it does not have to.


  1. This is a HUGE milestone and such a powerful post from a strong and courageous person. LOVE YOU!

  2. You are such an inspiration to me. This post literally brought tears to my eyes. Especially like days like today where I am struggling to juggle everything and feel like no one understands, there is such a comfort in knowing that someone truly "gets it." Thank you for touching my life. So happy for you being at the 2-year mark! <3

  3. @Karen- Thank you for being so amazingly supportive throughout the whole thing, from start to finish and even now! I LOVE YOU and am so lucky to have you as a best friend!

    @Jessica- I am so glad that we met and are able to understand each other when nobody else could possibly. I hope that your week got much better... I know how difficult those days can be! You are a huge inspiration to me too!

  4. Hi Dana, I am also a breast cancer survivor (diagnosed last year when I was 31) and originally stumbled upon your blog when I was looking into extensions for my ugly new short hair. However, I then saw that you lost your mom while going through treatment - so did I. It was the hardest thing I've ever been through and you're the first person I've come across who had a similar experience. We are too young to have breast cancer in the first place, too young to lose our mothers so soon, and it's so devastating when it happens at the same time. The blog posts about your mother are so touching and really hit home to me. Just wanted to reach out to say hi and let you know you're not alone. Would love to connect over email to chat more, but not sure how to contact you!

  5. @Kristy- Thank you so much for commenting. I am truly sorry that you have had such similar experiences as me. You are also the first person besides me (that I have heard of) who had to go through both of those terrible things happening at the same time, and at such a young age. Please, please email me: Dana520 at! I would definitely love to chat!


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