"There was this show that was on when I was in junior high (1987-1991) called “thirtysomething.” (I assume that title format was creative genius at the time.) Here’s what I knew: the show was about people in their 30s and I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I couldn’t imagine what was so exciting in the lives of these old 30-year-olds that I wasn’t allowed to see. What happens in your 30s anyway? Nearing the “old” age of thirty seven I can now safely say – plenty! There have been the typical things – career-building, house-buying, baby-having – and some not-so-typical, like my current cancer-having thing.
I’m one of the rare, special women who have had the privilege of being diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of forty – at just shy of thirty six. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis so my feelings and emotions of it all are still undeclared at best. I don’t know if I’m currently in or done with the processing stage but it doesn’t usually make me nauseous nor nail-spitting angry to think about anymore so I suppose that’s progress.
Our two children were 8 and 3 when I was diagnosed. That’s what having cancer in your 30s is. It interrupts parenthood and careers and begins to corrupt the story that you had so carefully crafted of your impending long, happy life. I haven’t until just now, as you are reading this, shared one major thought that burst from my shocked, terrified brain that day I was diagnosed; a thought about my family and their precious lives that I so cherish; a thought too cruel to utter -- what if I’m just the first part of their story?
I imagine that is the most common worry that enters any mother’s head when faced with a cancer diagnosis. What about my family? What would they do without me? Would they remember me? Aren’t they too young to remember me? What if I was just his first love? And the list goes on.
My mind raced to cope. As we told people and they grasped for words of wisdom and ways to help, we simply asked for prayers of peace and comfort. Peace and comfort. I have to believe that as those prayers were answered my initial panicked question – What if I’m just the first part of their story? – gave way to a more peaceful, more comfortable maybe I’m just the first part of their story. Somehow thinking that I might have a purpose in all of this, regardless of the outcome, calmed me. I don’t know that I ever actually accepted that this was a true possibility…that I might die, that my family might eventually have another wife and mother to finish out the story that I started. I think the stream of reassuring test results kept those possible realities in check and the sprint of appointments, decisions, surgeries, and procedures took care of the rest.
A few weeks from now will mark one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the most part, when I look at the last ten months, it plays out like some surreal dream from which I’m still trying to wake. I will live the second half of my life having already experienced what we typically think of as reserved for grandmothers. In my 30s I have lost a major part of my womanhood and will never again look or feel “normal.” I will forever have the possibility of recurrence tucked away in my mind. I fear that the anger and disappointment associated with that will always be with me.
It’s now that I realize there is power in recapturing that initial terrifying question for myself – this really is just the first part of my story. My cancer experience is forever part of me now. It is something to grieve and when I’m ready I hope that I can accept it. But it’s just the first part of my story. I believe that the second part will be cancer-free and that I will be the one finishing the story of our long, happy life together…well beyond our 30s!"