It's been three years since my final breast reconstruction surgery. That year we scheduled it for the first week the kids went back to school after the summer. I'd spent the previous several months making the best of our summer all while still recovering from my bilateral mastectomy and living with tissue expanders solid as rocks in my chest. My muscles didn't yet function normally (and still don't), I was still experiencing tremendous nerve pain. My emotional healing hadn't even begun. I was solidly in the anger and sadness stages of grief. It was a bizarre time. And it was exactly three years ago.
Three years sounds like a long time. And I thought it felt like a long time until this week. I just didn't see it coming, but yesterday it hit me like a freight train. When I was diagnosed, our son was 8 years old and in the second grade. His teacher was absolutely precious and has become one of my most admired people on earth. And she walked the cancer journey with me. I hardly remember the second half of that school year because so much of it was consumed with appointments, surgery, recovery, and procedures. I didn't realize how many feelings were tied to that classroom, this precious teacher, that missing time and experience as room mom. Three years later I'm back in that space. My daughter has the same teacher and classroom. It's an absolute blessing. I'm room mom again and it feels like my opportunity for a re-do of the year I lost with my son in that room. Not until I sat with my counselor yesterday and the tears started flowing did I realize what a huge trigger this first week of school would be. Being back in that space, remembering telling their sweet teachers about my diagnosis, seeing them cry and pray and worry for us all -- the memories and feelings are overwhelming right now.
To add to the anxiety-inducing memories is the fact that every three years I need an MRI to rule out implant rupture. My irrational brain has gone into panic mode -- what if they find something wrong? What if they find additional cancer? What if? What if? What if? My rational brain knows everything is fine. I'm healthy. There are likely random cancer cells in my body and I have no control over that other than to be as healthy as possible. So I try to eat right, exercise, and be mindful of my thoughts and actions. But it's hard, friends.
This week among the flood of back-to-school practicalities, I'm giving myself permission to freak out a little. I've been through something big and that's never going to change. It's ok to grieve what I lost and will never get back. It's ok to be mindful of future risks but it's also good to be grounded in reality. My cancer will most likely not return. There are so many women who don't get to say that. I'm thankful that I do. But I just need a little space to open my heart and brain and be mindful of what I've been through. Getting the thoughts out on this blog helps a lot. I hope that others will read it and no matter what their trauma or triggers you'll realize you're not alone. There are millions of us out here relating.