To to all the cancer fighters and survivors – my very heart and soul are with you! As you battle this fight or, just like me, survive to move away from the experience further and further, may you continue staying as strong and beautiful as you already are! Some of you I know personally, some I just know of (you’re family or friends of those close to me), and many of you are strangers but are still very dear to my heart. My continuous thoughts and prayers are going your way, and may God grant you the power to overcome it (for however long we each have to live) as every single day we are here, we are all Survivors!
One of my friends (who had breast cancer three (!) times but is now about 10 years cancer free) called her treatment periods “dancing with cancer” – where intensity, passion and often danger exist when you twist and turn and embrace and then try to outrun each other, but where on a basic level you just try not to step on your partner’s toes. Dancing with cancer is something I know all too well. Cancer and I had one intense dance back in 2007, and, yes, it was passionate and definitely dangerous at times, we had a steamy “I hate you” love affair and tried to kill each other during sleep. We did decide to part though, and the separation has been going rather nice I may add, but we are both still dancers, we dance for different troupes but at one big theater company called Life. And my wish is that the Main Director would never pair us again to dance together. But this is something I have no control over, I can only wish!
This week marks the 7th anniversary since I had my last chemotherapy treatment, and even though I didn’t truly feel the dance period was over till I was done with Tamoxifen and reached that first survivor mark of being cancer free for 5 years, it was a huge sigh of relief to feel free from the dance routine that sustained me (and almost killed me, as it looked at times) during those surgery and chemo months.
And I do ask myself sometimes “for how long is that appropriate to do this countdown and mark each diagnosis date and then each end of chemo date, and wave them goodbye and then wait for the next year”? But then I remind myself, once you’ve danced the dance, there are no rules to what’s normal or not, because you’ve already had the most abnormal experience of your life and lived to tell the world about it. So why the heck not to celebrate and mark each turning point and each survival day!
This current 7-year mark has been especially contemplative (thus all the hiding at the rooftop lounges lately to rest and think and sing The Drifters “Up on the Roof” song – just see the previous post). Two weeks ago I received a letter from the 9/11 Health Registry that after a careful examination (and after being thorough evaluated at Bellevue 9/11 clinic), the government concluded that both my asthma and breast cancer were most likely developed due to the exposure to dust and toxic environment lingering at the WTC site for months (the planes hit the Towers literary above my head as I was undergoing grad school internship at an agency nearby and was standing by the Plaza but managed to leave it before the collapse, and the dust and smell of burned wires along with decomposing bodies penetrated the air throughout that Fall and well into the Spring of next year, and from what it looks like now, every cell in my body too). I developed first asthma symptoms that Winter, but it didn’t really “hit me” that breast cancer I had 6 years later would be connected to the exposure too until the government approved a long list of cancers related to the 9/11 exposure in 2012. So that “why” question that many cancer survivors have may have been answered by the US government : the inside meaning of the letter basically reads “we have examined both your prior medical history, predisposition and family factors and determined that you “had no business of being a cancer dancer” if not for the 9/11 exposure”. So, there you go!
I’m not angry though, that “why or why me” question never really developed any dwelling inside me. If anything, I tend to say “I’m glad I had cancer”, even though it sounds bizarre. I would go without of course all the grueling physical intensity of treatment and now life-long effects of having gone through that experience. But who I am today is so entwined with having had cancer that I can’t separate the two, I can only go forward, and, yes, pray that the experience would be “the one and only”.
So today I celebrate Life, how long or short we each have is unimportant! We breathe, we live, we love – we survive it all! I raise this glass of pink wine to all the cancer dancers and your loved ones who surround you and help you fight it – may you all be enveloped in their love and support and may you all remain strong and in God’s light and guidance!