Five years ago today, I heard “no-evidence of disease” (cancer-free) for the first time. I was finishing my second year of law school. I was known as the girl with cancer who scheduled surgeries strategically to minimally disrupt the grueling academics. Cancer labeled me for three years and as a young 20-something, it became much of my identity.
Five years later and I don’t think about cancer as often.
I think about it whenever Jane snuggles against my neck or the cat brushes up against me, and I remember I still have no feeling in the majority of my neck.
I think about it when I message with the women around the world I walked through surgeries and failed radiation with remotely. To feel so close to women I have never met in person is something so hard to explain.
I think about it when I see my heart rate hovering just shy of 200 bpm on a light jog around the neighborhood. I remember that the medication that keeps me going daily also causes heart palpitations and a quickly elevated heart rate.
I think about it when I receive a new message from someone who stumbled on this blog after receiving their diagnosis. Questions so pure and raw that it transports me back to those early days when almost all I thought about was cancer.
But, I don’t think about cancer as often any more.
Over the last five years, I have been slowly learning more about myself and creating an identity beyond cancer. Some of the most obvious life-changing events that have shaped my identity include the following:
I became an attorney.
I started working at a nonprofit advocating for people with disabilities.
I got married.
I had a daughter.
However, below the surface there has been more at play in these last five years. I started dealing with chest-crushing anxiety, which became unbearable while studying for the Bar exam, settled down for a while, and resurfaced during this stay-at-home COVID-19 pandemic. There are times I can hardly breathe because of anxiety over work or relationships. I also slipped into postpartum depression, which I have barely scratched the surface in understanding in myself at this time.
While being home working full-time during COVID-19 and parenting a toddler full-time has been challenging, I’ve seen goodness.
I weaned Jane at 17 months and have started to emerge from some of the postpartum fog.
I started weekly mental health counseling for the first time.
I joined my second 8-week HIIT/nutrition program with Fit4Mom to help jump start my overall health and well-being.
I have enjoyed spending so much more time with my hilarious, sassy, smart, and goofy toddler.
I don’t think about cancer as often any more, but on this five-year cancer-free anniversary, I choose to think about it a little more. To sit in the hard parts. To celebrate the victories. To recognize that while it may not label me the same way it did, it still holds space in my story and that’s OK. There is a lot more story to live and I will move forward, with a lot of prayer and with a whole lot of therapy.