A couple of weeks ago marked the five-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. It has brought up many feelings, both positive and negative about my diagnosis and treatment (both physical and mental). It was a great time to reflect on how far I have come both physically and emotionally from the shock and devastation of diagnosis, and the accompanying months of treatment.
Life before and after cancer have been vastly different for me. I know that my age likely made a big difference in how I think about this time – I was 28 at the time of diagnosis – and the fact that I met my now-husband the same month I was diagnosed. Before cancer, I was living the single lifestyle, going out with friends often for drinks and feeling very carefree. My diagnosis obviously devastated me, but I truly think the healing process changed me as a person.
After treatment ended, I was surprised that I didn’t go back to feeling the way I did before diagnosis. True, now I was in a committed relationship, but the changes in my daily routine touched on more than that. I get (and need) more sleep than I did before treatment, likely due in part to my weight gain from treatment and Tamoxifen. I try to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, both in knowing the statistical connection between alcohol and breast cancer, but also because drinking alcohol often leads to hot flashes and quick dehydration, also likely due to Tamoxifen.
Aside from a few negative physical changes, I think that my experience with breast cancer fundamentally changed who I am as a person, in many ways for the better. For example, I believe that I have more compassion for others who are suffering than I did before I was diagnosed. It was easy to look the other way or ignore others’ pain before I was sick, but now I feel a bond with people going through their own hard time and I want to comfort those who I can.
I would not have believed you if you had told me five years ago that cancer would not be the first thing I thought of in the morning, or the last thing I thought of before falling asleep. I didn’t think that the fear and anxiety would ever go away. They aren’t completely gone, but these feelings are a manageable part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.