Photo by Pia Massie
This year has been quite the Worrallwind (haha, I'm a cheeseball) ever since my book came out in November. Every new month that rolls around leaves me in shock that the previous month evaporated before I could take stock.
I'm writing this post from my hotel room at the University of Connecticut, where I'm giving a reading tonight. I'm grateful that I have written a book that people want to read and that more importantly, one that has some big messages and topics that get people thinking, like Agent Orange, mixed race, PTSD, young adults with cancer, or to put it simply, survival.
Being a young adult cancer survivor means a lot, and the month of thinking about what that means officially is now: Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or as some of us who are cynical about the Pink Ribbon corporate movement call it, Pinktober. But here's what it means to me, just another individual who has survived and keeps surviving: taking it one day at a time. Sure that's a big cliche, along with carpe diem (I just got a pair of socks that say "Carpe the fuck out of this diem"), and all that, but it's super true, especially when you realize that your expiration date is likely to be much shorter than that of most people your age.
I know--we don't really know when we will die. But statistically, my odds aren't great. I don't consider myself middle-aged. I consider myself at the end of my life. Hold on...don't get all argumentative and optimistic when I say that. I know that's your reaction. But look, it's true. So far, I've beaten the odds big time. But I also live with chronic fatigue and pain, and I'm not saying those two things like they are mosquito bites or little cuts or burns. I don't remember what life is like without pain, let me put it that way. And I don't think I will ever know that again. That's my reality. So yes, I do feel like I'm 80 years old, and I will probably feel like that even more so as time goes on. So I'm at the end of my life, and each day I get to live it is a gift. I can accept that. I have. My 40th birthday is coming up in a month, and I'm super stoked for that. But will I make it to 50? I will be surprised if I do.
My reality is that as a survivor of this particular type of breast cancer, I worry about metastases all the time. Currently, I'm doing a battery of scans and tests to see what's going on with my brain. Triple Negative Breast Cancer survivors have an increased risk of brain mets, and recent tests that I've done show that instead of the suspected epilepsy that I had as a kid making a return, there is something else causing dysfunction in my left temporal region. I know I shouldn't jump to conclusions and worry about it, but that's what I do. Luckily, my doctors are on it and have been doing EEGs, CT scans, and will do an MRI on my brain in a couple months. In the meantime, I endure the headaches and the uncertainty. There's always the uncertainty.
Every single day I wake up and wonder how much I will be able to do. In the last two months, I can tell that my body is aging much faster than ever. Aches and pains of all kinds have become a baseline standard; pain level is about a 6 on the pain scale, and if it gets worse than that, I wait a little while to see if I have to make the trip to the hospital. But the fucked up annoying part is this: I have stuff to do. I have stuff I want to do. And when I can manage to get out of bed and do it, it's nothing short of a miracle to me.
On the outside I look healthy. No one knows how much I'm falling apart on the inside. I need wheelchair service when I travel, and I can feel the glares from people who see me in the wheelchair, and I can feel them judging me. Being disabled sucks. Being invisibly disabled adds another layer of suck to that.
I am super grateful that I am still here, that I have support, and that despite my pain and chronic, recurring issues, I can manage to do the things I love, even if it's at a much slower pace than I would like. But let me tell you, being aware of the breast cancer epidemic is not about pink ribbons. It's about thinking of the actual human beings who have to survive day to day, beyond the cancer, because of the cancer. Instead of giving into the pink ribbon campaign, research local organizations that help people with cancer (not just breast cancer). Support those. Because those of us who are surviving—that's where we get the most support. Not from Komen. Not from Revlon. But on a local, familial level. Surviving is about who is around you now, and how those people will help you reach the next day, if there is to be one.
So my wish for October is to have more moxie. Always. That's what survival is.