By Deb Baer Becker
When I look back over these nine years of my life after cancer, how much I’ve lived and loved and accomplished, it makes me dizzy. It would have taken audacious hope to think I’d come this far. In these survivorship years I’ve watched my daughter say her wedding vows on a sun-drenched Caribbean beach; celebrated thirty years of marriage with my one true love; danced with my Mom at her 75th birthday party, and welcomed my dearest grandbaby, Violet Mae. Who could have hoped for so much after a devastating breast cancer diagnosis? Well, lots of us. So many of us are surviving these maladies—thank you, cancer research and Jesus.
Survivorship is the new frontier; we are its brave trailblazers.
When I first heard, “you have a bad cancer,” I was overcome by fear. I couldn’t have felt more helpless if I’d fallen off a mountain. What about my kids, teenagers who still needed their Mom, and my dearest Hubster? Suddenly I had a prayer life, however simple and awkward my muttered words must have sounded.
My journey back to health was a long one: chemo, double mastectomy, radiation, reconstruction. Tough stuff. In those days, it would have taken some kind of foolish faith and reckless hope to say, out loud, I’m going to keep going all the way to grandma - to grandma and beyond!
Across the years my medical check ups have been reassuring. Yet sometimes I feel as though I’m tempting fate. I’ve already had these good eight years. How can I have the audacity to hope for a life free of cancer? How far can I stretch this audacious hope before it sags like a dead bra?
Most times I’m a victim of my own bad thinking. So many of us are surviving these cancers—living on to all of those things that come next. I’ve felt a shift in my life, more moments where I feel I’m in the flow of life. There’s no time for sleepwalking through life. I’m making plans for the future, plans that go far beyond the cure’s statistical five-years of survivorship.
It takes a certain daring, an audacious courage mixed with a belief in magic and maybe unicorns, too, but hell, why not? What’s the alternative? To sit and ponder death’s carriage arrival like Emily Dickinson? I like to pretend she is as one of my writing fairy godmothers. Her work reminds us in verse what we all fear in life: death. Mortality: the pit in the cherry of the human condition.
You see I’ve made it all the way to Grandma, the hallowed upper crust of motherhood. It’s a grand time filled with soft baby clothes and bows, baby neck sugars, and a multitude of miniature miracles. Baby smiles feel like the whole universe is beaming love at you.
So, of course I can’t just enjoy this holy moment of motherhood, and glow loudly, without reminding myself that I might not have been here. I’m a dark cloud with a twenty percent chance of silver lining.
I think survivors carry the survivors’ guilt of making each day count, living each moment. But honestly, making the most of every minute of every day can be very tiring. I’m sure I’ve wasted a day or three, time hijacked by real life stuff like anxiety or the occasional gloomy mood. It’s a lot to process.
So my intention is to be present in each moment of my survivorship, and what a grand time it is with a wee babe fresh from Nature’s arms!
So, yes, when I think of my life after cancer I feel happy and grateful and vulnerable as hell. It takes a certain amount of reckless hope to imagine that I’ll still be here to put Violet on the school bus, too. And yet, I plan on doing so. I’ve imagined myself doing just that: I’ll hold her hand as she takes that first big step onto the yellow bus, and then we’ll wave goodbye as she makes her own way into the flow of life.
My most heartfelt thanks to my dear friend and editor, Louise Sukle, who helped me find my voice during those tentative and uncertain days of cancer treatment and these many years since.