Eight months ago, I received a phone call from a scheduler at UCSD’s Breast Imaging Center. My routine mammogram, which had been done the day before, was deemed abnormal. They wanted me back for more screening—ASAP. That day marked the first chapter of my breast cancer story. This afternoon I completed my last radiation treatment. While I have yet to meet with my medical oncologist to receive a prescription for Arimidex, there is not much more for me to do but wait, recover, and hope for the best. I was actually surprised to learn my doctors don’t have a surefire test to determine whether they got it all. Instead, they intend to follow me for a few years to make sure I remain cancer-free.
It goes without saying cancer treatment precipitated a dramatic shift in my routine. Now I’m finding it strange to think about returning to my regular schedule. I can never completely be the person I was before I was diagnosed, though I suspect I worked through a positive transformation, even as the healing process harmed me physically. At the risk of sounding trite, life does feel more precious. I hope I never again take for granted the time I have left. I do suspect the heightened emotions I continue to experience over this challenge will become muted as they fade into a bad memory. Still, I’d like to refrain from dropping the ball on the rest of my life.
Breast cancer did help me take stock. As I’ve faced the possibility of dying too soon, writing has become the one calling asking for more attention and commitment. It is an area where I still feel unfulfilled, though I’ve had some minor successes that have kept me in the game. In the end, I’m not sure what sort of milestone I need to feel like I didn’t blow it. I’ve just decided to ratchet up my intention and stay on target with some new goals. During the last eight months, I was often too paralyzed to do much at all. Yet eight months is a long time. When I did have the wherewithal, I organized my writing business by developing a list of tasks that might help me get my work more fully off the ground. I’ve already begun to attack some of these projects.
While I’m not yet ready to retire from my library career, I hope to segue into a new life by the time I reach 60. This is a change of plans, as I was originally hoping to stay in the field until I was at least 63. However, it does make me feel optimistic to type the number, 60, as 60 is over five years away. By then I would love to be healthy, free of Arimidex, and moving into a phase that centers on a gratifying writing life.
Meanwhile, I’ve begun to wonder if my body will fully return to where it was eight months ago. I did pretty well with the chemo and radiation treatments, but I am noticeably weaker. Case in point: during the summer of 2015, I was climbing Cowles Mountain (1594 feet) every few days wearing a full backpack in order to train for a trip on the John Muir Trail. I could do this without stopping, though I usually took a water break. I doubt I could climb this modest peak pack-free right now. I can get a good walk in on the beach, but hills are quick to remind me of how much stamina I have lost. I certainly plan to continue participating in activities that will improve my strength and endurance, though I suspect patience will be paramount as I work through radiation fatigue and the residual effects of chemo. Besides, I no longer know what my true limitations are. I do know I’m not yet ready to accept a new normal where my fitness is concerned. At some point, I’ll have to put my recovery measures to a test by hitting the Cowles Mountain Trail and seeing how high I can climb.