One of my favorite features on Facebook is the “On this Day” feature, which shows up daily in your newsfeed. As most of you probably know, it is a feature that shows you what other posts you have made on that date in years past. Some days, I read what I posted in years past and cringe. Why did I think that people would care that I ate chicken? What was it that made me think that whatever I said was funny, or important, or interesting enough to share? The best days, though, are when there are pictures. The pictures are always great. I love seeing pictures of days and events, sometimes completely forgotten, but at the time, meaningful enough to share.
Today in my “On this Day,” there were a whole bunch of pictures from a trip we took with friends to Disney World in 2011. I had quit my job just a couple of months earlier. Abby was 7 and Benjamin was 4. I was thinner. Jon had more hair. Abby’s teeth were gappy and crooked, and her hair was much shorter. Benjamin wasn’t wearing glasses regularly, his teeth were tiny little baby teeth, and his head was drenched in sweat (though that particular trait is still true today). I smiled as I looked through those pictures this morning, amazed at how truly happy all of us looked.
In the days before we left for Disney, I received the letter from Washington Radiology telling me that I needed to come back for additional imaging. I have a vague recollection of standing in my driveway reading that letter and being annoyed that it had come right before we left, and not in the huge pile of mail that would greet me when we returned. But the truth is, although I thought about it some while we were away, I truly believed that it was nothing more than a nuisance. Lots of women are called back for additional imaging. I had been called back for additional screening the year before and it was nothing. We had a GREAT trip, as evidenced by the happy faces in all the pictures I saw “On This Day” on Facebook.
A day or two after we came home I went back for the additional images, and, as it turned out, an ultrasound, and a needle aspiration. A few days after that I had the biopsy, and, just a week after I posted those pictures (4 years ago next week), the radiologist called to tell me that I had breast cancer, sending me on roller coaster ride unlike anything I had seen at DIsney.
Those pictures that popped up on my newsfeed today are the last “before cancer” pictures that I have. I don’t mean physical before pictures, though I suppose that’s true, too. In the 4 years since my diagnosis I’ve gained 15 pounds, thanks to the anti-anxiety meds I started taking shortly after my diagnosis, or from the estrogen blocker I take to prevent a recurrence, or from the steady stream of Bridget’s zucchini muffins and peppermint mochas I told myself I absolutely deserved because CANCER.
But when I thought about the “BEFORE CANCER” pictures, it wasn’t really about how I looked. Those pictures are from the last time that I had the luxury of thinking it probably wouldn’t happen to me; that I could look at the statistics and say everything would likely be fine. Nobody thought I had cancer. Every doctor who looked at the images, including the radiologist who did the biopsy, said that it didn’t present like cancer. I had no family history of breast, or any kind of cancer. And as recent news stories have pointed out, the vast majority of women who have biopsies don’t end up being diagnosed with cancer. For most women, everything IS fine. But then it was cancer. Even though it didn’t look like it. Even though I’m not genetically predisposed. Even though the statistics were massively in my favor. Even though.
After my diagnosis, it has been all but impossible to think that it won’t eventually come back. Even though I did, and am doing, everything to prevent it. Even though the actual pathology of my tumor says that my likelihood of recurrence is low. Even though statistics are on my side. I can’t go back to before.
My hope is that anyone who looks at pictures of me then and now wouldn’t really be able to tell which was the before and which was after. I hope that my smile, Jon’s smile, the kids’ smiles, shine as brightly today as they did 4 years ago on this day. Yes we have all been changed. But in 4 years, we’ve come a long way. I am so grateful that statistics ARE on my side, even if I can’t fully trust in that.
After cancer hasn’t been easy, but on THIS day, I am happy to be where I am (minus the 15 pounds).