August 18 marked one year since I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). With this anniversary of sorts, I’m very much resonating with Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4: “For everything there is a season… a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” At the present moment, it seems those times are coming simultaneously.
In a lot of ways, marking one year with MBC is a time to celebrate. For the past year, medications have reduced the disease, and they continue to keep it at bay. Side effects from the medications have been generally minor. I’ve felt pretty good; no symptoms. And my doctor has been pleased with my status the whole way along. So pleased, in fact, that he sent me off for two weeks traveling through Europe without hesitation. When we booked that trip, we weren’t sure we’d actually be able to take it—so it’s a big “hooray” that we went, and I was able to do everything I wanted, including walking miles (and miles) each day and climbing to the tops of church steeples in three different countries.
At the same time, this anniversary highlights the passing of time. When I was diagnosed, I said I refused to live as though I had an expiration date stamped on my foot. Most of the time, I succeed in maintaining that mindset. But there are moments—sometimes fleeting, sometimes lingering for days—that I feel acutely aware of the conventional prognosis. This one-year mark has brought more of those moments than usual. It’s as though hourglasses were lined up on the day of diagnosis—one for each year of the projected prognosis—and now, one of those hourglasses is empty. And some part of me is mourning that empty glass.
This milestone has come in the midst of two other realities that have unsettled me. My oncologist just retired. I had my last check-up with him last week. For the past year (and before that, during my first bout with cancer), I have put my trust in this man to make treatment decisions that will keep me alive and thriving. He has patiently answered 100 questions, encouraged me, and shot straight with me. He has carefully watched trends in blood results to detect signs of trouble. And he’s been kind and compassionate, treating me like a person and not just a patient. I’m lined up with another doctor who’s highly recommended, and I’m confident he will provide excellent care. Still, there’s some apprehension at this significant change in my health care team (I don’t like change.)
I’ve also had to switch one of my medications due to a rash side effect. The new medication I’ve started instead is supposed to work similarly and have equally good effectiveness at staving off disease progression. But with any new medication, it’s a “try and see” proposition. It feels a bit like starting over with this new drug. It’ll take a couple/few months to know for sure how it affects the disease and how my body responds to it and tolerates it. (I don’t like the unknown.)
At moments like I’ve had recently—when I allow myself to feel sad, weary, afraid, or uncertain—it’s tempting to chide myself for focusing on the negative, especially when things are going so well, considering. And if I share those feelings with others, it’s tempting for them to quickly remind me of all the positives that have happened over the past year. But on this journey, I’m learning it’s OK to both laugh and cry, dance and mourn. The key is allowing myself to be authentic in my emotions—and sometimes that means there will be tears on the dance floor.