There are distinct periods in life, the change is often marked by a specific event, a milestone. My first six distinct periods are measured by which school I was in, the next 9 are about our kids and moves and jobs. We figured instead of measuring distinction in our lives based on our experiences, it would all be about the kids from now on.
Unfortunately, cancer entered our lives.
For the past 14 months the milestones are all about cancer. Something odd, Pre-diagnosis, pre-confirmation, pre surgery, post surgery, pre chemo, during chemo, post chemo, pre next surgery, post next surgery, you see the pattern I am sure.
When something comes up I place it on the timeline of treatment. This is fairly common. My 2018 birthday was during the dog days of the second chemo infusion. Halloween was two days before the first chemo infusion. Not that my first chemo was two days after Halloween, or the second set of dog days were around my birthday, it is interesting how it is framed in my head.
When my husband and I are trying to figure out when something happened during the girls’ school year, we place it on the cancer timeline.
Each period is bookended by a specific set of experiences. Pre surgery is before the first surgery which was the mastectomy, but after diagnosis, you could call it the knowing but waiting period. While I am still struggling with holes in my memory and word accessibility, those dates and milestones are indelible and easily recalled. The granularity is a little frustrating, given time I am sure it will fade into a wider angle view.
There are some milestones I celebrate sort of. I think they should be, but I am not sure how. For example, the mastectomy removed all of the organized cancer. That is a very good thing, clear date, slight celebration on the anniversary of surgery. Chemo killed all of the unorganized cancer. That, too, is a very good thing. Chemo is brutal so no matter what it did, the fact that it ended should be celebrated. I haven’t gotten to that anniversary yet.
That anniversary doesn’t seem like a single day, like, say, that of the last treatment, because there was the recovery time and the dog days post infusion. That didn’t have a distinct end because of the salivary gland infection which blurred all healing. At about that time we started getting the flu and strep in our house. No two people had an illness at the same time, and no one person had two illnesses at the same time. CVS LOVED us during this time, we almost had a line created for us. Six antibiotic prescriptions, five steroid prescriptions, three tamiflu prescriptions, 1 xofluza prescription. I was expecting them to call the first week we didn’t drop off a prescription to see if we were ok. They didn’t, I still hold that against them.
We will celebrate, make no mistake about that. I am grateful to be healthy and getting healthier daily. I am looking forward to the milestone being pre cancer and post cancer only, where we move to a helicopter view instead of the microscopic view. Time heals, it really does.
All of these milestones are our construct, should you experience something like this, you will construct your own timeline. Make sure you pick milestones to celebrate not just to measure. Making each one is a good feeling. Now when I visit friends going through this I ask them what their last milestone was. They light up and tell me what they just made it through, what is over, what has finished, it is a much better conversation than asking them what is next because that just brings out the dread. Try it, you will see the difference a milestone makes.