Today, I finish my last treatment for breast cancer. Almost nine months to the day after my Stage IIIB diagnosis, I will walk out of the hospital cancer-free. Bloodied. Bruised. Burnt. Battered. And very weary from the battle. But cancer free.
In a few weeks, I return to the hospital to talk further about post-oncology life and reconstruction surgery next spring. Already, the doctors have been talking about survival rates and what that means.
Due respect to my doctors, but they don’t have a clue. I am already a survivor. In more ways than they can ever define. With the grace of God, the miracle of medicine, and the love of my family and friends, I beat cancer. And I was not broken in the process.
Being a survivor is not measured in months or years. It is measured in moments. It is measured in the pieces of life I refuse to let cancer overtake.
Over the protests and advice of my doctors, I have continued to work fulltime through treatment. My job is more than a job. It has purpose in giving children who live in poverty a choice and a chance at an education that affirms their infinite worth. It offers students equity and an opportunity to rise up to overcome the challenges of poverty.
Each day that I advocate on their behalf – even in the midst of treatment – is a day I survive. It is a piece of life that cancer cannot break or claim.
A few days ago, Lorenzo and Roman pulled plastic tubs of fall decorations out of the garage. I spent the weekend turning our home into a fall landscape worthy of Norman Rockwell. I put pumpkins, leaves, pilgrims, and cornucopias on anything that doesn’t move.
Fall is my favorite season and our home once again reflects this. Surviving means filling my home and world with beauty, color, and grace. It is a piece of life that cancer cannot break or claim.
It’s cliché but it’s true – it is the little things and the singular moments that suddenly aren’t little at all that make me a survivor. Every day that I have the energy to bake pumpkin muffins or cook dinner; the moments when Lorenzo and I can sit quietly holding hands and watching the sunset; every phone call and text with my daughter – these are all moments that cancer cannot break or claim.
In just a few hours, I will walk back into the hospital and complete my last radiation treatment. I will walk out having undergone a mastectomy, eight rounds of dose dense A/C and Taxol chemo, and 30 rounds of radiation.
And then I will meet Lorenzo for dinner and a Bonnie Raitt concert tonight. Her song, “I Will Not Be Broken” has become my anthem and inspiration through this ordeal.
Tonight I get to hear her sing this live. This makes me a survivor.
Monday I get back on a plane and get back to advocating on behalf of kids who deserve a chance. I get to see my daughter while I am on this trip. I will have the gift of hugging her and telling her I love her face-to-face.
And next weekend, I get to plant fall flowers in my yard and cook dinner to eat with my family. I will find ways to give Roman a hard time, our code language for expressing love. And Lorenzo and I will sit and hold hands, watching the sunset; feeling like it should be a sunrise on a new season that is dawning. This makes me a survivor.
In a few weeks, I will meet with my doctors and I will listen to what they have to say. Then I will quietly tell them what I already know: I’m already a survivor – and I will not be broken.