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How My Body Is Cured After Breast Cancer, but My Mind Is Still Struggling

Perfect. My life was really close to perfect. My wonderful husband and I had just moved to our dream area and I had taken a new position which I loved. Our kids were all grown up. Life was amazing.

A routine annual check up to my new OB-GYN had led to a mammogram. A followup biopsy was needed for an area of what they believed to be calcifications. I was told it was likely nothing to worry about and I should get a phone call in a few days.

The morning of July 1 I received the phone call that changed everything. My doctor had called to see how I was doing with the diagnosis. I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. “You have breast cancer. Hasn’t the radiologist called you yet?”

Those were the last words I remember hearing. It’s like the commercial — your head starts spinning and you don’t hear another word. I finally calmed down enough to get stage 1, most likely DCIS, down on the paper in front of me. I walked out to tell my husband, who was on a conference call for work. He hung up and we started the journey.

All I could keep thinking is no one in my family has had breast cancer. I’m 45. How could this have happened?

I blamed myself more than anything, although I didn’t share that with anyone. I should have taken better care of myself…exercised more … ate better.

Inside I was devastated and terrified.

Outwardly, I told myself and my family and friends I would beat this.

I could do it.

I found an amazing surgeon and plastic surgeon. I had a double mastectomy on July 22, 2014 and 24 hours after the surgery began, I was on my way home. The news after the surgery was very good. There was no lymph node involvement and the margins were very clean. It did come back that instead of DCIS, I had invasive breast cancer. But I was still pronounced cured one month after surgery.

The issue is that while my body is cured, my mind is still struggling.

Oddly enough, in the beginning, I didn’t worry about the future as much. As time goes on, I wonder more:

“Did they really get it all? Did one sneak past the goalie and is just hiding? How do I not worry about the ‘what ifs’ and live for today?

My best guess is all of these questions are completely normal as you transition from patient to survivor. And instead of beating myself up over not taking better care of myself, exercising more, or asking these questions, it’s best to acknowledge this is normal. It’s so hard to remember that, but having concerns and questions after hearing the diagnosis means I’m accepting of the fact that this may not be over.

But I will not let that be the overwhelming concern of my life. I’m choosing every day to live in today. Some days this is harder than others.

Now let’s not be silly, I have my bad days. I have my pity parties about having had five additional surgeries for my reconstruction. I’ve referred to my breasts as happy (the one that has been done since the second surgery) and unhappy (the one that is my problem child). I sometimes have a good cry about the after effects of all this. That’s OK.

However, I always try to remind myself I am blessed. I’m OK.

From the day I was diagnosed, I said I wanted to take this with a little humor, a lot of grace, and lead by example for those that would face this same scary journey. Hopefully, I’ve done just that.

Pam, aka “a work in progress.”

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Getty Images photo via goodwin_x