My one year anniversary of my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery is today. In some ways the time has flown by…in other ways… it’s been the longest and most difficult year of my entire life. I’m happy to report I’m healthy and strong and free of cancer. My reconstruction and recovery was deemed “amazing” by my doctors. I’m deeply grateful for my health and the massive support and love my family and I have received in the past year. It’s mind blowing. I know so many friends have held me and my family in their heart and sent us prayers and good wishes.
I stopped by my daughter’s pediatrician office last week to drop off some Oh Baby! Fitness cards. The front desk assistant, Jackie, jumped up and asked me how I was doing… telling me she’d just been thinking about me the day before. It had been almost a year since I’d visited the office. Why was she thinking of me, I asked? She said I’d just popped into her head and she was actually going to call me to check in. I hugged her and went back to the car and cried… tears of gratitude. It is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING to live in a community of caring people. I have moments like this often… where people take the time to send a note, a text, or seek me out to check in and say they’ve been thinking about me and my family. It makes such a difference!
This past year has been challenging beyond belief. My diagnosis. Surgery. Mom’s diagnosis of brain cancer on Christmas Eve…just 6 weeks after my surgery. Then on January 3rd, Sofi’s appendix ruptured and we spent a week in the hospital. On January 16th, Mom and Dad moved to Atlanta for four months so Mom could receive treatment at Piedmont Hospital. Mom and I shared the same oncologist. Mom celebrated her 75th birthday in Atlanta and half of Jackson County came down from North Carolina to celebrate. We have been constantly supported by our friends and community through this journey. Meals, gifts, visits. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful. I cannot describe what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such love. I seriously can’t find the words… but know that you’ve made the difference in me being able to push forward each day. I’m pretty sure I would have been in the fetal position in a corner if it hadn’t been for all of you.
Special shoutouts to my family: Jay, for his quiet, calm, unwavering love and tireless support. Sofi: my rock who always has a hug ready and knows the right thing to say. My Mom and Dad who dropped everything to come and stay with me and help with my recovery. Sister Hayley, who took leave from her job in Seattle to nurse me back to health, and brother Charlie, sister-in-law Bobbi and nephew Max who kept in constant touch all the way from Kenya.
It’s been a unique situation in my battle with breast cancer. Normally, I would have been celebrating how well I’ve done this past year. I’d probably have been more concerned about the cancer coming back. But I haven’t had time to think about any of that… I’ve been totally immersed in supporting my Mom and Dad.
This time with Mom has been precious. The moments I’ve spent with Mom, Dad, Jay, Sofi, Charlie and Hayley has been golden. I think we did everything we could to help my Mom fight this brain cancer… the best doctors, treatment and care possible. Glioblastoma is an incredibly rare and deadly disease. Through it all, we’ve supported each other and shown love. I’m extremely proud of that.
I should be thrilled to celebrate this one year anniversary, but in truth, my heart is breaking. It’s mind-boggling to me that my mother, who was so vital during the time of my diagnosis and recovery – going to doctor’s appointments with me… listening carefully to the options I had… cooking dinners…getting up in the middle of the night to give me medications… the list goes on – is now in hospice at home, completely reliant on others for her day-to-day needs.
As many have said, Veronica, who helped SO MANY people during her lifetime, would be glad that one of her last causes was helping her daughter navigate her breast cancer journey. I’ve treasured the time I’ve gotten to spend with my Mom, caring for her in return. Bathing her, rubbing her feet, feeding her… it’s been intimate and close…something not all of us get to do for our mothers.
Throughout my life, my parents helped teach me to not take anything for granted… to jump at opportunities… to help others… to challenge myself and to love openly. Many people say that cancer teaches them how to do these things. I didn’t feel like I needed cancer to teach me that lesson because my Mom and Dad taught me how to live life well.
What I did learn from this experience is how to accept help. I was pretty much used to doing things on my own and pitching in to help others… I didn’t know how to ask for or accept help. This is what cancer taught me. It’s been beautiful to watch the stream of friends visiting my Mom and Dad in these last months. You almost need a tour director to handle all the food, flowers, cards and visitors. It’s extraordinary. As one friend said: “Veronica taught us how to live and now she’s teaching us how to die.” It’s true. She is surrounded by love. There is zero animosity. It’s powerful to be a part of.
I feel fortunate that I’ve experienced that love too in my own challenge with breast cancer. In these crazy times of hate, politics and racism, I hold on to this strong community we have and the love that washes over us daily. I encourage you to take the time to reach out to your friends in need… to say you love them…to do something kind. My family has been the direct recipient of this strong love and I’m here to testify… it’s life-changing.
Thank you, my village.
I love you.