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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Celebrating the 4th

This comes a little late, but I have felt the need to share these thoughts for some time now. They are like pebbles in my shoe, constant thoughts that I know I need to share to feel somewhat unburdened. We have all been busy this summer, but especially on the 4th of July, celebrating Independence, the America we all adore, the men and women who have fought around the world for our freedoms and still are. It is a very special time in America. Summer! Often it is spent with family and friends, barbecuing, partying, and shooting off fireworks. It is truly a time for fun and celebration.
I am going on eleven years from my diagnosis. But the 4th of July, despite its fun and spectacle, feeling of homecoming and warmth will, unfortunately, always be tainted for me.
July 4th, 1999 I spent shrinking in fear on a hillside while I tried to pretend I was enjoying the fireworks. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was awaiting my surgery which was scheduled for the following week. At that time, I knew I had an extremely large mass that had been growing unbounded in my breast for over a year, cancer in my lymph nodes, and I had seen the faces of dread on all the physicians who had examined me in the previous days; their barely composed anger at my delayed diagnosis, and their struggle to not squash what little hope of survival I had. I also had a wonderful husband, a seven year old daughter, and a six year old son. I shrank on that hillside knowing that I had an alien inside me. I felt like a ghost among the living. I don't remember seeing much of the fireworks through my tears. Thank heaven I was surrounded by my small family and our good friends who knew how hard it was for me to hold it together and had the grace to let me privately cry.
That year and a long time after were filled with moments of paralyzing fear, lost hope, and panic. Many holidays were ruined, many celebrations virtually unbearable. But the 4th of July continues to be an annual reminder of that time. Even though I am eleven years alive after a devastating diagnosis, I am brought back to that shrinking young mom, just as I'm sure so many veterans are cringing inside at remembered gunfire, explosives, and friends left on some battlefield. I left the carefree person I was then on the cancer battlefield eleven years ago. These days I spend grateful to be here, focusing on the joy of life. But some memories never fade. Some memories will linger with me forever.

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