YOU GUYS.

YOU GUYS.

Seasons Greetings!

Man, it’s been a minute. I’ve been up to so many things, one in particular that I CANNOT wait to share. I’ll get to it shortly.

Here’s what’s up in the life of Summy:

  • I know I say this a lot, but I’m done with surgery for awhile. My last procedure was a week ago to revise a scar that didn’t heal properly. The good news is it’s coming along beautifully, knocks on wood, and I’m set to have my nipple tattoo next week. If you don’t keep with with my “it’s-always-something-life”, my talented plastic surgeon was able to construct a nipple from tissue on my back. It looks like the real deal, and a with a little pigment, you’d never really know. Can’t wait to have a matching set.
  • YOU GUYS I’M GOING BACK TO WORK. Part time. After I came through the worst parts of treatment and all major surgeries were completed, I started getting an itch to ease back into the working world. Although I loved it, teaching would’ve be too much to tackle at the point in my life, so what to do…
  • Enter The Path Project:

I’ve volunteered with Path Project before, and I’m passionate about their cause. They posted they were hiring on Facebook, and I jumped on it. Like, I was pretty annoying. I wanted the job.

  • True story, for the past two years I have thrown out a small, specific prayer to God: I asked to work for The Path Project. Specifically, if it was His will, and the timing was right, could I find a way to serve as an official staff member? About two years later, He made the stars align and I was offered a salaried, part-time assistant community director at the Valley Brooke Mobile Home Community. YAS.
  • I will serve by helping with grades 3-5 starting in January. I will also work on a program for the middle and high students there once I settle in and brainstorm with my co-workers.
  • I have the privilege of building relationships with at-risk youth and their families. I will fight for them, I will encourage their hopes and dreams and see them walk across the stage at graduate one day.
  • I will also hold their hand when they’re going through worry and turmoil. I’ll help when their grades are failing. I’ll be there as a counselor, teacher, and mentor. I.Will.Be.There.
  • This is huge for me. I’m going all in. It really feels like a dream come true; you simply have to be involved with Path to fully understand the incredible work they do for the children they serve. It’s an honor to work for them.
  • Also, shoutout, God. You made me wait, but You knew what was best. Good call.

I’ll be posting again soon (maybe),

Summer

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GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS!

GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS!

Hey there.

It’s been a minute. Once again, I’ve started several posts, deemed them unworthy, and abandoned them…I’ve been medicated since my last reconstructive surgery, and I felt like I was blogging under the influence. It showed in my writing. My posts were akin to long, drunk texts.

I’m currently of sound mind, so I wanted to update everyone. I had my last (🤞🏻) major procedure at the end of August with my trusty surgeon, Dr. Piotr Skowronski. My surgery was outpatient at GMC Duluth (love that place) and overall, it was a positive experience. I had a “4D” nipple reconstruction that turned out beautifully. I was apprehensive that I would have a Franken-boob, but y’all, it looks exactly like my left (which was sparred in the double-mastectomy) and is truly a testament to my surgeon’s talent. Once it heals, I’ll have it tattooed (a lovely shade of nipple pink, I guess), and it will be complete!

The second part of my procedure consisted of an abdominoplasty and fat-grating (tummy tuck and liposuction, basically) that took some fat from abdomen to my breasts to fill in some depressed areas from the aggressive mastectomy. It added some fullness and without having to alter the size and shape of my implants. Some patients require multiple fat-grafting procedures (layering) in order to achieve the desired result. The body absorbs quite a bit of the fat, so I may or may not choose to have more done.

Regarding the tummy tuck…WHOA. OW. I really underestimated the post-operative discomfort and recovery. I certainly didn’t think it would be a breeze, but it was much more painful and physically taxing than I imagined. The results are dramatic, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit I seriously questioned my decision a few times. I was fortunate to have so much help from my family and friends. But y’all, barring some type of emergency, I am taking a break from anything surgical for awhile. My body is screaming for some rest.

Moving on….GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS. October 1st. Exactly two years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and ironically, the day that kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I have some thoughts:

  1. I am so grateful to be alive. I give all the credit and glory to God. Absolutely everything.
  2. I really am a different person; both positively and negatively. My current goal is to work on the negative changes. It’s hard.
  3. I don’t like Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Seeing pink and ribbons everywhere makes me uncomfortable. I don’t even like calling myself a survivor. Cancer happened. I fought it. I am actively dealing with the aftermath, but I’d like to move on.
  4. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful and healing for others. I respect and support that.
  5. I am always, always, always willing to talk to someone about my experience. If it helps, I’ll speak.
  6. I’ve had some difficult days lately and that’s okay. Some days are just rough emotionally and physically. There are periods when I’m upset with myself and the way I look. I have a lot of scars. I feel like my body let me down somehow.
  7. I acknowledge these feelings, but they don’t own me. As John Piper wisely said, “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”
  8. I’ve said it a million times on this blog, but ladies, please perform self-exams if you’re not getting regular mammograms. Know your body and don’t hesitate to consult your physician if something seems off. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam is an excellent, easy-to-understand resource explaining how to perform a self-exam if you aren’t sure how to do it.

Lastly, THANK YOU to everyone who reads the blog. I honestly never thought anyone would be interested. I started writing it as an outlet for myself and it’s lovely to hear positive feedback. It’s allowed me to connect with people all over the world, have features in magazines, share my testimony at church, and heal and pour my heart out. Here’s to many more posts.

Until Next Time,

Summer XO

My Heart. A Love Note to GUM Preschool.

My Heart. A Love Note to GUM Preschool.

Hey y’all.

This week my baby, Max started Kindergarten. He was ready, I was not. I knew this day was coming…I looked forward to it! It’s just that, almost two years ago, I was terrified I’d never see it. Now, here we are: he’s a good boy, very polite, and whip smart. He’s gone into Kindergarten with flying colors. I wish I could take credit. But, I was fighting breast cancer during his formative preschool years, and I thank God for blessing him with Grayson UMC Preschool, their amazing staff, and his teachers: Ms. Mandie, Ms. Kathy, Ms. Mary, Ms.Joni, Ms. Stacie, Ms. Alison, and Ms. Amy. They guided Max and Brewer through the toughest times in their little lives, all with love and grace. I am forever grateful; it is not a debt I can repay. Thank you for loving my sons as the faced problems they couldn’t yet understand at home. Because of Grayson UMC Preschool, they are soaring despite the difficulties they faced early on. Thank you, GUMP, every member, teacher, helper who loved on my boys. You saw us through the most difficult part of our lives, and my sons wouldn’t be who they are without your love, care, and compassion. The Adcock family loves you, thank you for loving and nurturing our sons.💖

Coming Along.

Coming Along.

Hello.

I’ve started at least 10 posts and haven’t found inspiration to complete them. They felt banal, like something you’d read in a pamphlet at the doctor’s office, so I scrapped most of them. I haven’t forgotten my idea for “My Favorite Things: The Cancer Edition”,  it’s just that what I wrote didn’t feel right.  For me, writing either flows out of me liked a busted dam or the well is dry. My “creative process” is spontaneous and unstructured to say the least. In any case, I wanted to post an update; so much is coming up!

On the homefront, I’m blissfully stressed and busy with my sons. While “blissfully stressed” is an oxymoron by definition, it’s a pretty accurate description of how I feel about life as a “homemaker” (is that what you still call it? Freelance-Writer-Blogger-Mom? Chalk-Art-Creator-Mother-of-Boys?) There are days where I feel like I can’t find time to complete my endless list of to-dos, and others where I wear pajamas all day, watch Disney Junior for hours, eat Goldfish and Lunchables leftovers, and shove all the crap on the floor into the nearest closet. The thing is, I’m here to experience every frustrating, beautiful, exhausting, messy, rewarding, gloriously maddening moment. I never, EVER take that for granted. I intend to return to the workforce in the future, likely back to teaching high school (which I loved, by the way. I’m sick, I know). I’d also love to dabble in non-profit work; we’ll see how God moves in that area of my life. For now, I just #momsohard all day, every day.

Professionally speaking, I was invited to pen my second essay for Wildfire Magazine. For those who aren’t familiar, Wildfire is a publication geared towards young women who have experienced breast cancer, their caregivers, and anyone who’s been affected by cancer in any form. It’s original, honest, and brutally, beautifully raw.  Please visit their site, www.wildfirecommuntiy.org and look around.

I played with my writing style this time, and I’m pleased with the outcome. It’s an honor to have my work published, and I hope to submit many pieces in the future. I’ll post my latest feature on the blog after the Editor approves.

I’ll be featured in the upcoming “New Normal” issue. This cover was from 2016. Wildfire has improved the reading experience with professional graphic design and new layouts. I’m so excited to see it!

Health wise, I feel…okay. I’m still adjusting, but things seem to be moving in a positive direction. I’m on a slew of medications, and I’m definitely feeling some side effects. My least favorite post- cancer treatment involves being harpooned in the butt cheek by a monthly Trelstar injection (Trelstar puts my body into a state of chemically-induced menopause so I can take a particular type of Estrogen blocking meds called Aromatase Inhibitors). It’s weird to be 33 and have my hormones so radically unlike other women my age, but it’s saving my life, so I’ve accepted it as the hand I’ve been dealt. I play it the best I can. Mostly, I feel fatigued, the kind of tired that no amount of sleep can reduce. My body feels stiff; I’m basically geriatric in my thirties. Even with the inconvenience my medicinal regime induces, it’s a world away from the effects of chemo and radiation. I do my best to stay active (yoga IS SO AWESOME) and live life well. The last two years have been hard, so very, very hard, but the silver linings are beginning to show themselves. I appreciate my life in real time, I’m mindful of every moment.

I’m hoping to have my sixth and final surgical procedures in August. I’m having a nipple reconstruction (basically, building a nipple using existing skin which will be tattooed later) and fat grafting to add volume and create a natural, symmetrical look and feel in the breasts. They weren’t lying when they said breast reconstruction is a journey.  It will be two years of surgeries in September. 

After much deliberation, I’m also going to throw a tummy tuck in the mix. It’s a procedure I’ve been interested in for awhile. I’ll have it done while I’m having my final reconstruction, so it’s basically an add-on to a necessary surgical procedure, and much less expensive than a seperate operation. Yay, me! 

I’m sure I’ll have a lot to share once all this comes to fruition. Look for my second essay soon, likely within the week. I’ll also post the testimony I’m sharing with my Graystone Church family. Good stuff on the way, y’all!

Until Next Time,

Summer

My Favorite Things, Part 1:   (The Cancer Edition)

My Favorite Things, Part 1:   (The Cancer Edition)

Alright, before I start my next batch of posts, let me update you all:

So, I just had my 6 month check-up with Dr. Saker; it went well! I had an injection of Prolia to prevent bone loss (bonus, the most recent studies show it also prevents bone metastisis, SCORE) and my monthly Trelstar shot to shut down the ol’ ovary factory. We discussed health and wellness goals for the next 6 months. I’d like to cut WAY back on my Diet Coke consumption, quit my night snacking, and be more active in general. 

I’ve started taking yoga classes at Ebb and Flow in Loganville…instant love. It’s definitely a workout, but I feel peaceful and light at the end of each session. It’s relaxing, challenging, and there’s no New Age Reiki Healer lurking around to project their quackery onto me. It really is mind/body exercise, and I’m already seeing benefits after just two weeks. They have a Groupon. Come join me!

More importantly, my hair is back, really back, and I’m feeling well overall. I’m heading into what I hope will be my last surgery this June (nipple reconstruction, fat grafting, and possibly an abdominoplasty to complete this whole journey). I’m still taking Femara along with an arsenal of pharmacueticals and will likely do so for the next 10 years. Femara has its own issues, but that’s a post for another time. 

Professionally, I’ve been blessed with an abundance of opportunities. From my normal chalk art creations, to custom, hand-painted signs, I’ve had my hands full! I’m looking forward to freeing up some time and energy to finally create a series of paintings I’ve had on my mind for awhile. I can’t wait to share with you when the time comes.

Family wise, my baby is graduating Pre-K and I’m trying to deal and failing miserably. My youngest is a Tornado of destruction, but also a total snuggler, so it evens out. Jared and I are getting more date nights in here and there, so I feel like we’re all cool right now in the Adcock House.

Now, to the real point:

This is my first attempt at a series, so hopefully I deliver and don’t wait 3 months between blogs. Really going to try this time.

After this, I’m going to rethink my writing…will it still be about breast cancer?

My answer is maybe…every now and again, I suppose. I’d like to put some distance between myself and the disease, but there always seems to be something about my experience I think would help others, so into the blog it goes. Sigh.

I have a pretty cool life now that I’m in remission (I love that word…remission, remission, remission) so I’m definitely going to incorporate more non-malignant tales.

Basically, If you’ll read ’em, I’ll keep crankin’ ’em out. I take requests.

Anyway, I’ve had an idea for awhile to create a “vendor list”, if you will, of people, places, products, charities, and companies, etc. that have been clutch during the past year and a half. It stems from the isolation I felt as a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know anyone in my position. I mean, I didn’t know anyone who even knew someone else like me. 

Somewhere during my medical panic google searching, I managed to find some exceptional non-profit groups that gave me solid advice and specific, accessible resources in my area. I also found other young breast cancer survivors (through Instagram of all platforms) and a thriving community of women who shared a similar story. There are so many incredible women I’d love to meet someday. (YSC Summit, Orlando 2018, anyone?)

Someone once asked me why I put so much emphasis on the “young survivor” label. I do so because we are an underrepresented population in the world of breast cancer. Research is limited, but the latest, credible, peer-reviewed studies indicate that breast cancers (cancer is plural here because there are many subtypes of breast cancer; something I was unaware of previous to my own diagnosis) in younger women are more aggressive, typically require harsher treatment, and come with a host of difficult decisions about future family planning, parenting young children during treatment, and additional issues that older women with the disease don’t face. It’s isolating and frightening.

Fun flashback: The doctor who performed my barbaric biopsy stated, “breast cancer in women under 40 is rare, but not uncommon. Your ultrasound is showing a pretty cancerous looking mass, though.” 

Literally, my face.
I’d like to think he was trying to say, “it’s pretty rare in women under 40, but we do see it from time to time in our practice. Your mass is suspicious and we need to send it to pathology.”

 The takeaway here is breast cancer doesn’t discriminate: your age can’t protect you, a lack of family history can’t protect you. Being a vegan cross-fit Queen still can’t save you. Sometimes cancer takes residence in your body because some cells went rouge, I don’t know. YOU must be self-aware. There isn’t a need to worry excessively…it’s this simple: Learn how to perform a self-exam and do one every month (google the “Feel it on the First” movement). If you find a lump, see your GP or OBGYN. It probably ISN’T cancer, but for young women, early detection saves lives; don’t wait

PS. If you feel it’s not normal even though you were told, “just keep an eye on it” or “it doesn’t look suspicious” and your doctor shoo-shoos you away, you get back in there and demand a definitive test be done, or go find someone who will. 

If you’re newly diagnosed, in treatment, recovering, or supporting a loved one, and are totally overwhelmed, there’s help. It’s me (LOL, I know). Listen, I’m here to give you the vendor list that no one wants to use, but should you need it, I hope it’s of good use. I’ll break it down into catagories for simplicity’s sake. We’ll go from “heavy” fare (think doctor recommendations and chemo tips) to lighter topics, like cosmetics and gifts. This particular post will focus solely on the physicians and medical facilities I used before, during, and after treatment. It will be most helpful for those who live in the Atlanta area, but I’ll also offer up some information and advice I gleaned from my experience as a cancer patient (obviously, not to be substituted for  professional medical guidance. I’m a blogger, not an MD). There’s something for everybody.

Enjoy:

First Up: The Breast Doctors.

  Disclaimer, my experience with these physicians were top notch, but everyone is different. Seeking a second, third, whatevernumbermakesyouconfortable opinion is encouraged. Any doctor who takes offense to that is probably not the one for you.

When it comes to the physicians associated with breast cancer , your team usually consists of your breast surgeon (who is tasked with removing the tumor via mastectomy or lumpectomy). Some women are advised to have neoadjuvant chemo to shrink the tumor before an operation, but most of the women I’ve spoken to saw their breast surgeon first. They usually order an MRI and genetic testing to get an idea of what their working with. I’d like to stress the importance of this relationship. Confidence in your breast surgeon is essential. Obviously, he or she will be very involved in your initial surgery, but also in port placement and some reconstructive procedures as well. 

I was referred to my surgeon, Dr. Jean-Claude Schwartz, by a family friend who had a wonderful experience. I was not disappointed. His skill, fellowship training creditials, and bedside manner instantly put me as ease. I mean, he gave me his cell number in case any issues arose (which was great because I had a massive panic attack after we decided I’d need a double mastectomy. I texted him, and called in some Xanax. He was my hero). He didn’t treat me as “just another patient”. He always kept my role of a wife and mother to two young sons in mind. Below is his bio and link:

www.gabreastsurgery.com

Bonus points for being handsome, amiright?

Along with Dr. Schwartz, I am also in the hands of a talented plastic surgeon, Dr. Piotr Skowronski. Although he has his own practice, he works closely with Dr. Schwartz. Together, they specialize in Oncoplastic surgery. According their site, the definition of the sub-specialty is:

 “Cancer surgery combined with immediate reconstruction to avoid deformity and match the other breast. This surgery has been proven to decrease the rate of positive margins and need for additional future corrective surgeries. Dr. Schwartz received international training in the European Centers where these procedures where invented.”

I can personally attest to Dr. Schwartz’s skill. I especially enjoyed he a partnership with Dr. Skowronski: nothing is more frustrating than doctors who aren’t on the same page or even know what the other one has in your care plan! Skowronski took his time during the reconstruction portion of my recovery. He truly wanted the best result for me, nothing was rushed and all options were explored. You can call Dr. Schwartz’s office to schedule an appointment with him as well. His information is below:Both of these men have exceeded my expectations. I’m still working with Dr. Skowronski. As I mentioned earlier, this summer he’ll be doing some fat grafting, a nipple revision, and a totally un-cancer related tummy tuck. I should be lookin’ right by the end of the summer. I personally recommend using Gwinnett Medical Center for any major surgical procedure and DEFINITELY their breast center for any imaging or biopsies. I went to Eastside for my biopsy, and in short, I’ll never, ever, go back. I’m #teamGMC for life, but more on that in the next post.

Coming Up on Part Two:

I’ll discuss my Oncology Team as well as what you can expect if you’re faced with chemo, radiation, or both. Stay tuned!

XO,

Summer

Catalyst

Catalyst

*Before we start: I had my 6th month check-up with my oncologist today. My previous blog post revealed my nervousness about some recent symptoms that had me totally freaked out. I woke up feeling much better. My doctor thinks that my symptoms were a combination of my acid reflux (which is exasterbated by a hiatal hernia and my medications) and the nervousness I ALWAYS feel before these appointments. If I’m still bothered by them in a week or so, we’ll have tests done, but for now, it’s all good. Crazy how the mind and body can create such intense physical manifestations. Now, on to the content:

I have something to admit:

I started this blog for selfish reasons. 

When I diagnosed, friends, family, and people I haven’t heard from in years, recached out to me to convey their well wishes. I cannot describe how meaningful each call or text was…the simple fact that they were thinking of me was comforting. 

It was also overwhelming. I barely understood what had happened to my body, let alone be able to explain it well to everyone who asked, “How are you doing?”.  I mean, damn. I just got diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer at 31, how do you think I’m doing? I decided to chronicle my journey through treatment with a blog; whomever cared to do so could keep up with me there. Summy From the Blog was born because I couldn’t fake saying the words, “I’m okay” One. More. Time.

The blog intially described my cancer experience, from a double mastectomy, to chemo, hair loss, radiation, the super disgusting burn I got from radiation, 2:45 AM trips to the ER, multiple reconstructive surgeries, battling anxiety and depression, and the occasional cancer joke that probably made people uncomfortable. 

Writing helped tremendously; it was a release to put my thoughts into written format, but it wasn’t enough. I still felt empty, confused, and to be honest, upset that God had allowed this into my life. I mean, I already had some heavy things going on at the time.

Somewhere along the way, I went from what I call “sad cancer lady” to someone who decided to lean in to something I more or less brushed aside for quite some time: my faith.

 I’ve always identified as a Christian, but my heart and actions often didn’t line up. I came to church most of the time, but the other 6 days of the week were pretty much hit or miss. Ironically, it was after my treatment ended that my depression started to spiral out of control (I have a post detailing the experience; check it out if you are so inclined). I was exhausted. Beat down. Tired of little pink boxing glove stickers and being a “warrior”. I looked like Gollum, not some Wonder Woman in a pink cape. If you’ve ever experienced clinical depression, you know the awkwardness of others as they try and figure out just how to deal with you. Me? I was unbearable to be around. I could feign normalcy for my sons, but most of the day I was listless, crying, and dejected. Something had to change, and soon.

I made the decision to sign up for a small group at Graystone Church. Now, let me be clear: I am not a “small group kind of person” I’m an introvert; the thought of meeting strangers and talking about matters of the heart and soul terrified me. I DO NOT like attention; I just knew I would have to do one of those “introduce yourself” talks and the very thought made me want to throw up. 

Despite my intital reservations, I signed up anyway. Whatever it was I’d been doing was clearly not working. Perhaps I needed to push past my insecurities and just show up.

So I did. And yeah, I had to introduce myself. It was uncomfortable, but it turns out a lot of the other women were just as hesistant as me, maybe even more so. Okay, I thought…I can handle this…

To save you from what could potentially be a small chapter book, I’ll summarize:

Leaning in to my faith, taking some uncomfortable steps like joining a small group, opening up to ladies who would become my friends and sharing my story was the catalyst for a deeper relationship with Christ; one that felt genuine and transformative. I was eventually baptized and have been in the process of growing as a Christian ever since.

To be very clear: I’m not some magically perfect unicorn of a person now. Quite the opposite, actually. I need God’s grace more than ever. I suppose I’ll be working on my shortcomings and screw-ups until I leave this earth. I do feel different, though. No one can argue with me about that.

If you’re reading this, especially if you’re in the hellhole that is depression, I hope you leave this post with the knowledge that it can and does get better. Taking a risk, doing something I’d never done before, was the push I needed to grow. Maybe you’re not ready to jump into a small group, maybe you’re like I was: angry, bitter. May I challenge you? Start small, maybe a prayer for guidance, give your problems to HIM, Come see me at Graystone Church. I won’t make it weird, I promise. It could just be the nudge that changes everything.


XO,

Summer

10.1.2065

10.1.2065

I’m not feeling well…it’s nothing major. A little cough, probably allergies. Then the fear comes creeping back in. What if it’s not? I have an oncologist appointment May 4th…what if Dr. Saker wants a chest X-ray? What if shows something? What if I need a biopsy? What if…

Then I look at my arm. October 1, 2065.  I remember I’m held safely in the palm of my Creator’s hand. 

Stop.

It finally feels like the right time to post the essay published in Wildfire Magazine. When I was invited to submit, I agonized over how I approach the topic. I wanted it to be “perfect”. I wrestled with my indecisiveness until the night before my deadline. Finally, I inhaled deeply, asked God to help me express myself in a way that would speak to others and just wrote. The end result was a semi-structured, slightly modified,  flow-of-consciousness peak inside my mind. 

Enjoy.

                           10.1.2065 

by Summer Adcock

APRIL 17, 2017 IN DIAGNOSIS, MASTECTOMY

          I had only been home from the hospital for a few hours. My double mastectomy was over, my tumor was out. Why was I so uneasy? Maybe it was the absence of concerned doctors and doting nurses…the hospital felt safe. I could float in and out of reality in a medicated haze. I was just another patient there. It was private. Now, Jared and I found ourselves alone for the first time in days. I couldn’t look. My eyes were closed. Pretend you’re somewhere else. This isn’t really you. He knows that. I could feel him. His hands shook a little as he gingerly unwrapped my bandages. The dressing was off now, I could feel cold air against my wounded chest. I opened my eyes, staring straight at the wall. Don’t look down. Don’t look at it. This isn’t really you. 

As he continued to care for my wounds, my thoughts drifted to the first days after my diagnosis, particularly the moment I sobbed, repeatedly asking Jared if he thought I was going to die. His voice was firm as he replied: “No. I can’t do this (life) without you.” Trying to lighten the mood, he told me to envision ourselves fifty years in the future, together and healthy, remembering how we had overcome such agonizing circumstances. “Ten, one, two thousand sixty five,” he said. “Remember that date.”

My recollection abruptly ended when I felt a flash of pain from the fresh dressing being laid on my scarred, flat chest. Out of macabre curiosity, I glanced down at my surgical drains; they hung from my chest as if part of some dreadful costume. Suddenly the red color of the wall felt sickening. I was nauseated. It’s almost over. This isn’t really you. He knows that. It was in that moment that the doubt crept in. I knew he loved me. I’m his wife. Cancer can’t change that. My appearance can’t change that…

We stood at the front of the church and said it: “in sickness and in health.” But when I recited those words, I was a bride, beautiful and physically whole. Parts of me were missing now, sickness had come.”

A few weeks passed and Jared dutifully accompanied me to my first session of chemotherapy.

We were the youngest couple in the room. Other patients stared at me. I suppressed my dread and gave a defiant smile to everyone whose eyes met mine. Jared tried to hold my hand and my fingers curled into a fist; I couldn’t stand it. I could sense how desperate he was to do something, anything, to comfort me, and I resisted. I can do it. Don’t help me. This isn’t us…

I had just pulled the last wisp of hair from my scalp when I finally stared at my reflection in the mirror. I had looked, but never inspected myself. I was somewhat of a base model human, my lashes were gone, my eyebrows thin and sparse. Only a few fine strands of hair remained; a pitiful remnant of the thick brown locks I had before cancer. I lifted up my shirt and inspected the scars again. They had healed, but the shock of my damaged, uneven chest still stunned me. I didn’t recognize myself. My mirror image was foreign, my mind couldn’t accept such radical change. I felt some type of indescribable upset; disappointment mixed with anger and a touch of resentment. I tried my best not to let Jared see me in such a vulnerable state. In fact, the thought of him looking at me, at my worst, was unbearable. He says he loves me, but he has too. I’m an obligation now, right?
The next night, laying next to Jared, I found myself wondering what he was thinking of. Was it me? Money? Our sons? How sick I looked? I hoped not. In the stillness, I reached for his hand. As I turned, I bluntly questioned him: “Do you love me?” Perplexed, he stared back at me. The me with no hair. The me with scars. The me without breasts. I wanted to cry.
Stealing part of a line from an old country song, he replied, “I’m in love with you, not your hair or your body.” In the darkness of our bedroom, for the first time in what had felt like an eternity, I believed him. The familiar pang of uncertainty didn’t follow the words “I love you.” The declaration felt authentic, his statement unconditional. “Say it. The date. Say it with me.” Ten, one, two thousand sixty five.
You see, cancer is destructive. It shatters relationships with the strife and tension it brings. However, with destruction comes growth and healing. Although the physical and mental anguish of breast cancer left bodily scars and psychological wounds, it also demolished every wall I built up, especially in my marriage.
It burned my former self to ash.
Jared still tells me he loves me, but now I know I’ll never have to question him again. When old feelings of insecurity start to slither their way into my life, I stop, smile and remember:
Ten, one, two thousand sixty five.