By Heather Gladbach, for LBBC
(Photo courtesy of the Of Scars Project)
September had always been the beginning of a new year in my world. For one, my birthday falls within the month; it is also the month when back-to-school fun begins for my kids. Yet, my perception of time changed on February 10, 2010, as my mother took me for a drive around Minneapolis and my cell phone rang. I knew what the nurse on the other end of the line was going to say: “Mrs. Gladbach, you have breast cancer.” From that moment began the start of a new calendar, marking the beginning of my life with breast cancer.
In my distressed and panicked mind there was initially no room for dreams. Yet soon, I found myself making nightly wishes that I would wake to live another day. My deal with the higher power was simple: I promise to take whatever my doctor prescribes; just let me live long enough to teach and love my babies and to continue to love my husband.
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a double mastectomy and reconstruction took up my days. As a new year began, my resolution was to not let cancer get in the way of living my life. Yet, on January 20, 2011 — 2 weeks after my tattoos had been put on my new breasts — I found out that the cancer had metastasized to my brain and adrenal glands. As I received radiation to my brain and new medicines to try, I slowly began to accept that the way back to health was far from a quick fix — a slam dunk — no matter how I spun it. Being told you have stage IV breast cancer is something you never want to hear. The staging doesn’t go any higher than IV. Here I was, at age 38, having reached that stage.
This past September I turned 41. My birthday celebration was not as rowdy as my 40th was by any means. My wish was to be with my family. They made me the cutest cards and gave me a gorgeous pot with mums and tools for my new hobby, gardening. I didn’t even have to make dinner! What was strange about this birthday was that I didn’t think about the cancer itself once that day. I did think about what I have become because of the cancer.
I don’t know that I have actually shared my aspirations with many people. Up until now, I’ve kept them private, but no longer do. With my radiated brain, my memories are at times sketchy, but I do know that when I was younger I was a pretty formidable force. Still, I had somehow allowed myself to believe the ideas and views of others were better than my own. Allowing myself to have an opinion or idea and to articulate it is something that I have embraced in recent years. It sounds a bit like growing up — to be no longer lost in my sense of who I am. Cancer didn’t bring me to this self acceptance right away, but over time accepting the cards that were dealt made sense to me.
What dreams followed my diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer? I dream of many years into the future. I dream of having enough time with my children and that I may do the best that I can for as long as I can. I figured that since I was dreaming, I too would wish for the strength to handle all the negatives of my illness with ease. I don’t like roller coasters at all, so decided to let go of living as if I were riding one.
My dreams and aspirations will always begin with my hope for the start of another year. Simply put, I want to be there for my family and friends. So when the ball drops in Times Square, I will be thinking of all the good I have in my life and how I can share my story with whoever wants to hear it. This new year that will soon grace our calendar gives me the opportunity to dream of the book that I will pen, of the garden I will raise, and of continuing to love my children with more patience. Finally, I want to be a decent guitar player.
There are women around me who have either started or are just finishing treatment for breast cancer. I would love to have the fortune of continuing to be there for others like me. There are too many women in this world who have had to join the motley crew of us who are living with a breast cancer diagnosis. At times, our dreams may appear to have a lot of holes in them, yet there is beauty in recognizing that. Cancer has afforded me the ability to dream differently and more honestly than ever.
The views expressed in this newsletter article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.