Rashes, Reoccurrence, Reflections

FallAbout three weeks ago I got out of the shower and noticed that I had a strange rash all over my chest (on the exact side the cancer had been).  I did a double take and studied it in the mirror.  My stomach sank remembering the words of my surgeon during one of my follow-up appointments: call us if you see any localized rashes, it can be a sign of reoccurrence. 

When Joel came upstairs he found me crying in the closet.  When I showed him, his face dropped too.  He said, “it’s probably nothing,” but his eyes told a different story.

I did my best to not completely panic, but of course fear gripped me and literally brought me to my knees.

Not. Again.

Joel brought me my phone and I made too desperate phone calls, one to my oncologist and one to my surgeon.

The week that followed was filled with appointments, steroid creams, and skin biopsies. It was hard for me to eat or sleep.  I tried to tell my brain that it was probably nothing, maybe a bug had gotten in my bra at the Renaissance festival in the woods, maybe I was allergic to something . . .  maybe.  Maybe. Maybe.

Maybe.

Maybe it was back.

So many thoughts filled my head.  Memories of chemo drips, fatigue so heavy it was hard to push the grocery cart, tears streaming down my face as Joel shaved my head.  All I could think was: I can’t go back to that. 

When Benadryl and a bath in tea tree oil made a significant improvement in the rash, the surgeon told me it couldn’t be cancer.  The biopsy revealed an allergic reaction . . . it probably WAS a bug in my bra and I couldn’t even feel a bite or an itch because these fake things have zero sensation.

Was this a cruel joke the universe was playing on me? A rash on ” THE cancer boob”? I mean . . . come on.

Of course there was relief when I realized it was not a reoccurrence.

But also — sadness.

This cancer stuff is scary.  The fear of reoccurrence can hang over me like a thick, heavy fog … if I let it.

And I am trying REALLY hard to not to let it.

This rash.  It scared the shit out of Joel and I.  We were fighting the night before I found it.  And man, did we kick ourselves for wasting our time on that.  What if it was back and our last night of normalcy was spent going to bed mad? What a waste.

This rash.  It woke me up . . . again.  I get to savor the cool morning air and the dark sky at 5:30 a.m. on the way to the gym.  I get to roll the windows down and pay attention to how the wind feels in my HAIR, and how the sun feels on my skin.  I get to snuggle up with my boys to give them one more kiss before leaving their room at night.  I get to hold Joel’s hand in the grocery store. I  get to lay on the floor and let my sweet puppy lick my face.  I get to notice the sound the leaves make as they swirl together in the street.

I. Am. Alive.

It was three years ago this week that I got my diagnosis news.  Three years! I will never forget that ocean of sadness that swallowed me up.  It seemed impossible that I would ever swim on the surface again.

I almost slipped back into that place of normalcy where gratitude is the exception — not the rule.  But that stupid rash made me remember how everything can change in an instant.  Don’t wait to live fully.  Forget about your outdated purse or your messy hair.  Stop playing it safe.  You are here.  You are alive.

I don’t want to forget these truths.  As I move further away from my crisis — I want to keep my scars, my reminders that change and vulnerability are required for joy.

 

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