Life's What You Make it
Lemon, lemonade, or limoncello.
Life hands us lemons along the way. No one is immune. Some get more than their fair share. Some get them when they’re young and some when they’re old. Why two people turn similar misfortunes into two very different outcomes is fascinating. One lives the rest of their life sucking on a lemon, while the other adds a bit of sugar and sips on lemonade. But then there are the others…those who turn their unfortunate circumstances into limoncello.
In 2020 on my fiftieth birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As if turning the mid-century mark wasn’t jarring enough, there I was contemplating how much more of my life I really had left in the bank. When you receive this kind of news, your world is shaken to the core in an instant. There is a ‘before’ you and then an ‘after' you. You quite literally turn gray, your knees buckle, an eerie sensation of the world closing in becomes harrowing, and then your brain quickly adjusts itself and you begin to think of your kids. At least it did for me.
While I was ultimately given a positive outcome, genetic testing was highly encouraged before we put a concrete plan in motion to get rid of the cancer. Despite no obvious trend of cancer in my family, I tested positive for a genetic mutation named PALB2. It ranks as the third highest-risk breast cancer genetic mutation behind the well-known BRCA1 and BRCA2. It changed my original course for treatment and I ended up having three operations within the course of eight months. I functioned purely on adrenal for about two years and my cortisol levels were likely in the red zone that entire time. While I handled that journey like a ninja warrior, I did ultimately crash and burn.
Everyone commented on how strong and confident I was. They still do. Perhaps it appeared that way, for most of my life the people around me have mostly misinterpreted my ‘motivational anxiety‘ for boldness and strength. Alone I dealt with shock and medical PTSD and a few people that I love deeply did not know how to deal with what I was going through. Looking back, I believe they were simply scared, and that it hurt them even more. I had to fake a disposition that all was ok. That this was no big deal. Because I didn’t want anyone else to feel fear or pain and I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me either. During that time I put myself first physically, but mentally I prioritized everyone else around me. I'm only now playing catch up with myself.
Just a little over two years past my cancer diagnosis, I am still sweeping up the ashes. And while they no longer burn a hot vivid red like they used to, there are still some quiet warm embers that will likely never go away completely. When my brain starts to spiral, which it often does, I remind myself that anxiety does really bad math. So, then I stop myself before going down the rabbit hole of cancer statistics. I know I’ve done everything I can to mitigate any future risks, and so now I need to learn how to sip on some sweet limoncello and take life by the unicorn’s horn. It's a process.