Five years and counting

My groovy little brother turned 28 years old today. He was over at my parents for dinner, where Zsolt and I are staying. At one point, he asked me if I remember my 28th birthday. Oh yes, I remember. I’d just had surgery to remove my right breast, and was trying to scrape together some reason to want to celebrate. My friend had thrown me a party in her backyard. Mom was visiting for the month to help in me recover and prepare for chemotherapy. Zsolt had had a birthday the week before – he was literally in the hospital waiting for me to get out of surgery.

So yeah, it was quite the birthday. It was also five years ago.


Five years is quite a significant number if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. I guess it’s the window in which, if you survive, you are deemed ‘cured’ in some measure. Lately I’m not sure how much it does or doesn’t mean to folks. But it’s still a big number. For instance, if you remain cancer-clear after five years you can apply for life insurance again. I was actually looking forward to applying for life insurance.

I remember planning to have a damn big party when I got to five years and was still cancer clear. It was going to be my line in the sand.

But this evening, right to the moment before I was asked that question, I’d actually forgotten the anniversary entirely. That’s not easy to do – many folks can tell you. But I’d forgotten because since five years ago, I’ve have a number of different moments to mark different test results. I’m obviously no longer cancer-clear. Now I fall into the stage 4 level of breast cancer where it spreads and they don’t have any amazing options or cures to offer. There are no more ‘all clear’ timelines. Instead, there’s average life expectancy.

But, dwelling there won’t help anyone, least of all me.

All I really wanted to say was five years. It’s good to be here. Great to be there. I just wish I could have said ‘Five years no cancer!’ you know? Instead, in that moment, I thought . . . five years. . . . and then had this weird feeling deep inside of me.

Here are some good things that have happened over the past five years:

Zsolt got his PhD

We traveled a lot, and did it well

I published Claire Never Ending and in a way, it makes me feel like I will live forever through the ripples

We moved to Canada

We created jobs when there were no jobs

We had our own apartment, and we made friends with our neighbours

I wrote and wrote and wrote, and became a freelancing writer

My friend and I started a podcast

I had three years of remission, and one year of shrinking

Every morning I woke up beside my best friend and husband

We traveled some more

I turned 28, then 29, then 30, then 31, then 32, and soon I’ll be 33

We came home

We made home

I sang in the shower

There was much drinking of tea with friends and family

Board games happened

And many other things, many big and small moments.

Life has been beautiful, just as much if not more than it has been hard. So, I am very, very grateful for these five years. They do mean a great deal to me, even if this anniversary isn’t what I had hoped it would be. Illness sure as heck changes your life, but I hope I am a better person for it. If I can’t have my life insurance policy, I can at least claim a damn good life.

So that is all I have to say about that.





8 thoughts on “Five years and counting

  1. Cheers to the good things in the last 5 years. Illness does change things, but there is always good somewhere. Especially the part about singing in the shower. 🙂

    • Personally, as time goes by I worry more. I thought the opposite was supposed to happen. It isn’t happening to me. I’ve heard too many stories and I know breast cancer can attack, again, at any point, especially the estrogen kind (my kind). Don’t get me wrong, I love it when women live for a long time after a bc dx. It’s always encouraging to hear their stories, but the worry lives forever.

      And there are always the good days. I find myself doing more than before my dx — not sure if it has to do with the timing, age, or the actual dx. Hate to give cancer any credit.

      I am glad you’ve done so many wonderful things. And I am also glad you are still here with us.

      • Yes, what you are saying is what I read for many, many women. I wish fear was something we could turn off with a switch, somehow. But that being said, I wish you years ahead of clear scans – and maybe somehow that worry will start to lower its voice.

  2. Catherine, you’ve covered a lot of ground over the past five years–your enthusiasm for life, your frankness about difficulties, your creative writing, your showmanship on the web, your willingness to share with the world. It is an honour to know you.

    It’s like we’re on a beach running … you are far ahead of me with your hair and a pale blue veil floating around you in the ocean breeze … you turn around to encourage me as I run to catch up to you.

    Can’t wait to get my “Happy Writer” T-shirts you designed–your influence will envelope me as I continue to write my first book. And I still hold close to my heart the wise advice that ‘Mommykins’ received from the spirit world. 🙂

  3. Five years. That’s a long time. You squeezed in a lot of good living in that time. I understand the waiting as I passed my 3 year mark last month when my genetic type of tumor (ocular melanoma, as you know), drops from 3% chance of recurrence, to 22%. I find myself thinking about it when I never gave it a thought before. But there are no guarantees. I could be fine, or I could be killed by a drunk driver this weekend. One never knows. That old cliche’, “live every day blah blah”, sometimes I can’t, but mostly I do, and so do you. And that’s fabulous. Just like you. HUGS and love


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