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.