Lying in bed last night, I remembered: March 21, 2002 — the day I discovered I had breast cancer, a moment I swore I would always remember with great precision. But the 10-year anniversary of that date passed without even a glimpse of memory. What was I doing on the 21st? Thinking about how it was the equinox, I had a big trip to Western Kansas ahead and a lot to do before I left, and oh, the dog was (and is) so beautiful. I was thinking about how crazily ahead of time all the flowers and blossoming trees are, whether I could cajole my old van to keep moving for another year without massive repair bills, and how good some meatballs might be for dinner. I was probably thinking about how the boys don’t do the dishes without prodding and hardly ever do a good job, and also, they eat everything in sight.
But cancer? It didn’t cross my mind.
The day of my biopsy was the day I found out although the doctor didn’t officially say, “You have cancer” until March 22, 2002. When that strange machine made its loud click against my left breast, my mind clicked along with it. I had cancer. Most likely. Probably. This was reinforced by the nurse confessing to Ken that the constellation of cells in the x-ray was classic breast cancer. It was a Thursday, beautiful out, and we set off for home to wait until Friday for the official word. Although we knew, we told ourselves and each other maybe it wasn’t cancer. Then we waited. A phone call with an answer would be no answer. A phone call telling us to come in for an appointment would be cancer. March 21 was the hardest day of the whole cancer experience for me, harder than three major surgeries, the loss of body parts, six months of chemo and diagnosis of BRCA 1 (breast cancer genetic mutation).
That Friday morning, sitting at my desk, which was a different desk then and in the basement, the phone call came. An appointment. In an hour. “Then it’s cancer?” I said to the nurse. “Yes,” she answered, “But you already knew that.”
The anniversaries for the first year, the second, and especially the fifth year (when I was deemed cured) were big affairs. I looked to them like birthdays, and each one passed through me with its gifts of life and freedom. Even last year, the ninth anniversary, I remembered, and told myself that in a year, it would be 10 years.
Now it’s past 10 years, and having moved onto a vital picture of life so encompassing that there wasn’t even room to remember, I’m amazed. And grateful, even and especially to have forgotten what I can never forget.