Chronicles of Courage: Living Every Day Like It's Your Last

by Liz Dwyer
Oct 4, 2018

It shouldn't take surviving stage three triple negative breast cancer to make you live every day like it's your last.

I'd never even heard of the disease before my July 2014 diagnosis. Six rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, and 35 blasts of radiation later, I was grateful to be alive. Bald, burned, exhausted, but grateful. Especially when my hair started growing back! But a few months after I finished treatment in April 2015, another feeling snuck up on me: anger.

Anger that I'd ever believed cancer only happens to other people. Out of shape people. Old people. People with bad habits. Not to me, a 41-year-old who never smoked or drank, had been a vegetarian since age 17, and had run eight marathons. Anger that not all women are lucky enough to have great health insurance and jobs with the flexibility they need to attend all their medical appointments. And anger that sometimes people would tell me breast cancer is a government conspiracy. Pro-tip: Don't ever tell a cancer survivor that she should have eaten an obscure mushroom instead of following the treatment plan that kept her alive.

Mostly though, I felt angry with myself. I had family and friends, a job I loved, and a cat, dog, and fish, but somewhere along the way, my life had become bullshit: Me flaking on coffee with friends or on taking my kids to a football game. Me daydreaming about seeing the Eiffel Tower, but never getting on a Paris-bound plane. Or me maybe-next-year-ing my sister about us running a marathon together.

I took a hard look at my life and asked myself some tough questions: How was I spending my time and who was I spending it with? Did I feel loved and did my loved ones know I cared? And not to get all "Hamilton" on you, but ever since, I've been doing my best to not throw away my shot.

Y'all, I've been to Paris three times since 2015. THREE times. All by myself. Now I know that I might not be alive to see it if I wait for someone else to tag along.

It was tough to walk around the block when I finished treatment, but I crossed the finish line of the 2017 Los Angeles Marathon with my sister right next to me. I cried most of the final mile because we were together. I'd kept my promise to her.

I love music, but I used to rarely go to concerts. I figured I'd see the artist next time. Since March 2016 though, I've had a new tradition — one show per month, whether it's a big-name act or a local band. Right now I'm taking a stand-up comedy class and in November I start belly dancing lessons. Because, why not?

But mostly it's the little things: Hugging my sons harder and making sure we're not just talking about homework. It's lugging a picnic basket to Shakespeare in the Park, and laughing through "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with friends. It's climbing to the peak of Mt. Hollywood every Sunday. I know I'm lucky to be here, so I am making the most of this second chance.

LIVESTRONG'S Chronicles of Courage series has partnered with Athleta for Breast Cancer Awareness month to profile and share the stories of five women's experiences. For every bra purchased, Athleta will donate an Empower bra to UCSF HDFCC. Valid Oct 2-15. Maximum donation of 2500 bras.

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