Beverly McKee MSW, LCSW

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bev walking on sanibel after chemo

One year ago today, 10/17/12 at 4:25pm, my life changed forever when I heard those words,

“You have breast cancer.”

Today is my first survivor celebration and I am officially done with all treatments and surgeries! This is the first of forty survivor celebrations that I plan to celebrate, with my most exciting one planned for October 17, 2052. It will be held on the beach as the sun is setting with all of my friends and family.

For now, I have been reflecting on this last year of my life. I’m a bit overwhelmed with how much my life has changed. Most of you are probably thinking that only bad can come out of year of breast cancer treatment but I've learned some amazing life lessons. 

Life lesson #1: It is vital to put things into perspective. I know it is cliché, but I no longer sweat the small stuff or even the big stuff as much as I used to. If I find myself getting stressed out, I ask myself two questions: can I fix it and will it matter one month from now. I fix it if I can and if not, I try to let it go. It’s an ongoing balancing act, but my perspective on what matters has changed dramatically.

Life lesson #2: I appreciate my body now more than ever. After a year of poking, prodding, cutting, pumping in poison and radiating, my body has changed so much. I have twelve new scars (I just counted them). In the course of five surgeries, I said adios to my breasts, hair, lymph nodes, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, eye brows and eye lashes. I carried rock hard, uncomfortable expanders (temporary implants) under my chest muscles for ten months, watching them literally grow before my eyes with double fills.

It seems logical that I might struggle with my body image after a year of invasive medical procedures. But here’s the amazing part of all of this: fighting and beating breast cancer has given me a new appreciation for every aspect of my body. I love that my body is recovering and I’m strong again. I appreciate that my lungs are clear and my bones are strong...allowing me to enjoy nature walks and long bike rides.

My hair is super short but it growing longer every day. Being proud and appreciative of my scarred, poisoned, radiated body has truly been a rainbow through the storm of breast cancer for me.

Life lesson #3: Life is so much more enjoyable when you stop trying to control everything and allow others to help. I have been overwhelmed with the number of people who have rallied around me in the last, friends, even strangers. People sent me cards and gifts, helped take care of my boys when I was weak, cooked for my family, cleaned my house, threw me pre-chemo parties, hair shaving parties and spent long hours with me in the chemo room. It was a big change for me to step down from managing every aspect of my life and allowing others to be in control. My gratitude to every person who has helped me this past year is beyond words. It has changed me as a person and I will never forget this life lesson.

Life lesson # 4: “Every storm eventually runs out of rain”. At times, it felt like the journey through breast cancer treatment would last forever, but I kept that quote in mind. I counted down and celebrated every milestone: every chemo treatment, surgery and radiation treatment. It was a long year, but I am DONE! My hair is growing back, my eyelashes and eyebrows are thick and healthy, my skin has a glow and my body is strong. This life lesson has helped me learn to be more patient with myself and everyone around me which makes me a better person.

Life lesson # 5: It is possible to find the rainbows through even the darkest storm. I’ve always tried to find the positives in life, but this year put that concept to the test. The journey through breast cancer treatment is difficult. I had some really dark days, but I found that if I looked hard enough, I could always find a positive. This approach will not cure cancer, but it certainly makes life more enjoyable and can be applied to any challenge in life.

Life lesson # 6: There is no time like the present to do the things that we want to accomplish in life. I have taken the experiences from this very challenging year and found a new purpose in life: creating HOPE for my fellow breast cancer survivors through an upcoming book and connecting survivors throughout the world on my Facebook page.

Life lesson #7: “Growing old is a privilege that is denied to many”. I will embrace every year of life along with the good and bad things that come from growing older. Every wrinkle, every gray hair, every ache and pain will mean that I am alive. I look forward to watching my boys turn into young men, marry the woman of their dreams and start a family. I will be a rock star grandma some day! You will not hear me complaining about aging...I will embrace it as a gift.

So how about you?  What life lessons have you learned from your journey through breast cancer?  We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW

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