Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer, from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. Cheryl amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!
Survivorship is a whole new world. You can call yourself a survivor the moment you are diagnosed, but it’s a difficult word to own. Those early days of diagnosis and treatment are a blur, and I am thankful for social media where I was able to publicly document my journey.
Somewhere around the time that I completed radiation, the local American Cancer Society “Relay for Life” events were going on, and I was invited to take part in a survivor dinner. But I wasn’t ready to be a survivor yet. I was still entrenched in the treatments and what they were doing to my body. One of my oncologists told me that it was ok if I wasn’t ready to participate in a survivor walk yet… or even if I never wanted to. As a cancer patient, I had to make my own rules about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to define my survivorship.
And my counselor told me that as you get to the end of the treatment, you go through the grieving process. At the beginning there’s a rush for knowledge: diagnoses, treatment options, tests, therapy, surgery. Then it all ends and you’re left bewildered about what you just went though. Thought it all, I kept repeating “Keep Moving Forward.” Each cycle, each treatment, each portion of the plan completed was moving me onward. Each bike ride, each hike, each slow walk through the woods as I grappled with nausea. Forward.
I first claimed my survivorship that September. I still had 3 months of treatment to go, but I was in the home stretch. I had friends that had participated in a 3-Day walk in Hilton Head called the LocoMotion the year before. It looked fun, and I had joked about wanting to join them the following year. Then I found the lump.
The next month, I also participated in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk with my sister, my sisters-in law and a cousin. This time the survivors ended the walk going down a pink carpet, showered with applause.
In the spring, I participated in the Run Like a Diva series with James’ sisters and cousin, and we held hands as we crossed the finish line.
In September, I returned to Hilton-Head for the 3-Day, Island hopping Pledge the Pink event, rebranded from Locomotion. Our team had grown from the previous year, and we had such a great time celebrating both my and my new teammate Hope’s statuses as survivors.
The theme this year was Superheroes, and we put on our capes and gave cancer the ka-pow! We walked for each other….and for those who can’t or are no longer with us. During the walk, I thought about all the women that came to me after my diagnosis and hugged me, saying “You’ve got this!”
I still see someone from my team of oncologists every three months. I check into the clinic every month to have an injection to keep me in menopause, and I know I have another surgery in my future to lower that percentage of recurrence a little more by having my ovaries removed.
Prior to each appointment, I feel myself getting worked up; it is truly PTSD. I break out in tears when I receive good news about another clear mammogram. You don’t “get over” cancer the way you do the flu or a cold. It’s part of you. You join a sisterhood. And together, we keep moving forward.
Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband James a speculative fiction writer, and 2 cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot and bike.
Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog. They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media. A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.