The Freckle Effect

The Freckle Effect

by Erika JaneApril 4, 2019

Even on days with the worst brain fog, I can easily remember the busy summer morning of June 2015.

While getting ready for work, I noticed a small lump in my left armpit. Believing I was a healthy, 35-year old female with no risk factors for cancer- I assumed that my body was fighting a germ and went about my day. Unfortunately, after multiple tests and a needle biopsy, I received a phone call from my doctor stating, “your biopsy came back positive for cancer”.

I was paralyzed with shock- in absolute disbelief by her words.

Before my diagnosis of cancer, I learned some harsh life lessons. I became a widow. Life is fragile, precious and short. After my husband David’s death I adopted a mantra for myself and young son Caleb: “live in the moment”.

At the time, I really believed that I had learned the life lessons that were meant to transform me. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, that I would fully comprehend the value of living in the moment!

I remember sitting in the breast surgeon’s office on a beautiful sunny day in mid-July. She calmly explained my aggressive, difficult to cure, type of breast cancer and the treatment options. The schedule of my upcoming tests, scans, surgeries and infusions sent me into a tailspin of fear.

The fear of the unknown was quickly replaced with fear for my son. What if I die?  Who will teach him the life-lessons that I know…who will support his dreams and quiet his fears? Who will love him unconditionally like only I can? After that appointment, I frantically began Googling my diagnosis, but more importantly my prognosis.

The treatment predictions weren’t great, but what other choice did I have?

There was no time to dwell on the fear and anxiety I felt. I quickly assembled my healthcare team to handle this diagnosis and had my port inserted the first week in August and a few days before Caleb’s 4th birthday. It was Caleb’s excitement over the superhero-themed birthday party that drove me to reassess my mind-set. I was preparing for the ultimate battle – the battle for my life.

I knew then that I was not going to be able to manage working full-time and maintaining home life with the intense treatments, side effects and surgeries on my own. Hence, the love and support from friends and family is what allowed me to trust the proposed treatment plan without hesitation. The opportunity to be Caleb’s Mom is what got me out of bed every morning; in spite of the emotions that I was experiencing.

Over the next fifteen months, my body evolved into becoming a fierce, determined warrior. I transformed the energy of fear I felt into purposeful action and was able to successfully complete 16 rounds of infusion chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with lymph removal, 25 rounds of radiation, eight rounds of oral chemotherapy and finally breast reconstruction while working full-time.

Caleb’s unwavering support, love and simple childhood excitement is what inspired me to stay focused and moving forward.

The human body is amazing and so resilient! I am astounded by the amount of trauma and abuse it can withstand and still “look healthy”. It wasn’t until I received my survivor care plan in early 2017 that I finally stopped to take inventory of mind, body and soul. Reflection is a useful tool – without it we miss an easy opportunity for growth.

One of the many changes I noticed in my physical appearance was the amount of freckles that I had compared to that summer morning in June, 2015. Instead of viewing these melanin-inspired growths as another side effect of treatment, I chose to look at them as a reminder. Not a reminder in the traditional sense of remembering the terrible experience of cancer treatment. Instead a reminder to “live in the moment” and truly view them for reflection and gratitude. Instead of being angry over the changes my body has gone through, I choose to embrace how remarkable I am.

Gratitude is defined as, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Early on in treatment, I was grateful for the side-effect management tips and tricks I learned and the unsolicited love and support that I received from family and friends.  Before diagnosis, gratitude had always been a buzz word during therapy sessions, it wasn’t until I was faced with life -and the limited options I could pursue to enjoy it- that I understood how important this appreciation can be to maintain focus.

My therapist has always advocated for a gratitude journal- me being the non-conformist- it took me years to finally start one. Caleb and I started the simple exercise of acknowledging what we are grateful for every day as we are driving home. Caleb’s seven-year old perspective of appreciation is the most rewarding part of my day and easily illustrates how amazing and precious our lives are!

As a 38-year old female, I have faced more decisions than most people my age. We can allow our traumas to define us or we can use the traumas to transform us. I get a choice of how to view the new freckle I found this morning.

Today, it illustrates to me where I have been but also where I am going- and I am filled with gratitude! Navigating life and the experience of cancer offers one final choice with your survivor care plan. You can either reflect on the journey by thinking about what cancer has taken away or you can be grateful for the valuable lessons and perspectives that it can illuminate.

I use the “freckle effect” as a reminder of my daily gratitude to be here for not only my son but for ME!