My name: Grace Lombardo
Where I live: Chicagoland
How far out of active treatment?: Two and a half years
I was diagnosed with Stage IIA Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in the spring of 2016. I was 35. Since I had no genetic markers and no obvious lifestyle indications, I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy. I ended up needing a separate Axillary Node Dissection and having a wicked Seroma cause you know, why not?
The summer was rounded out by three months of dose-dense Taxotere/Cytoxen chemo which allowed me to realize the dream I didn't know I had of knowing if I indeed look good bald (Spoiler: I do). By the end of fall, I had reconstruction surgery and started my dainty 10 year run of Tamoxifen.
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
I am not a fan of the word 'survivor'. To me, it implicates that those who did not live past their disease were not survivors or worse, didn't try hard enough. I prefer to refer to myself as, 'Cancery', or having visited Cancertown.
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
Coming to terms
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
That it can be harder than active treatment. You have to learn to meld the person you were before cancer, with this new person who has walked through fire. Just because I am not longer bald doesn't mean I no longer need support.
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
Writing, connecting with others, realizing that I am one of the lucky ones, boxing (punching things is always a good idea–just remember to wear your lymphedema sleeve).
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
Being the town cancer lady. Though in equal measure, I am very proud to be able to help people.
What, if anything do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
Connecting people to other survivors face to face. There are so many virtual groups which are great, but I crave a personal connection. Basically, I want someone to hug me.
What's your favorite swear word?
Really enjoying 'son of a bitch' these days.
What's something you haven't said out loud about survivorship that you want to get off your chest? If there's nothing, that's ok.
I've said it all, baby. And btw, I don't have a real chest anymore so does that make this question moot?
What's your theme song?
The Safety Dance.
Consider this a free space to say anything you want about this topic. Word vomit, away. No judgement. I want the realest of the real here.
As much as a loathe being a local mayor of Cancertown, on a very personal level I have come to realize that I am actually glad I had cancer. If we’re all going to get some kind of cancer in our lifetime, I’m glad I got mine over with when I was young and healthy enough to fight hard.
Also, cancer has afforded me a level of perspective that I know I wouldn't have gained without a close look at my own mortality. I have shed a lot of pretenses and am able to live the way I want to without the shadow of social norms. Before the cancer, I felt obligated to do so many things that ultimately I didn't want to do. Now I feel free to say no to things and spend an hour watching garbage TV instead of volunteering for the PTA.
Another highlight of having cancer is that my kids, who were 7, 5, and 2 during the time of treatment, have become incredibly empathetic little humans. We kept it real with them during the process and allowed them the age-appropriate explanations they deserved. They have seen some shit, and now they have these life skills that are far beyond their years. They don't judge people who look sick or different. In most cases they don't even register a difference.
So yes, I am glad I had cancer. I am a more realized version of myself, my children have benefited in their emotional growth and I know that I’ve helped a lot of people though my writing. What is a little amputation, internal poisoning, and general mind-fuckery against those gains