This story appeared in The Day My Nipple Fell Off and Other Stories of Survival, Solidarity, and Sass: A BAYS Anthology. You can order a copy on Amazon.
The count – 324 days into this mess
by Nola Agha
1 mutated gene
1 breast removed
1 time I fainted
2 times I almost fainted
2 days spent in the hospital post surgery
3 surgeons – breast, plastic, and ob-gyn
4 cycles of dose-dense Adriamycin/Cytoxan
5 visits to the physical therapist
5 months of chemo
7 hours spent in surgery
7 positive lymph nodes
8 different creams I tried to heal the radiation burn
12 cycles of Taxol
13 visits to the lymphedema specialist
19 lymph nodes removed
27 pills I take daily (26 are vitamins and supplements)
27 visits to radiation
36 visits to the acupuncturist
63 sticks with a needle
90 minutes each day I spend taking my homeopathic anti-cancer remedy
127 hospital gowns
165 people following my updates on CarePages
$9000+ raised for the Breast Cancer Fund
$661,536.06 cost of my treatment, to date
October 2011. My daughter’s third birthday. The day of the Breast Cancer Fund’s 16th annual hike up Mt. Tam to raise money to prevent breast cancer. Just 40 days after finishing my last round of radiation I find myself in a dew covered field at the base of Mt. Tam where I meet a group of women from BAYS whom I have never met before but who know more about me than most any of my friends or family. In my back pocket is a list of names.
Up and up we hike. We pass through chaparral shrubs, fog filled valleys, towering red woods, moss-covered oaks. Mother Nature at its finest. It smells magnificent. Along the way I talk with my teammates, all members of BAYS. We talk in cancer lingo along the way: “I was dx stage 1 May 2010, right mx, ACT, flap, now mets,” says one. We discuss implants, surgeries, surgeons, and side effects, as only survivors can.
After passing through a tall, dark stand of redwoods the trail curves tightly to the right to reveal the top. There are tents set up with food, water, and medical aid. After I consume the obligatory Gatorade and oranges, I climb to a rocky outcropping and pull out a tissue and the list of names from my back pocket. Looking in one direction towards the Pacific Ocean with the frothy white waves crashing on Stinson Beach and looking the other towards the calm waters of the San Francisco Bay, I start to read the names. Hundreds of names. Names of every person who helped us along the way, offered a kind word, made us dinner, drove me to an appointment, sent a card, called, posted a message, sent an email, took care of the kids, folded our laundry, sent flowers, took care of me, provided a flexible work environment, sent toys or books, washed our dishes, or otherwise made this whole nightmare easier and more tolerable. The strong wind carries the names from my lips towards God/Allah, Mother Nature, the universe, or whoever you want to believe is listening. Every one of these people carried me and lifted me up. Now, in return, I have carried them to the top of this mountain where I send their names up in thanksgiving. I pull out another kleenex, finish my list, and join my group as they head down the trail.
An hour and a half later, as we near the bottom my legs are close to giving out. And just then the leader of our group yells, “Nola! Look!” In his red and white striped shirt and blue jeans, standing at curve in the switch backs, is my son high up in my husband’s arms waving to the hundreds of women and men streaming down the trail. They are all laughing, smiling, waving, and as happy to see him as I am. My daughter is waiting at the bottom with my parents holding a bouquet of yellow wildflowers. Fittingly, we finish the trail together, as a family.
324 days after beginning this adventure, I celebrate being alive and having the support of hundreds of friends and family across the globe, while shouting my thanksgiving from a mountain top.