A medal for completing breast cancer treatment

Update: Make your own!—XJ

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, 2011. In January 2012, I began treatment. Chemo, surgery, radiation.

When I finished 6 weeks of daily radiation, the last of my primary treatment round, I tweeted about this milestone and my friend Michael Pusateri said I deserved a medal. Well, Michael's the kind of guy who puts a medal where his mouth is: he made me one. I love it, and I am grateful and proud. I want to wear it every single day for the rest of my life.

I want to give one to everyone I meet who makes it through to a similarly meaningful milestone in their cancer treatment. This is so much better than a pink ribbon.

During treatment, people sometimes told me that they would pray for God to cure me. I wanted to tell them to pray that science would advance to the state where it could do so. And that is my greatest hope, for me and for all of the men and women with this same disease. Science is awesome, but the science of cancer is still primitive. We need more research. We need science education, we need funding, we need things that are in increasingly scarce supply in America. And I'm not even talking about the chemo drugs.

I am not "cured," and my treatment isn't over. For instance, I just started taking an oral drug that I will have to take every day for at least the next 5 years. The side effects suck. I will be dealing with cancer for the rest of my life, and I hate that this is the new fact of my new life. The goal is to keep progression at bay. Still, the 2012 poison/cut/burn triathlon is over, and it feels surreal and amazing to be able to say this. Over. Complete. Done with.

It was not pink. It was torture. It was hell.

I am damaged. I am a different person. I occupy a body and mind that are drastically and permanently altered. I am just beginning to learn how to recover from treatment, how to cope with the resulting damage. Physical. Mental. Financial. Every imaginable aspect of my life has changed.

But damn, it feels good to be alive today, out from under the linear accelerator and off the gurney and the IV drip.

I am grateful for my doctors. I am grateful to the nurses, the anesthesiologists, the radiation therapists. I am grateful to my family, my friends, my loved ones, and all the fellow travelers I met online and in person.

I am grateful to the ones who fought for me to get access to good medical care. I am grateful to the people who held me when I cried, some of whom were strangers in the infusion room. I am grateful to the people who cleaned up my puke. I am grateful to the beautiful people who brought me food when I could not cook or shop, and to the ones who brought me cannabis so I could get food down. I am grateful to the ones who drove me to and from treatment when I was too weak, and to the ones who rescued me one day when I foolishly tried to drive myself and ended up stranded on the side of the road without enough strength to make it home. I am grateful to the ones who let me lean on them when I was not strong enough to walk; I am grateful to the ones who talked me through the moments of greatest psychological or physical pain, sometimes waking them in the middle of the night. I am grateful to the one who told me I was beautiful, and meant it, when I woke up missing parts of my body.

I am so very grateful for life. Life and love are all that matter.

(special thanks to medal-bearer Sean Bonner)