Life After Cancer

What happens next?

At 26 years of age, stage IV breast cancer had taken my world and turned it upside down. What was I supposed to do now? It had shown me the mountains and the valleys and now I was supposed to start living a normal life again. I knew I needed to keep the good things and build from there. I wanted to be devoted to wellness, to family and to awareness of the world around me. I didn’t realize how many challenges there would be. Life after cancer was still a challenge.

Heather & Sydney on a swingSome days I was on top of the world, feeling sure that the miracle was complete and I was healed of cancer. Other days I felt sure that the pain in my back was certainly cancer and I dove into my healing notebook—a personal outlet I used during my battle with cancer—for support as I prayed.

I was also having trouble figuring out how to define me. Many people expected that I would be returning to my life as it was before the cancer. I wasn’t able to do that. Too much had happened; too many things had changed.

Another hurdle that I had to address was that of making future plans. Before the cancer, I had laid out plans for my entire life. However, with the diagnosis, those plans were gone. To attempt to make plans again felt like tempting fate. I knew that my life after cancer could be turned upside down with each visit to the doctor. My outlook on life had changed.

It was just before Thanksgiving of 1999 that I had my first post-treatment checkup. As the rest of the world fretted over the new millennium, I rejoiced that I was here to see it. It seemed fitting to leave the treatment behind in a different century. I was ready to focus on the truths and understandings that life with stage IV cancer had brought me.

It seems to me that there is a cancer in everyone’s life, though it does not always come with, “you have six months to live” attached. The crazy thing is that out of those cancers can come the sweetest most meaningful moments in our lives.

The kind words of a stranger, the embrace of your spouse, the laughter of a child are all chances to live in the good moments. On our wedding day, the minister’s final prayer for us was that God would give us enough challenges to keep us walking with Him. Although there were many times when I thought back on that with mixed feelings, I’ve learned to thank God for the challenges.

Heather Jose portraitThe thought of having cancer will always remain. The reminders are everywhere. I’ve found that it is necessary to continue to be vigilant about the way that I take care of my body. Every day I am killing cancer. It is not just a sometimes thing.

I wasn’t very far into my journey before people were telling me that I should write a book. Little did they know that I had been writing letters on my own to my daughter Sydney in case things didn’t turn out the way that I had hoped.

My story from the beginning

I took their advice. I poured all the details of my experience—the procedures and treatments I went through, the emotional ups and downs, the amazing support from the people I love and the transformation I experienced as a person—into a memoir.

Check out Every Day We Are Killing Cancer for the full story of my fight with stage IV breast cancer.


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