Nine years out from her breast cancer diagnosis, Tara Runnals is reflective about how far she has come in her journey: “so much about breast cancer and the diagnosis is trying to get back to normal and rebuilding your body from intense treatment.” Tara’s treatment was fairly long, lasting over a year, and just at the time when she was truly beginning to feel like herself again, the pandemic hit. It presented a whole new set of challenges, given that she could no longer connect in person with those she loved most. Additionally, her job, which moved to completely remote work, made it hard to establish the lines of work vs. home life. It’s another reminder in how the pandemic has added layers of stress for those battling and survivors of breast cancer.
Adding to the pressure was the revelation that Tara tested positive for CTDNA (Circulating Tumor DNA). A new blood test makes this information available to patients for the first time. Testing positive indicates there are remnants of the cancerous tumor detected in the blood. It has been an unsettling discovery, given that most people who went through Tara’s treatment don’t test positive. While attending doctor’s appointments, she also brought up her persistent cough and it was discovered that scar tissue in her lung was causing the discomfort. It’s a reminder that “normal” will never be what it was pre-cancer, but Tara is determined to create her new normal.
After all, she has her children and four grandchildren to keep up with. Tara feels a certain amount of excitement, especially for her daughter’s upcoming wedding, to be there to witness it all: “You start to look at the gift of where I was and what I have been through in a good way because of the blessings that are coming that I get to experience.” The reminder of what she has been through is never far away. At a recent dentist appointment, Tara’s dentist referred to as “cancer free.” It made her pause and while discussing it with her doctor later that week, her doctor said, “Tara, you are a survivor.” It’s a title that has shifted Tara’s mindset. Instead of feeling like she has a looming cloud of uncertainty of her, she finds it more positive to truly stay in the mindset of a survivor, seeing each day as an opportunity to go out and experience/live.
Though the lasting effects of the diagnosis and treatment persist- she can no longer go for runs, suffers from neuropathy and has certain feelings of numbness through the body- her positivity about being a survivor is summed up not only in her excitment for the future, but in her believe that “all things are for a reason.”