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by Vicki Crader Michael

Awake. I'd never thought much about that word before my diagnosis of stage-2, breast cancer. Now, six years after surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments and a continuing daily dose of Arimidex, it has taken on many connotations and nuances for me. I would imagine that most people, as I did, had a few thoughts about being awake just before surgery. I recall my prayer and meditation as I waited for the moment of unconsciousness: "Lord, let me wake, and WHEN I wake, help me to cope with whatever I must."

Of course, there were the moments of thankfulness when I did, at least, wake. I suspect that many breast cancer survivors spend many dark hours in not sleeping. Whether from age-related issues, medications or other stresses, the night seems an enemy. Old fears come back to haunt. Aches and twinges seem ominous. Then, in the darkness, it is easy to feel alone and to wonder what the future will bring. Before successful treatment, I wondered if there would BE a future for me. I've found myself often awake at 2 a.m. unable to drift back to sleep for hours. I think that maybe I should just get up and stay busy. I put on the television and watch infomercials, try to get comfortable or warm or cool. I need to moisten my dry mouth. I watch the clock with the thought that "If I could only go to sleep right now, I'd still get two hours..." Sometimes I wander through my home, flooded by memories as I pass the now-empty rooms that my sons once occupied, checking the locks and making lists of tasks that will keep me busy. Early in my night-time wanderings, I notice the always lighted window on the second floor of a home a block away and am amazed that someone else in our quiet neighborhood is also awake. While that person could be a shift worker or someone who is simply scared of the dark, I wonder if the inhabitant of that room is, like me, AFRAID to sleep. Yes, I am sometimes frightened of letting go of wakefulness. I'm not sure, really, whether I fear not waking at all or dread losing an instant of the time I have left.

My bout with cancer has made me very appreciative of life, of every moment that is so full of opportunity and possibility. There is much to learn, to see, to experience. I want to watch the changing of seasons and to care for my home and garden. I am thankful to have a yard to rake and laundry to do AND to be here and able to do it! I plan to see my grandchildren grow up. I'm breathing and aware and blessed to have family and friends to enjoy and with whom to share. I try to help others and to be an example. Wasn't I appreciative and helpful before hearing those dreaded words: "You have cancer"? I believe that I was. But AFTER coming out on the positive side of treatment, everything seems different. I feel really awake. While there are definitely negative things associated with that word, particularly at midnight after an exhausting day, it has become one of my favorites as a result of the experiences and observations that being "awake," being a survivor have allowed me know.

Vicki Michael, a retired Spanish/English high school teacher who has left retirement to instruct college English in her hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, loves to garden, travel and spend time with family and friends. She is blessed to have two beautiful granddaughters and to be a six-year breast cancer survivor.