Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life after cancer is weird. I have been trying to figure out the best way to explain why, and I think I have some idea now.

Before cancer, I had total control of my life (or as much as any regular person does). During cancer, I have 0 control over my life. I was told where to be and when to be there. I had to wait to see if my counts were good enough so I could go out. Now, in this life after cancer, I am back to having control, mostly. I have control in the month in between my scans. As scan time gets closer, I start to feel like I am losing control again. I have to wait to hear from my doctor to see if I will be "allowed" to continue to live like I have gotten used to. It could all change just by him walking into the room. It is a terrifying feeling, one I am not sure ever gets easier. 

After we leave the doctor on these scan result days my immediate thoughts are "my hair gets to continue to grow!" and " I get to go back to school next week" (no Friday classes over here!). I think of all the things that I "get" to do in the months ahead without cancer interfering. Sure these things are mostly things people do everyday, but I feel like clear scans=permission to live my life. 

For some reason, I felt like these scans were a big deal. Technically I won't be one year off treatment till December, but my doctor counted these scans as my one year scans. One year cancer free is a HUGE deal. I remember the Nurse Coordinator (or something like that) visiting me in the hospital last November saying that next year at this time I would be celebrating being a year done. It is crazy that that year has passed and here we are. I don't know how, but I am thankful. 

It is also kinda crazy that one year cancer free is such a big deal. I lived 19 years without cancer, so why is it such a big deal now to live one year without it? I am asking rhetorically, as I know why, it is just such a strange thing. I could trust my body for 19 years, why can't I trust it for more than 3 months now (I swear thing hurt more around scan time). 

The circumstances surrounding these scans was a little too familiar as well. I just submitted my application to the professional program yesterday. I had submitted my application in March of 2015 right before I was diagnosed. It is now another thing I (finally) get to do....I get to go to school next semester. We are at the halfway point of this semester....I was at the halfway point when I was originally diagnosed. I am so thankful to get to finish out the semester.

My next scans will be in February. He increased the increment to four months! Technically, the protocol is move to 6 months after the first year, but for peace of my mind he decided to try four. I think it was mainly for my mom :) because he said he would have been fine with 6 and I would have been too! The more space between scans=the more I am "allowed" to do things as normal. Hopefully we can go to 6 months from there!

I am fully aware that not everyone has positive experiences at their oncologists. My doctor walked in the room smiling and gave me a hug. He told me he would pull up my scan, but there was no reason to because it "is a perfectly normal CT scan". He told us to celebrate. Cancer is a monster and I think about those still fighting daily. I hope you will too.

I know my last post seemed kind of negative, but these last few days I have felt like things are good again. I feel like my independence is coming back and I am remembering who I used to be. While I will never be that person again, bits and pieces are coming back. There have been times I wondered if that would happen. I feel like I am once again excited about looking to the future. I don't know what changed, but I am happy to find myself slowly coming back. It took almost a year, but I think I am finding a new "normal". I just pray that I get to keep it. 

Thank for all the love and support through the good and the bad. I am hopeful that there is lots more good to come!

The most beautiful words in the English language. I am not sure I will ever be happier than when I find out my scans are clean (sorry future husband and any future children). Truly there is no greater feeling!



Some Thoughts on Life After Cancer

Friday, October 7, 2016

- I may be nine months off treatment but I still think about cancer Everytime something hurts or just randomly throughout the day. My hair is still short and I have scars in noticeable places. Literally not one day has gone by that cancer has not crossed my mind. I would honestly say not even an hour goes by without me thinking about it. 

-I am still bitter about school. I am very thankful to be back this year, but I think part of me will always long for what "should" have been. Sometimes I really do get angry about the situation. It hurt to see all my friends post their "last first day ever" pictures. That should have been me too. I know I did the right thing by transferring, but dang it still sucks that I had to. Walking around my new campus is nice, but it makes me miss my old campus and the life I had there.  Everytime people ask what year I am (which is a lot more often than you would think)  and I have to reply junior, I get mad. I want to say junior, but I should be a senior, but that involves getting into the whole story. Which brings me to my next thought...

-What do I tell people??? Cancer is kind of a big bomb to drop in a conversation. I don't want people to feel bad for me or think I am doing it for sympathy. I don't want to totally ruin a conversation by bringing it up. What does one do? I try to follow the flow of the conversation but sometimes I still feel awkward bringing it up or bad if I don't. It all still seems so new to me that I feel like I want people to know. The people I have told responded well (and it is nice to finally have an interesting fact about myself to share on the first day), but it is still hard to know how/when to say it.

-On the topic of things that are hard to say, I still struggle with saying "I had cancer". You would think 18 months later that I would be able to say it, but the words still do not come naturally to me. I still cannot believe that this happened to me. I had cancer. How did that happen? How did I get through what was once my worst nightmare? I lost my hair and had chemo and spent 9 months in bed. It is truly unbelievable.

-I still miss my old life. A lot. I often think about what I would be doing now if I hadn't gotten cancer. Sometimes I forget that I was away at school for the time I was. I forget that I had an indepedent life at one point. I was thinking the other night that this has been the longest I have gone without seeing my brother (he's at Clemson now!), but then I remembered that not that long ago I was at school! Things are just so different now. I got so immersed in "cancer life" that I feel like it wiped out everything else. Things almost seem so "normal" now that when I realize where I am and how I got there I get sad. It just is so not what I thought my life would look like at this point. 

-Cancer changes things. Some for good, some for bad. As much as I don't like to admit it, things are different. My friendships are different, the way I do things is different. I tried for some time to just pretend like cancer never happened, but it is impossible. I spent 9 months in hibernation, but everyone else was out living and accomplishing things. I did not go back into the world I left on March 16, 2015. I have a new anxiety about schedules. I get seriously anxious when things come up that interfere with how I thought the weekend would look or things that interupt my usual schedule. I am doing my best to overcome this and not say no to things just because I didn't plan for it, but it is HARD, friends! I didn't have this before. You would think that considering how unplanned the last year was this would not be an issue, but that is not the case. I am hopeful that this will go away since it is fairly new. 

-Senses are POWERFUL things. I still get whiffs of the hospital, even just walking around or sitting in class. Literally while sitting in the lobby of the building my class is in (where I starting typing) this I started to smell the scent of the outpatient chemo room. I had a white cotton blanket on my bed and had to have my mom change it because it reminded me too much of the hospital blankets. The change of the season is not helping at all either. My memories of this time last year are so vivid that it is almost scary. I know the holidays scents and decorations are going to get to me. The feeling of the weather...the cooler temperatures (which I am hopeful are coming) and the cloudiness of the sky all bring me back to last year at this time. I have been told this gets better the further away you get from everything...I think it is also just my way of processing all this.

- I wish I had documented more. I wish I had taken more pictures and spent more time documenting my day-to-day events. I go through times where I just want to look at pictures and read posts to make my experience feel real and like it actually happened. I think I still am in such disbelief that this happened so I need to posts and pictures to prove it to myself. I am happy to have what I have, but I wish I had more. 

-I am thankful everyday that things are the way they are. So beyond thankful. That being said, I get angry because I feel like I shouldn't have to be thankful for some of those things. I was reading something a few weeks ago (I wish I could remember what) but it inspired this feeling. Why should I have to be thankful to be in back in school? I am is almost a given. Why do I need to feel thankful for things that everyone else just assumes will be there? Why did this happen to me?? Why did I get torn from my college experience and all that comes with that? I know what it is like to have terrible mouth sores, so I am thankful everytime I can eat something (sometimes I still expect my mouth to hurt when I eat). I know what it is like to not have hair, so I am thankful for clear scans because that means my hair can continue to grow. I know what it is like to not be able to walk and to be in in constant pain so I am thankful everytime I can walk to my car and drive somewhere. I am happy I can truly appreciate the small stuff now...but why should I have to? 

-Sometimes I just want to scream that I HAD CANCER and although I look fine on the outside, I AM NOT OKAY on the inside. In a way, it was almost easier when I looked sick because people just assumed you weren't okay. It is harder now that my weight is back to normal, I have hair, and my port is out (all the praise hands for that). Looking healthy is not a bad things at all, but I have a lot of emotional baggage I am still processing. Some days I just want to stay in bed at home where I am comfortable. Then I immediately tell the universe that I don't really wanna stay in bed because last time I got to spend days in bed it was because of cancer.

-Short hair is not fun. Better than no hair? Of course. Easy to manage? No! I am struggling. I LONG for the days of a ponytail. I have dreams of having long hair. I just want to be able to put it back into a ponytail. I'm tired of fixing my hair in the morning (but completely rewetting it) and not knowing how it will dry till the afternoon. Sounds like a dumb complaint, but let me have my moment.

-How come people in movies who have cancer always die? Are they any movies where people survive? I know there is a stigma with the word cancer, but jeez. People do die of cancer it is true...but why is that all we are slammed with? Lots of people survive.

-Surviving doesn't mean struggling is over. It is just now on top of normal life stresses, I get to stress about scans and fitting in physical therapy and figuring out all kinds of new things. It just added another layer of stress to everything normal people stress about.

-Did I mention I am bitter about school? 'Cus I am. I am so happy for my friends who are posting countdowns and their "lasts" but I get so angry that is not me. Why am I just now figuring out student teaching when all my friends are looking for jobs? That is NOT the way it was supposed to go. It sucks and it is unfair. 

-I have developed a weird kind of nostalgia. It is weird and I am not sure I can put it into words. It is not AT ALL that I wanna go back to last year at this time, but I also like can't believe that time is over and I made it. It is hard to describe...I think having literally NOTHING to do and getting back into life as a normal person contributes to it. I wish I could phrase this better. I'll keep trying.

-Sometimes it is hard for me to tell what are normal changes that happen when you are in your 20s and changes that have happened because of cancer. Certain things that have happened leave me wondering if it would have been this way had March 16, 2015 not happened. This is just such an important and transformative time and it sucks that this new thing got thrown into the mix. 

There ya inside peek into some of my brain recently. I know things will get better as time goes on. It is just all this learning and readjusting is a lot more intense than I could have expected. I promise to write some more as I find I do feel better when I let stuff out...and I promise more of an update will come soon!

Thank you again for all the love and means so much and still does.