Some Thoughts on Three Years

Thursday, March 15, 2018

On March 16, it'll have been three years since I ended up sitting at my orthopedic oncologist's office being told that my knee pain was actually bone cancer. Some days, I still cannot believe that it happened at all, let alone three years ago.

My life now is basically back to "normal". It is different than the life I had three years ago, but I have a new normal. It is a good normal, and I really try not to take it for granted.

However, even three years later, I am still bitter about missing out on things. My life is "normal" and to those who look in, it doesn't appear much is different from any other 23 year old. Most days, I do not notice the differences, but they are there. I think it is hard for me to face them because it brings back the fact that I had cancer.

My hair has finally evened out, I only see my doctor twice a year, and I am not in any daily pain. I think I am finally starting to just accept that my life is and will always be different. And that really really sucks.

The honest truth of it is, my life IS different. That fact is not something I can ignore. That has not been an easy realization. I see my friends and people my age doing things people in their 20s do, and I still just feel so foreign from that. I feel like in some way I am trying to make up the lost time, but am slowly realizing that I can't make it up. The world has moved on and I have to, too. I won't gain back those lost experiences or get the chance to redo what I missed. I can only take what I have now and go forward.

I try not to let things get in the way of my regular life but it is so hard. I still live my life in the increments of my scans. I constantly have something big and somewhat scary looming in the distance, and sometimes it is just exhausting.

It is definitely better than it was in years past, but it is ALWAYS there. My last scans were clear, thankfully. The nurse who performed my bone scan gave us a good freak out when she asked if I had hit my right rib on something because she saw some uptake on the scan. She assured me it was probably nothing, but that she was going to take some extra pictures just to be safe. Y'all I cannot put into WORDS how terrified I became. It didn't help that I had to wait a week and a half to see my doctor. I had a real panic attack one night, out of was my first one I have ever had (even 3 years later, I am still having firsts). I got back in "that" place so easily. I was embracing everyday of my normal routine because I was so scared to lose it. Thankfully my doctor assured us all is well (and he was kind of pissed that the nurse doing the scan said anything). He did not even see what she was talking about (neither did the radiologist), and he said it was probably just a shadow or something. Not at ALL a concern. I was half convinced he would want do further testing, so I was THRILLED it was literally nothing at all.

In that week and a half with that in my head, I still had to function as a normal person. I couldn't let my teaching be affected by stuff going on in my daily life. I so hate that on top of the stresses of anyone else my age, I have to worry about cancer. I hate it so much. I have wondered if it will prevent people from wanting to hire me or even get to know me. I hate cancer so much. Your 20s are supposed to be relatively carefree, but I will never have that.

March always brings out these feelings for me. The days leading up to D-Day are hard. I think of how I had no idea what was coming. They are never fun days. Each year has gotten better, but I still do not look forward to the day.

The Thursday before Spring break back in 2015, I had my advisement for the next semester. I can SO CLEARLY remember that appointment. It was raining, my classes had been canceled that day, and I had to drive to campus for the 5 minute advisement appointment. The power had gone out or something and I ended up getting stuck in the parking garage for longer than I was at advisement! The other day, when putting on my raincoat, I realized the pink pen I used at that appointment and a sheet of paper I got are still in the pocket from that day. Part of me wants to take it out because it hurts, but the other part of me is leaving it because it is a small piece of life still in place from before.

I am slowly coming around to the idea that the past is the past, and it is okay for me to put cancer in the past. It makes me nervous and all kinds of other feelings to feel like I can officially do that, but I need to give myself permission to acknowledge that it happened and truly move on from it.

As for where I am three years later?

I am FINALLY going to graduate in May! I am just starting the job hunt and although everyone keeps saying there is a teacher shortage, that is not what I have found to be the case! I know I will find something and have time, so I am not stressing yet!

I have been doing a fair amount for and with TCA. I never posted about the Global Congress like I wanted to, but it was such an incredible experience. Considering three years ago I had no idea AYA cancer was acknowledged by people at all, it was AMAZING to be in a room with people from all over the world dedicated solely to AYA cancer patients.

I am FINALLY in with the GHS AYA team! I am thrilled to be a part of it. I am on their "team" as a patient advocate and am SO looking forward to getting to focus more of my time on this cause this summer. It is so important to me, and I think change is definitely going to happen!

Physically, I am pretty much normal. My leg still clicks and I can definitely always tell that it is different, but I am on my feet the majority of the day everyday, and so far, no problems. My hair is finally evened out and all of it goes into a pony tail! Honestly, no complaints there.

Emotionally? Things are not as "normal". Cancer is a huge event at any age, but at 20 it is just so different. Most days, I am fine, but some days it is still a huge part of what I think about before I go to sleep. I replay events in my head or just think about how the heck this even happened to me. I think I am still in disbelief that I made it through that year and am where I am. I still think about cancer everyday.

There's this fun thing called survivor's guilt (please note my sarcasm), which I have read about, but am currently experiencing. It is hard. No one has any answers of why some people do well and others don't, but I think of those (close to me and others) who don't get as "easy" an experience as me. I always think of a quote from the movie Dunkirk (which is obviously on a way different topic), but at the end, Harry Styles' character says that "survival isn't fair". It just isn't. I In life, in cancer, in war. I feel like there's just nothing more to say than that. I am just broken for so many people. Treatment causes so much suffering and to not have the outcome you want is just unspeakable. Sometimes I feel guilty about even complaining because I know things could have been so much different. I look at other people's experiences and don't even want to mention mine because I feel like mine doesn't even compare to what some people experience.

As I reflect on 3 years since what was one of the worst days of my life, I am so incredibly thankful to be where I am. Things are not perfect. I have had a TON of hard days and changes (related to cancer and not). I always like the months of January and February because they don't hold any cancer memories (other than scans). I have had some anxiety leading up to tomorrow just thinking about how three years ago I had no idea how much things were going to change the next day. I still remember so many details from that day. Where I was standing when the doctor called, what I said to my friends, etc. It breaks my heart to replay it in my head. It feels like I am watching a movie where I know something the character doesn't and you just want to tell the character to turn around. I was talking to my friends about it a few weeks ago, and they were telling me their memories of that day. It made me realized that I do not think we have ever talked about how that day affected their lives too. I was also thinking about all the love, support, and gifts I got from those of you. I hate that I feel like I slacked in my thank yous, but please know how much I still love and appreciate all that was done for me.

I cannot say I am looking forward to the memories tomorrow will bring, but I cannot stop the day from coming. I am thankful that it is 3 years later and that I will get to wake up tomorrow, head to the kindergarten class I am student teaching in, and just have a "normal" day. The normal I wanted so badly to return to 3 years ago.

Thank you so much for all the continued love and support. It means the world that people still care. I honestly have no idea how we made it through this experience, and I know it wouldn't have been possible without all the love and support we feel from so many of you!

All the love to you!

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