Some Real Talk

Thursday, November 8, 2018

In a little over a month, I will be three years off chemo. That sounds like both a long time and not very much time at all.

Some of you may be wondering why I am still here, writing. You may not understand, unless you yourself have a similar experience, why I haven't been able to "move on" yet. In a lot of ways, I have moved on.

After you finish treatment, there is a lot of talk about healing. Most of it, however, refers to healing of the physical kind. Your counts need to recover, all your systems have to recover, your cells recover, etc. It is the kind of recovery that being able to eat and not throwing up consistently allow for. What is not emphasized is the healing that has to take place mentally.

In my previous posts, I mentioned that my anxiety had picked up A LOT this year. By April, I had reached the point of wondering if I would ever be able to fall asleep without first experiencing some symptoms of anxiety ever again. I was desperate and just wanted to be able to SLEEP.

Right around that time, I believe I also previously mentioned, that I was able to find a therapist who has helped me TREMENDOUSLY in this area.

I have had a lot of realizations about things in my life, but some of the most poignant ones relate back to my time being sick. I had great support from friends and family, but having a non-biased third party able to help me sort through things has been exactly what I needed.

She frequently mentions the word trauma when it comes to what I have experienced. I honestly never gave it that title because it felt like an insult to people who have actually faced trauma. I have downplayed a lot of my experience and in return have not let myself heal emotionally. I thought I was doing the right thing by downplaying it and pushing the thoughts down, but I know now that doing that is a huge part of why my anxiety manifested the way it has.

I had been healing physically, but had very much neglected to even attempt to heal mentally. I am not sure I was aware that it was something I even needed to do.

I have sat in her office consistently once as week since August. I have processed memories and moments that stick out to me most from my experience. I have had to say them out loud, which is not something I have done before. I am a pretty private person when it comes to stuff like this (shocker to those of you that know me, I know). I prefer to keep things to myself. Going back through these events has not been easy or comfortable, but I totally understand why I needed to.

What I am working on now is figuring how much is too much. Obviously, I cannot erase cancer from my history. It is a part of me and I will (unfortunately) always carry that with me. What I have come to realize is that I might be carrying it too much. Cancer is part of me, yes, but it is not the only part of me. It is okay for me to let it go a little bit and not be so consuming.  It clouds up my head a little too much, and I think that is because for so long, it had to. Going through treatment it is all you focus on. Now that I am done and life is moving on, I really have to work on letting it be part of my past without carrying it into the future (in ways that are unhealthy for me).

I am still extremely passionate about AYA care and improving it for others. I am not looking to completely move on and never talk about cancer again. I just have to find the balance between using the experience for good and letting it totally take over my brain space.

I had an appointment this week, and at the end, I realized something big. Probably 6 out of 7 days a week for the last three years, I have replayed some of the most difficult memories I have from my cancer treatment in my head before I fell asleep (D-day, my surgery, etc). It occurred to me, after this appointment, that I haven't been doing that. I don't remember the last time those images came to my mind me before I went to sleep.

Yall. Maybe it is hard to understand how big that is but it is BIG. I feel like I am free from those memories in a way, I can look back at them like they are pictures in an album, not like I am reliving them. I could honestly cry just thinking about the relief I feel. A weight has been lifted off. I feel like I got a glimpse of the "me" before cancer that I wasn't sure was still there. It took a little digging to get there, but I DID and that is worth it to me.

I still have hard days and sad days and days where I am still mad this happened to me. I still feel anxious and worried at times. I have three years (and that's just the cancer stuff) of mental healing that needs to happen, but it is happening and I am experiencing what can happen when that kind of healing takes place.

So yes, my hair has grown back, my leg is healed, and I am able to eat, BUT  I can also fall asleep at night and not get dizzy and anxious when I recall particular memories. I AM healing mentally and getting to experience it first hand has been amazing.

I had just accepted that things were the way they were and that I would adjust. I thought it was all just part of this "new me" that I would just learn to live with.

I am so glad to have been proven wrong.