Sadly enough, you or someone you care about has been or will be affected by a cancer diagnosis. The statistics are astronomical. So what exactly does this mean? I want to share from my perspective in hopes that it will help make things easier to understand for someone else. I literally stalked threads and blogs similar to these early in my diagnosis because I was lost and confused. Just downright scared. Am I scared now? Absolutely! Only today, as I’m approaching the end of my chemo cycles (September 8th) I am no longer solely focused on surviving the treatments as I am looking forward to life after cancer.
Sitting down with an Oncologist for the first time is a surreal experience. You may not even feel sick and you are hearing cliche phrases such as “life or death.” Say what?! Regardless of the type of cancer, the stage, or even the severity of the prognosis, Cancer is going to hit you hard. As a woman, you’re going to be faced with an even bigger challenge: HAIR LOSS. For me personally, I was scared of having long strands fall out in chunks so I quickly made the decision to buzz it. It was liberating! The best part was I still felt like me. A little eyebrow pencil, a couple coats of mascara, and the few other makeup products I use quickly gave me back the feminity I needed to feel. And wigs! Thank you God for the creation of wigs. However, baldness of the face is a whole different ballgame. It will be another emotional, low point on this journey. A bald head often signifies cancer. A bald face just plain says “I’m sick. Really sick.”
Have you ever tried to draw eyebrows on bare skin? It’s not pretty. Or try to put eyeliner on bare eyelids. Ouch. It sucks, and it doesn’t look pretty either. You feel vulnerable, ugly, and exposed. I posted this photo of myself to show you that it’s ok to bare your baldness. If you don’t want to, that’s ok too! It is your journey. If you’re married or with a partner in life, he or she will see you at your worst and have to choose to love you through it. I’m left with four significant scars: one on my chest where my port cath has been implanted, one in my armpit where the 5 cm mass was sugically removed, one on the side of my ribs where my chest tube kept my left lung from filling with fluid for three days post op, and one below my left breast where the surgeon used the Da Vinci Robot Surgical System to avoid a sternotomy. Your worst won’t only be seen physically, you will ride an emotional roller coaster.
I have had weeks where I haven’t left the house, or days where I couldn’t bring myself to change out of my pajamas. I’ve had days where I’ve laughed, hung out with friends and family, even gone scalloping or rode on the back of the motorcycle, where I’ve felt completely normal again. And then there have been days where I’ve cried and had the poor me’s. All of it is part of the process and is nothing to be ashamed of. Also, the very best part is all of this will pass. What I’m learning to accept and understand is how I will live with life after remission.
This may sounds crazy to some of you, especially if you haven’t lived through it, but the fear is very real. Do not take this the wrong way. I am and will be forever grateful that I was one of the lucky ones. By that I mean I was given a treatable cancer and a positive prognosis. I am not dead. I am alive and men, women and children all over the world sadly can’t say the same. The last thing I want to do is minimize the grief a family must endure when their loved ones are gone as a result of this deadly disease. So, I will live on hopefully learning the coping skills to deal with everything that comes along with it. Someone told me months ago, who had gone through cancer treatment and beat it, that life will never be the same. For the good and the bad.
The good is that it has brought me closer to those that matter. Those friends and family who have been there in some way, shape, or form throughout my battle. Cancer also has a funny way of showing you who you can count on and whose intentions are genuine. You will always remember who was there and who wasn’t. Plain and simple. I understand it’s hard to know what to do when a loved one is facing a battle, whether it’s death, disease, or some other form of tradegy, but I’m telling you. Just reach out and be there. However awkward it may feel or however much you don’t know what to say, just reach out and periodically tell them you’re there and you’re thinking of them. It truly means the world.
This person that told me life will never be the same is referring to what I call the “black cloud.” He told me after beating his cancer, he never woke up NOT thinking about it. There was never a symtom that arises where he didn’t fear that his disease has returned. For me I haven’t quite lived this yet, but I will be as open and honest about how I’m feeling present time. I’m 31 years old and have had cancer. Is it likely I’ll go my whole life without it again? It’s POSSIBLE, but not PROBABLE. I obviously have this “cancer gene” so does that mean my life is tainted? That thought terrifies me. One single diagnosis, one single experience can have that kind of power over your thought process. Even thinking one step at a time. I’m fearful of not having a clear scan in September. It will be my first PET scan since my diagnosis in March. Will I be declared officially in remission? And what about the 6 month scans that I will have to do for the rest of my life? Will I live in constant scanxiety? Just know if you are going through this, or have lived this, you are not alone.
All of this is new to me and I unfortunately do not have all the answers, and never will. Ultimately, how my perspective and feelings have changed is that I no longer have the worries about not meeting expectations. Take that as you will. Interpret it in your own way and implement it in your own life. Cancer or no cancer. You have all felt that pressure at one point in time and it’s just not worth it. You are good enough. Treat others with dignity and respect, love and be loved, and simplify your life. My own health and well being, and that of my loved ones are all that matters because without it, we have nothing. I’m not there yet, but my biggest piece of advice is to live for today, because tomorrow is never promised. And F*** Cancer!