Posts tagged ‘chemo’

10 Years Chemo-Free

They say that a blog can be therapeutic, and a great way to process raw feelings and emotions. Well, this is one of those posts. At least I gave you a heads up. Sorry, no baby photos or poop jokes today. Maybe next time.

On this cancer journey, several of us have special milestone days each year that take us back to when we were in the midst of our fight. Here are a few of mine:

  • January 23 – the day I was diagnosed, how long I’ve been fighting this bad boy cancer.
  • The two weeks between January 23 – Feb 2 – it’s like this shadow hangs over me these weeks as I remember the journey from being diagnosed, to finding doctors, to finally having my first major surgery.
  • June 9 – my new date I have to go off to consider myself “cancer free.” I’m at 2 years.
  • July 24 – my original “survivor day” that my family and I celebrated on the glorious day I was released from cancer treatments and finished with chemo all together!

I know it’s a lot, it is for me too. But these are my special cancer days that I remember each year. I don’t do big celebrations or even really recognize them all each year  (although my husband typically does, bless his heart) but as each one of these days comes, it’s a time for me to reflect – or as it has been in the past, push away the rush of emotions that come with the reality of this cancer game.

Today is one of the days along my journey that always means something special to me, July 24. I hope I never forget what it was like to walk into my oncologist’s office 10 years ago. I was supposed to have a treatment, one of my last. They drew my blood and saw that I was absolutely too weak to take the next chemo treatment. My white blood counts were way too low. Six months of chemo and a month of radiation had been enough. Instead of heading for the chemo room, I got to go into the physician’s room where he explained that I was done, I didn’t have to finish my remaining two treatments, and that I was released from treatment.

While I walked in there without any strength, I nearly floated out of the office. Finally after several months of living through one of the horrors that comes on this side of heaven, at age 17 nonetheless, I was free. My parents took me to Eskews Fine Jewelry to get a watch – and had it engraved “SURVIVOR” and the date, 7-24-01. I still wear it every year on this day. We went out to dinner at Gojos to celebrate. It was a huge day for me.

Just like the Sunday morning earlier this year on January 23, I had a rush of emotions come over me this morning. It’s funny because during the first years of being in remission, I don’t think I really had it all sink in yet. I would be so excited to reach my cancer mile-markers, and just be pumped to celebrate. I even made a homemade t-shirt and wore it for a few years. I was on cloud nine.


My homemade "Survivor" t-shirt I sported for years - in 2002

Maybe it’s because my cancer HAS come back once that I find it hard to joyously celebrate now, or maybe it’s because I’m older, I’m married, I have a kiddo – and the actuality of what I went through has just begun to hit me. But instead of breaking out my old shirt today and sporting the town with it – proudly showing I am a survivor – I had to make myself get out of bed, go through my typical Sunday routine and not break down bawling along the way. God bless my friends and family who showed up with flowers today, and my hubby who splurged on delicious cupcakes. He knows the way to my heart.

Although I hate that I feel like crying rather than celebrating as each one of my “Year 10” mile markers has come, I actually think it’s a good thing. Last year when I went through counseling, I learned that instead of processing my emotions, I’ve developed a pattern to unplug from them and disconnect with how I really feel. I’ve slowly started to “plug back in” throughout the year, and the raw emotions of fear, sadness, grief, loss and more have rushed in as I’ve dealt with the cancer face-to-face.While it’s not been fun, it is nice to actually feel again and get real with what I’ve faced throughout the years.

So, today hits 10 years for me that I’ve been “chemo-free” and my original Survivor Day. And while I’ve got a train of emotions hitting me, I’m so, so grateful for them. Not only am I grateful for the ability to feel the emotions, but for life and how God is using my story even 10 years later. I could have easily not made it 10 years ago. But He chose to heal me so that His glory would be made known through me and my story. Why that’s not been the case for everyone who has faced this disease, I don’t understand – but I have faith that it’s all for a reason, and I will continue to point people to hope as long as I’m still here. As hard as it is to face the fears, side effects and impacts that surviving cancer so young has had – I absolutely feel blessed to be part of the bigger picture and do my part in pointing people upwards to Him.

So on that note, a huge “hurray” that I’ve been off the chemo for 10 years now. A huge thank you to everyone who has prayed for me, supported us and walked with us through this journey over the years. I can only pray that there are many more days full of flowers and cupcakes ahead.

July 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm 8 comments

Fireworks in the Sky

I admittedly have a really crappy memory. It’s actually never really been that great, but I like to use the excuse of “chemo brain” when I really can’t remember things. Who knows if it’s the chemo or not… but that makes since so I’m going with it.

While I struggle recalling events in the past, the six months that I was on cancer treatment 10 years ago remain very vivid. And one night that is particularly clear is the evening I tried to rejoin my life on the 4th of July weekend.

I was at the tail end of my radiation treatments and the hopes of “normal life” were starting to appear. I hadn’t hung out with my friends in months due to my illness. My butt was raw from 30 days of radiation, and I was just plain tired of wearing that stupid, ugly continuous infusion chemo pack everywhere I went. Nicknaming it “Chester” had only helped in the beginning. By the end of those four weeks, I was ready for “Chester” to meet Jesus and get the heck off of me.

I had been invited to my friend Meagan’s house to celebrate the Fourth of July. She lived on a lake within my suburb, and although I was not much of a lake person even back then – not to mention extremely intimidated by the lakeside neighborhoods with their narrow, windy roads and zero parking – I went for it and joined my friends. I had a big group of girlfriends when I was diagnosed, and this was one of the first nights that we were all together since I’d been sick.

We weren’t the drinking kind, nor did we find a lot of fun in rebelling against our parents. So, our high school version of hanging out was pretty low-key. Some had brought fireworks and were starting to shoot them off by the time I arrived. I remember slowly walking down to the water and watching my friends float on rafts and flirt with boys. I carefully dipped my feet into the lake – opting not to swim since lake water wouldn’t quite agree with my immune system. I laughed with my friends. I tried to fit in. I even had a red, white and blue tank-top on to prove it.

There was nothing magical about that night. But for some reason I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember being happy that I could fit into tiny jean shorts. I remember being jealous of my friend’s gorgeous tan and sparkly pink bikini. I remember the sparklers, having fun drawing pictures in the air. I remember trying to fit in with the jokes and flirting, yet not, and while the group hung back to talk and laugh, I went off by myself and gazed at the fireworks above the lake in an “I really feel older than 17” moment.

Life has a funny way of coming in and out, and making you realize that what seemed like a passing moment in time was actually a mile marker in the journey. That night 10 years ago as I watched fireworks above the lake, I cracked open the realization that I was different… and I would never be the same again. My experience with cancer had not only scarred my body and interrupted my calendar. It had changed the dynamics of my friendships and how I would relate to others for the rest of my life.

Surviving cancer doesn’t make one an obvious alien this world, although it too often feels like it. The secret aches from past surgeries and scar tissues, the quiet worries of what will happen next or why that pain just shot through your body, the unspoken questions of how much longer you have or if your kids have your genes – thus is the mindset of a survivor. And while we try to brush it off and fit in most days, it’s often what’s running through our minds when we’re staring off into space… or up at the fireworks in the sky.

When life crisis hits, you don’t always realize all of the areas it will impact until enough time has gone by and then you start to “get it.” That moment on the lake 10 years ago was just a momentary peek into the types of issues I would process in the coming decade. And while the gravity of the situation has come over the years, I’m thankful that it’s been over time. Even more, I’m thankful that despite my moment of seriousness as I slipped away from my friends only to quickly rejoin them that Fourth of July weekend – what really was was going through my head was where I could get another sparkler and how I had managed to fit into my jean shorts that night.

July 4, 2011 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

Yeah … and No

Yeah, having cancer is really hard.
Yeah, it’s also one of the most eye-opening experiences you will ever have.
No, it doesn’t always hurt.
Yeah, it often does. Or at least the tests for it are a huge pain and the stuff you drink tastes nasty. Colon surgery is no cake walk either.

Yeah, I’m usually feeling pretty good. I’m recovered from surgery.
Yeah, I’m still learning the ropes to life without much colon even 10 months later.
No, I would never ask for a double-colon surgery ever again.
Yeah, others have had worse than me, though.

Yeah, it’s hard to keep up morale sometimes.
Yeah, it’s way easier with good friends and family.
No, that doesn’t always cut it though.
Yeah, sometimes you do just need a day or night alone to take it all in.

Yeah, I think about cancer just about every day.
No, not because I’m directly fighting it right now or on chemo. But because its implications impact me each day.
Yeah, I’ve found a way to manage them.
No, I still don’t have it mastered, and I want my proverbial security blanket back.

Yeah, I still go poop and am one of the lucky ones. I can eat salad.
Yeah, I do wish I could have my colon back some days though.
No, I don’t regret having it removed. I’d rather have the least risk possible.
Yeah, that was probably me that farted.

No, I don’t like colonoscopies.
Yeah, I’m still going to tell you to get one until the day I die. You really need to get checked as you age or have problems.
No, they’re really NOT that bad.
Yeah, drinking that stuff and spending all night on the toilet is never fun for anyone. But suck it up and do it.

Yeah, I sometimes am saddened because I can’t have my own kids thanks to the surgeries and cancer treatments.
No, I don’t talk about it a lot.
Yeah, there is hope for us and adoption will be great one day.
No, we’re not ready for that yet.

Yeah, it’s frustrating to pay so much for medical care. Especially when other DINKS can do so much other fun stuff with their money.
Yeah, I struggle with that sometimes.
No, I don’t think we’ve got it as bad as so many others in the country.
Yeah, I feel blessed that we’ve been taken care of so far.

Yeah, I appreciate all of the comments about being strong and inspirational.
No, I don’t always know how to respond.
Yeah, I do feel like I’m still living in a fog sometimes. I don’t know if the impact of what I’ve gone through, what’s to come, or what’s looming over me some days really sinks in.
Yeah, the days that it does are hard. Thus, this post.

Yeah, I feel guilty sometimes when I see other survivors going through chemo or loosing their battles.
Yeah, I get jealous when others get clear results.
No, I would never wish sickness or this disease upon anyone. I truly rejoice at clear reports.
Yeah, I would trade it in myself if I could.

Yeah, I genuinely do still have hope most days.
Yeah, I think a long life ahead of me is definitely attainable.
No, my smile usually isn’t fake or fabricated.
Yeah, I’ve tried to find a way to embrace the aging effect and unique perspective all while acting my age.

Yeah, I’m typing this because today was a rough day.
Yeah, this blog helps and is therapeutic.
No, my day’s not all bathroom-related although maybe a little bit.
Yeah, it’s more about the emotional side of things tonight and what I have faced, and still face, hits me every now and then.

Yeah, I can’t do a post like this and not mention my faith.
Yeah, I think in the end, it’s what will really matter.
No, it’s not always easy for me to believe and trust that there’s a bigger plan and a greater world out there God’s created for us.
Yeah, I know it to be true though and that’s what gets me through.

May 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm Leave a comment

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