I often have mixed feelings when called a survivor (warrior). That survivor’s guilt can eat at me if I’m not careful. Then I start down a dark path and ponder if my personal expiration date is near? Will I get metastatic cancer? How will I know when something else is wrong?
I’ve always called my cancer experience an ongoing battle. I’ve seen other women in cancerland say they are “cured” and that upsets me. How can an oncologist even use that term? How can a cancer patient believe it when there is NO cure for cancer, yet?
Yes, I call myself a warrior because that is the only way I have been able to make it to this point on my path. So many things in my life are different, confusing, unsettling, awesome, inspiring, amazing and beautiful.
I’m physically not the same as I was even six months ago. As of this morning, I officially met my BIG weight loss number that I have been working toward for one year and five months. I DID IT! I still can’t believe it. Yes, I have worked hard to eat right. I learned how to cook and actually like making dinner for myself after years of claiming I would never do so.
The thing is, ever since my final cancer related surgery last year, my body doesn’t handle stress the way it used to. In fact, it does NOT seem to handle it.
Pre-cancer, I internalized all my stress and would get knots in my stomach and deal with insomnia. I’ve always been prone to anxiety and nausea. It took years to develop and tailor really good coping skills along with a great therapist and psychiatrist. I never bruised easily. I could handle certain pressures of life.
Post-cancer, my body is completely different. I’m still learning how it functions and reacts. I battle constant fatigue. I bruise very easily. I’m numb from the balls of my feet through my toes and my fingers are numb and sometimes sting thanks to chemo induced neuropathy. I can no longer handle certain pressures of life.
Instead of internalizing my stress and anxiety, it now manifests into rashes on my chest and left side of my neck. That side is super tender thanks to the radiation burns from 2016. Every so often I will breakout into a spider like rash on the right side of my neck. Then the ever present nausea crashes into the scene. I cannot handle it.
I had a breaking point on Friday and woke up not just nauseous, but vomiting and chest in a burning rash and couldn’t stop sneezing. It was that moment that I finally understood this is how my body will react when the pressure and stress is too much.
I’m now four months behind on getting my scans done. I was offended when a fellow warrior said I should just go to a mobile mammogram bus. Are you fucking kidding me?! I’ve been patiently and now NOT so patiently waiting to get insurance through my job so I can go to MY breast cancer surgeon and get it done. She and her PA know the complexities of my entire cancer history. They know what the necrosis in my tumor area is like and the size. It would get mistaken by someone else as cancer.
Life post-cancer as a professional has been utterly difficult. I still miss working in media so much. I miss that frenetic pace. Now I work in a temp-to-hire role as a marketing project manager in the staffing industry. If you had told me I would be doing that six months ago, I would’ve laughed. The thing is, it’s quiet and doesn’t deplete my energy, so I can actually do things after work.
Battling chemo brain has been by far one of the hardest things to overcome outside of chemo and surgeries. My brain at work is razor sharp and highly focused. Unfortunately, it’s not that way when I get home. I still have to write everything I need to do down on a notepad and cross it off when done. I can multi-task at work but no longer at home. That’s hard to accept.
As I acknowledge National Cancer Survivors Day, I do recognize how far I have come physically. The fear of recurrence never goes away. I’m heartbroken over the deaths of other warriors, even when I don’t know them. What no one prepares you for is having to learn your body all over again and how to live in it.
Until next time,