As I live through my third World Cancer Day, I don’t feel super excitement or jumping around like a cheerleader shouting, “I’m still alive!” Instead, I continue to feel like a shell of who I once was physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. I’m doing well in the spiritual department, which is a refreshing surprise.
I’m constantly being told that one day I will adjust to this “new normal.” My three-year cancerversary is in March and I don’t feel any closer to this acceptance I’m supposed to feel. Will the grief over my body betraying me ever go away?
I’m struck by PTSD every single time I look in the mirror. It’s bad enough dealing with chronic pain (nerves and joints), insomnia, nightmares and anxiety on a daily basis. Each time I look in the mirror or take a selfie, I’m still surprised by my reflection – the hair, the weight, the skin.
Fellow warriors keep telling me that my hair will go back to how it was pre-cancer. Well, I’m going on three years’ post-chemo and these curly coils seem to be permanent. I know the curls look cute and maybe even make me look younger, but I can’t stop missing my “real” hair. I miss doing French braids, French twists, ballerina buns, pigtails, etc. There aren’t a lot of options with this short hair. It’s growing out and down instead of just down.
Then I look at my skin. It’s so ultrasensitive now. The only fragrance my skin can handle is coconut. I have never liked the smell of coconut.
I had dermatitis flare up on my eyelids, which caused an emergency trip to the dermatologist three weeks ago. This has been happening for the past 15 months or so. My eyelids are so dark from past scratching and irritation. I thought having those horrible dark circles under my eyes was bad enough.
Well, I was freaked out by how suddenly this latest flare-up that happened and the pain. So, instead of seeing the PA, I wanted to see one of the dermatologists to get another opinion. Well, this doctor upset me so badly that I nearly went postal on him. He kept saying stress could be causing this. I kept telling him no and that it must be something I’m using or coming into contact with. Every single time I said that he kept saying it could be stress. My blood pressure was getting to a boiling point.
Once again, a doctor was not hearing me. By the time I left the doctor’s office, I was beyond livid. He said my cancer didn’t cause any of these flare-ups. Um…WTF?! My cancer treatments have directly caused my skin to completely change and become super sensitive. I used to get acid peels back in the day for gosh sakes! Now, I can’t even use perfumed soap!
After talking myself down from almost going postal, I called the dermatologist’s office to file a complaint the next day. Instead of being impulsive, I have learned to sleep on it. If I’m still feeling salty the next day, then I will take action, no matter what.
The woman I spoke with was well-trained because she handled me with such compassion and professionalism that I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her. She didn’t once say, “No one has ever complained about that doctor” or “He didn’t mean to act that way.” She completely validated my feelings and said, “I hear you and so sorry you didn’t feel heard.” She then made sure to note that I don’t ever want to be seen by that doctor again or even walk by him if I have an appointment with someone else because just the thought of running into him would cause undue stress.
I did some detective work with my products to find the one constant item I’ve been using for the past 15 months. I found the culprit – makeup remover wipes. I now use baby wipes. Heck, if it’s gentle enough to use on a baby’s skin, then it should be gentle enough for my eyelids. So far, I am seeing good results.
The fast heartbeat, nausea, angst, and jittery feelings seem to be the norm anytime I go to a doctor appointment, see my reflection or notice yet another side effect popping up. I didn’t ask for any of this. PTSD, as it relates to the cancer experience, is real and not to be ignored.
Until next time,