I’m Still Here

My birthday was July 3rd. I remember when I was young, I used to think I was just like the astrological sign Cancer. I thought it was fitting that I was born under this sign because I have so many of the characteristics. The irony is not only was I born under the Cancer sign; my body literally became a cancer two months after my 39th birthday in 2015.

Photo credit: horoscope.com

I think about my birthday differently ever since my diagnosis of stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer. There’s an additional layer of heaviness with each year that wasn’t as thick pre-cancer. I can’t help but think about all the cancer warriors who didn’t get to live to their next birthday. Once you’re inducted into the cancer sorority or fraternity, it’s impossible to not be plagued by survivor’s guilt.

Why am I still here? Do I have an invisible expiration date stamped on my body?

I’ve seen so much death in cancerland. Some of us have experienced wrath from a few of those who are metastatic (stage IV) who get triggered when we complain about something in our lives post-cancer. “At least you don’t have stage IV and not dying,” is what some will often say. It’s important to not compare our cancer experiences with others because you have no idea what all they have been through up to this point. While it may not be stage IV cancer, there are other things experienced that are uncertain, frustrating, and could eventually become deadly.

What they don’t know is my story and how I nearly died at birth.

What they don’t know is how I sick I was as a child, constantly fighting off infections and hospitalized multiple times.

What they don’t know is how I’ve known I would get cancer since I was 18 but just couldn’t be sure of when and what type.

What they don’t know is the grief I feel daily over not being married and having a family.

What they don’t know is all the death I’ve seen from cancer before I was even 12 years old.

What they don’t know is my mother has had a rare blood cancer for the past 20+ years and it’s currently progressing.

From the moment I was born three months early, I have been fighting to continue living in this world. It took my parents eight years to conceive. I am an IVF baby. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during the pregnancy. The doctors wanted her to have a therapeutic abortion because they said there’s no way both of us would survive this pregnancy. Their prediction was one of us or both of us would die.

When I made my grand entrance into the world, it wasn’t filled with excitement. It was filled with urgency and worry that my mother and I would die. My mother started hemorrhaging to death which is why an emergency cesarean was performed. Everyone was panicked because I wasn’t supposed to be born until the last week of October, but here I was coming out in July.

I was born 1lb 5oz at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport, IA. My parents didn’t even get to hold me because I was immediately rushed into ICU because I wasn’t breathing. My lungs had collapsed. Once the doctors got me breathing, I began to have grand mal seizures. After two months in the ICU, they discovered I had a benign fibrous histiocytoma in my right leg which was surgically removed. According to Google, fibrous histiocytoma is a benign soft tissue tumor that may present as a fibrous mass anywhere in the human body.

My body experienced trauma from day one and has never stopped. While I’ve never been surprised that I got cancer, I was surprised that I got in my late 30’s. The trauma continues with permanent damage and scars from cancer treatments and eight surgeries. It makes sense that I have fibromyalgia, too. I honestly believe this would’ve occurred later in life but was triggered thanks to chemo. I’ve had pneumonia twice as a child and twice as an adult.

The list goes on and on.

The physical and mental pain goes on and on.

So, why am I still here when others have died too young or have families who need them? I honestly don’t know. It is a shame that it took getting cancer to shake me out of simply existing to truly start living with purpose. The past year of my life was a little more difficult than I was prepared for, but my inherent resilience keeps pushing me forward, even when I don’t necessarily want to.

While I wait for my invisible expiration date to appear, I refuse to give up. I don’t to die on a bed of regrets. The song I’m Still Here by Sia perfectly sums up my thoughts at this moment because

I

AM

STILL

HERE.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Layered Loneliness

I think back to the start of my breast cancer experience five years ago. The struggle to just survive the toxic treatments, multiple surgeries, blood transfusions, and complications post-treatment makes me wonder why am I still here? I was initially filled with such hope once I was officially declared as no evidence of disease – I refuse to say cancer free.

I am now infertile and in medically induced menopause well before my time.

I have fibromyalgia.

I have neuropathy in my hands and feet.

I have a bulging disc and slight tear near the nerve in my back.

And I discovered in January I have two benign lesions on my spine that need to be monitored.

I get so angry when I hear the following comments:

  • “Just be grateful you’re alive.”
  • “Cancer doesn’t define you.”
  • “Be happy you’re single.”

As I listened to various cancer conferences this month, the bulk of the female presenters often begin their talks with how they fought cancer to be there for their kids. Do they ever think about how crushing that is to hear as a single cancer survivor? I don’t mean anyone who divorced during or after treatment. I’m talking about the survivors like me who were single at the start of diagnosis and still single post-cancer.

When I think about it, I honestly didn’t have much motivation to “fight” to survive my cancer treatments. The main reason I did was for my beloved mother and cat Nathan (Natey) Edgar. That’s it.

I am single.

I often feel very alone.

I’m an only child.

My life post-cancer still feels quite isolating.

I don’t have many local friends. I know a lot of people locally, and have many acquaintances, but there is only one who I talk to weekly and would hang out with once a month before the pandemic. The bulk of my friends are out of state and in other counties. Many of them are married with children, or they have a significant other. I don’t really know many single and childless people – male or female.

I always hear that I should just get out there and date. Any guy would be lucky to have me. Well, I would say that would be a true statement, but my color makes dating tough. That’s a whole other story for another day. Now that I am in menopause and in chronic pain 24/7 makes dating feel impossible. The only time my dating life was pretty active, and fun was when I lived in LA in my early to mid-20’s.

I’ve tried so many different medications, surgeries, and supplements to help ease the pain, but nothing has fully worked effectively. What people don’t understand about fibromyalgia is being touched can cause horrific pain. It makes sleep difficult. It makes exercising difficult. It makes simply existing difficult. Then add permanent neuropathy in my feet makes walking difficult.

When I did try dating a little a year post-cancer, I remember one guy asked why I was walking so stiffly. I thought I could hide how painful it can be to even step onto a sidewalk or go up steps. I didn’t bother saying it’s due to cancer. Instead, I said I was sore from working out earlier that day.

How can I even think of dating when I literally cannot hide the physical pain?

Are there any single and childless cancer survivors who are also only children? It’s like lonely, on top lonely, on top of lonely. This is the one time being the only one isn’t an advantage.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

We All Bleed Red

My right hand is currently inflamed and burning, so typing is hard at the moment. I decided to take this opportunity to record a message for you instead. So, here is a short message from me on what I’m thinking about right at this moment.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

When You’re Not Considered Essential

I’ve been struggling with the term “essential” for the past few weeks. I have a visceral reaction each time I hear it on the news or read it on social media. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, I was deemed unessential by my former employer and unessential by my medical team. I didn’t realize how much I want to be classified as an “essential” person.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I was laid off on April 3rd, and it was a shock. I never once thought I was in danger of losing my job and had considered my skills and talent essential. The coldness and dismissive way I was laid off has done a number on my psyche.

Since I’m not on any post-treatment medications for my breast cancer, my oncologist said I only need to see him in-person once a year. My body is intolerant of ALL post-treatment medications at this time. I was told I fall into a category of women whose body just cannot tolerate anything currently on the market. My breast cancer surgeon wants to see me every six months for scans. Once again, I feel like a little pink fish tossed out into sea in the middle of swarming great white sharks. How long will I float before I get bitten with metastatic cancer?

If the corporate world and medical world don’t think I’m essential, then how should I classify myself?

I look at my spreadsheet that lists all my medical bills (yes; I keep a spreadsheet) and think they have no trouble taking my money and calling me during a pandemic asking for payment. I guess my money or lack thereof is essential but not my body.

I fully admit my depression and anxiety is swinging like a monkey at a jungle gym. I have way too many unknowns happening in my life. I can handle one but not multiple. Trying to stay motivated and some days are tougher than others. If I’m not considered essential, then what is my purpose?

Well, when I get too stuck in my head, I need to DO something to give the illusion that I’m essential. So, I went grocery shopping with my mother (she paid since I’m unemployed) and bought food to deliver to St. Andrew Catholic Church so they can give it to St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank, and delivered food to a the women’s shelter The Drake House. I felt this surge of energy and felt essential in doing something kind. I can’t bare to think of people and children going hungry at any time but especially during an economic shutdown.

Then I felt essential again yesterday as I led a 15-minute session about writing to feel and heal at the GRYT Cancer and Mental Health Summit online. I had so much fun preparing for it all week and then to talk about my struggles and how writing helps gauge my mental health was hugely cathartic. If what I said resonated with at least two people, then mission accomplished.

I have no idea what this week will bring. Here’s what’s running through my head right now.

Will I get a job interview?

Will my true purpose be revealed to me?

Will I get a job doing what I genuinely love that doesn’t deplete my soul?

Will my unemployment funds miraculously show up in my back account since I can’t get a human on the phone at the department of labor?

Hopefully, I can find something to do that will make me feel essential this week and keep the thick veil of depression and anxiety from suffocating me.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie