Flashbacks and feelings

Yawn. I am tired. That could be the theme of the past year, really: I am tired. It turns out that getting back into the swing of things is exhausting. People had warned me it might be. My oncologist said, take it slow. But I was all, whatever, I feel great, I have more energy than all of these fools, yahoo! I may have overestimated myself a tad, while underestimating the cumulative effects of the crazy-ass things that have happened to me in a very short span of time. Oops. My mistake.

I am still working part-time, slowly increasing my days and hours each week. Working is strange. I think it would be strange for anyone, after an extended absence, especially because my role at work has changed, so it’s an even larger adjustment. But my absence was so intense and surreal, that I believe it might feel extra strange for me. It is like I was asleep for a year, stuck in some crazy nightmare, and then I woke up and immediately returned to my old life. Yet it is hard to remember that old life, or feel like it is truly mine. I don’t feel part of that world anymore, not yet at least. I feel more at home in the hospital than I do almost anywhere else. More familiarity with my doctors and nurses than with old colleagues.

I feel very much like an impostor.

Yesterday I saw my surgeon, the wonderful man who removed my butt-ugly tumor. He said to me, I bet you’re getting pretty close to forgetting all about us. But I don’t think I am. I don’t think I will ever forget. Maybe think about it all a bit less, sure. But forgetting – doubtful.

Sometimes I find myself having flashbacks, like a soldier with PTSD. I’ll remember how it felt to lose my hair. How I couldn’t move my arms after my surgery. How my ears rang and my heart sped and my bones throbbed while I lay under my blanket, wondering if death was on its way. Sometimes there are triggers. The smell of the bubbles for my bath now reminds me of pain, when I was forced to take baths to ease my sore muscles and joints. A piece of ice floating in my cup makes me gag, reminding me of the terrible feeling that would wash over me as the chemo dripped into my veins, while I sucked on ice chips to prevent mouth sores.

Just a couple days ago, I was hit with a vivid flashback of the day I was diagnosed, sitting in my doctor’s office, hearing “cancer” for the first time. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it still upsets me, still shocks me right down to my core. I had cancer? What? Who? Me? No way. Not possible. My breasts were removed? My hair fell out? WHAT?! Did that seriously all happen to me? There must have been some kind of mistake.

Imagine? Oops, sorry young lady, the cancer thing was all a big mix-up. Never happened. Snap your fingers and you can go back in time and forget the whole mess.

Ha. Ok. Clearly I need a nap.

59 thoughts on “Flashbacks and feelings

  1. I know you have probably heard it a thousand times before but you are truly an inspiration. Whatever you do, please keep writing.

  2. ❤ I am not going through anything close to what you are going, but I feel you! I bet it’s not easy to get back in track, but eventually you will. If not just enjoy life, find something new to fall inlove with and just love life! You are someone I could admire because even though I don’t know you, through what I read I can tell you are strong, a fighter, you are a champion!

  3. I cannot begin to imagine what you went through, emotionally and physically, but I wanted to say that I have the greatest respect for people that take the time to talk about their experience with cancer and treatment. I think sharing your journey is so brave. It also doubles as a great reference point for those who are experiencing illness, whether personally or by association, for the first time. I have the BRCA1 gene and had preventative surgery via mastectomies and reconstruction in 2007. Now I’m preparing to do the same with my ovaries in a few months. Sending you support as you navigate the world through new eyes!

  4. You have become a star!!! No one wants to be told they have cancer. The word in and of itself is terrifying. The surgeries and the treatments are brutal. And yet incredibly good things often start to happen. Life is different. Appreciation for all that we have grows beyond description. Our sense of awareness grows and in your case has touched, helped and inspired people around the globe. it would not shock me, if you have literally saved people’s lives through you very open and honest blogs. Keep blogging!!!!

  5. Steph, I pray that you find peace and happiness that stays with you where ever you go. My best friend had cancer and I never knew what to say to her when she was battling it. She just knew I was there for her, because well…I always was with her. She’s doing great now – and she’s even married with a kid on the way. 🙂

  6. I am surprised your doctor said you were getting close to forgetting about them. Seems a bit insensitive. I had a mastectomy 4 years ago, and there is not a day that I don’t think about it and wonder if I will survive.

  7. Had ovarian cancer eight years ago. Took awhile for the chemo. brain to pass . . .but my family was used to me being different before the treatment. 😉 I had a hair cutting party before I shaved my head. I divided my hair in half and let each of my daughters design a side. Prizes included. Prayers for you.

  8. Well done, you. My one year anniversary was the hardest. My incredible therapist (Hester Hill Schnipper… who’s After Breast Cancer is a must read that will have you nodding right along) told me year two is easier. But I don’t think that Did That Really Happen feeling goes away. Sometimes, when someone says, “are you, like, TOTALLY back to normal now?” I want to scream. SCREAM. I was BALD. My breasts are GONE. Normal? Never. Changed, grateful, shell shocked, scared, proud, happy, loved, and superstitious. But normal? Never.

    Sending prayers and all that good stuff your way. xoxo

  9. GREAT STORY OF MOTIVATION AND SLEEPINESS. THANK GOD THAT YOURE OKAY. I HAVE A FRIEND WHO HAD BLOOD CANCER WHEN SHE WAS LIKE 9 SHES STILL HERE AT THE BEAUTIFUL AGE OF 32 NOW. I CANT FEEL YOUR PAIN BUT I CAN RELATE TO YOUR STRUGGLE, AGAIN GOD BLESS..

  10. Wow–this is a stunning story. Blessings to you in your life after chemo. I’m sure you’ve already been an inspiration to many. Pretty sure if you can survive cancer you can survive anything!

  11. oh you so told my story….i was sitting at the doctor’s clinic with my god mother when he came and announced the deathly sentence – you have cancer and you are at a very advanced stage….i so remember that moment – time froze, vision blurred, thoughts became hazy, nothing made sense anymore, at all.
    We headed to another doctor, assuming perhaps this one made a mistake or mixed up some reports but it wasn’t so.
    today, i see my godmother fighting the same demons that you mentioned and my heart reaches out to you and all cancer patients – i wish you all well and a very happy and healthy life.
    thank you for sharing and a healthier life.

  12. I know exactly what that is like. I was 9 years old when my mom told me that she was diagnosed with cancer. Being an only child of a single/divorced mother, it was really hard for me to wrap my head around the word “cancer.”

  13. Don’t look now, but you DO have PTSD. Having cancer is a traumatic life event. Having any kind of acute medical issue can cause PTSD. Of course, no doctor will tell you that no matter how great they are. It’s a dirty little secret that one of the side effects of an acute (or chronic) illness is PTSD. Having had three major spinal surgeries only weeks apart (staph infection=big mess) I experienced many of the “surreal” sensations you describe here. That was sixteen years ago and nobody even thought to suggest I get help for it. I suffered for two years trying to figure out why I felt like I was having an out of body experience every day. And THAT took a toll on me too. I finally found someone who specialized in treating PTSD and got help. My doctors also told me I’d forget all the trauma, but I never have … but with the help of my therapist I’ve been given the tools (and space) to grieve my losses and the memories and feelings that haunt me have lost some of their sting. I wish you all the best, and a FULL recovery of your health and life.

  14. Have you ever heard of the song “Real Hero” by College featuring Electronic Youth? It was in the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. Anyways, this post made me think of that song. Again at a loss for words. I’m just so impressed. You must be so brave.

  15. Oh my god, wow. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I have been through some stuff with an illness of my own, but I think it would be light years less ravaging on the mind and soul hearing your honest recount. Thank you for sharing, it helps me to appreciate better those who have had the struggle of that burden and how hard they’ve had to work to overcome. I don’t know what else to say except thank you.

  16. You’re an Inspiration, There any many people who are still fighting with cancer with an hope to live longer. I wish the best of your health and may you live longer. God Bless 🙂

  17. Sorry you had to go through all of that. Hopefully you will be able to bury the memories and go back to being normal. Nice write up!

  18. Thank you for sharing what is a really honest story. For those of us who support friends who are recovering from cancer and other illnesses this post will help us support them even more – the insight you shared can only make us better friends. Good luck and sending you a cupcake or two!

  19. Hope you find peace on your journey. I found my experience with cancer brought me closer to my friends and family…an opportunity to show our love for one another. Best wishes to you.

  20. Good luck to you! My best friend’s dad passed away a month ago and I know she is going through a similar thing now that she is back at work. Its tough, but life keeps chugging along.

    Keep up the great blog!

  21. I definitely recognise the ‘Who me?’ scenario. My cancer was very treatable and caught very early, so sometimes I forget entirely that I am a cancer survivor. But those flashbacks are intense and frightening. Many *hugs*

  22. The best of luck to you. You are inspirational and a good fighter. My grandson had brain cancer at the age of two and he survived. So the family has gone through the crisis. It affects everyone in your area. I know how devastating it is. I got news of my grandson cancer at work and had to leave. The trip to my sons house would take thirty minutes, it seemed like hours. Our entire lives shifted gears. If you want to read about it I blogged about it on my blog. Michael had six chemo treatments and stem cell work done. He was two going on three at the time so he does not remember the misery. But the scars are there. I hope you are doing well. Keep your spirits up and love to live again.

  23. Hi, I have a friend going for a lumpectomy and node dissection and biopsy. Diagnosed about 1 month ago, invasive ductal cell carcinoma. Please send up your prayers and your awesome strength!

  24. I can so relate everytime I even tell my story I panic like All that happened to me!? And i survived it?? Jeesh! The Cancer ordeal is just a mess. And aa bored and anxious as I am im getring back into the groove one day at a time.

  25. I feel that way so often, like this is real? Are u sure it wasn’t a mistake? So surreal sometimes still being so young and having to deal with this…and I’m not done. First fill tomorrow. Radiation starts in a month or so..

    1. Good luck tomorrow, I found that the fills were fairly easy to deal with… a bit of discomfort sometimes for the day, but really minor compared to what you’ve already dealt with. You don’t really feel anything when they do it either. Hope you’re feeling good Becca!

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