Life after cancer

First, a big shout-out to everyone who has donated to me for the Weekend walk. I was again blown away by how much support I have, especially from people who have never met me who somehow found this blog and felt compelled to reach into their pockets. There have been so many nice messages sent to me via the donation page, and so many “likes” on my Facebook updates/photos from the past couple days, and so many texts and emails and cards and gifts. When I think about all of it, I get a little misty eyed and feel like I am wrapped up in a warm, fuzzy blanket of kindness and empathy. I am so touched by the generosity others have shown me. I hope I can pay it forward somehow, someday.

Yesterday marked another significant milestone of my adventures with cancer: I finished my 25 rounds of radiation. It was a great day. I got to piggyback on my radiation therapist’s birthday party and steal some treats from her to celebrate my last treatment. I said goodbye to my favourite receptionists who greet me with smiles every day and whose faces I will actually miss seeing. I had lunch with a new friend who gave me a very thoughtful and sentimental gift and tears and hugs were shared. I saw a movie with my mom and sister, and went out for a nice dinner with my family, where I received some beautiful flowers. It felt like my birthday, except about a million times better.

And now I am exhausted. And feel as though I could sleep for about a week. Turns out, radiation is pretty tiring, just like the warnings said. It took awhile to catch up with me, but it happened. As did the burn. And the itching. But all of that should go away with some time. So now I sit. And I wait. And I watch a lot of TV. Not such a bad deal, honestly.

I am getting many questions from many people, which leads me to believe most of you are once again confused as to what happens now. And I don’t blame you, because it is confusing. For me, this is my every day existence – managing my cancer schedule/life. But for others, I know it is a lot to wrap your head around, since there are many things in your life that have nothing to do with cancer. Oh how I envy you.

I am still in active cancer treatment. Still fighting this evil thing that is trying to ruin all my fun. I will still be receiving my IV cancer drugs every three weeks, until January, which means I am not yet saying bye-bye to the chemo ward and nurses. And I also am taking my hormone therapy drugs in the form of a pill, each and every night, which cause me to wake up throughout the night drenched in sweat. But compared to everything else, it’s all doable. Not ideal. Not a party. But bearable. And that’s okay with me.

In some ways, I am glad to still have these things going on. Like I am being slowly weaned off of cancer and the constant attacking of cancer cells. It helps me, in a way, to feel like I am doing something, like I am actively attempting to keep this cancer bullshit far, far away from me.

It is well documented that for many cancer patients, the most psychologically trying aspect of treatment is actually after it has ended. You are suddenly thrust back into the world, away from the constant monitoring and care of your healthcare team.

Hey, you have cancer. Now we’re going to make you crazy sick and unhealthy for awhile. Now you’re done, and it might come back, but it might not. Ok, so long, see ya!

It’s a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. And it’s something, I have come to realize, that most people who haven’t had cancer are completely unaware of. The post-traumatic stress that can be triggered after battling a life threatening disease. The anxiety that comes with not knowing if you killed it, if it’s still there, or if it will be come back. The uncertainty of it all, and the feeling that no one has been through what you have, and no one could understand. People just expect that since you’re healthy again and look fairly decent, you’re back to normal. You’re fine. You can move on. But it isn’t that simple. In fact, it’s extremely complicated.

The “Life After Breast Cancer” book I received at the hospital yesterday. If only it were as simple as reading a book.

Oddly enough, there was an article published today in the NY Times about the anxiety that creeps in post-cancer.

Dr. Laura B. Dunn, a professor of psychiatry and director of psycho-oncology at the University of California, San Francisco, said that although cancer is increasingly labeled a chronic illness, “it’s different from arthritis in that it’s more of a chronic threat. Some of us are wired to be attuned to threat.” The anxiety is understandable, she said, because “no one can guarantee you a cancer-free survival.”

Although I would love to shout from the rooftops “I’m cancer freeeee!”, no doctor or test can really tell me that, because that’s just not how it works, as much as everyone really wants me to say that. I can believe it, and I can hope for it, and I can keep doing things to try to ensure it. But I can’t know. I have to just have faith. Which is a bit tricky. But I am trying, to the best of my ability.

So that is where we are right now. Surgeries done. Chemo done. Radiation done. Fighting cancer incomplete. Moving on from cancer incomplete. I am still very much a work in progress. As we all are, really.

But with all the question marks and uncertainties, one thing I do know for sure: It has been a very long year. And I deserve a nap.