Escape from cancerland

I’m back from sunny, hot Jamaica, and I’d love to say I’m glad to be home, but that would be a bit of a lie. Spending a week where I was pampered and taken care of and did not have to worry about a single thing was quite luxurious. And honestly, I could have used another week. Or year.

This was the first week in nearly a year that I didn’t have to talk about cancer, or how I was feeling. No one there knew about the cancer. I was incognito, blending in with all the other happy sunburned people (sans sunburn, of course – hello, I’ve already had one kind of cancer, I’m no dummy). I got several compliments on my “beautiful hairstyle”, with no one assuming I had lost my hair, but rather that I had just been bold and cut it all off. One of the staff members, an aspiring model, even said it made her want to chop hers all off too. No one had a clue why I was there, or why my hair is so darn short, and I liked it that way. It truly was a break from reality and my life. No doctor’s appointments, no hospitals, no cancer.

I’m not sure if it was the Jamaican air, but my hair actually seemed to grow and change in the one week that I was away.

Of course, cancer wasn’t completely absent from my mind, because I am no where near at that point yet in my mental recovery. I still had some pains that made me wonder if my cancer has spread. And I still felt a smidge of sadness over the thought of my life being cut short, and missing out on moments like swimming in the ocean or watching a beautiful sunset. So many of my happy moments now seem to have this slight shadow of darkness attached to them, and I never realize it’s happening until it sneaks up on me. I hope eventually it doesn’t have to be that way, but I think it will take awhile still. Patience is something I must learn as I navigate this very confusing post-cancer existence.

Two very relaxed people.
Two very relaxed people. And of course, my port/scar prominently on display.
I ate dessert after every meal and did not feel guilty one bit. This dessert featured five different types of chocolate.

Something I also noticed from this trip was that as much as I have changed from my illness, I am still fundamentally the same person. I had wondered if perhaps my life-long fear of flying might have disappeared, now that I have truly been through something extremely scary and feel I have a new perspective on fear and how to face it. But even as I told myself,Β You’ve been through cancer, a bit of turbulence can’t scare you, I still panicked with every bump and squeezed my husband’s hand until it turned red and wondered how any rational human being could ever think it’s a good idea to be trapped with a bunch of strangers in a tight space, forty thousand feet above the ground. My fear of flight has most definitely not been cured as a result of cancer. Alas, I am still me, same as always.

I got a massage on my birthday in an outdoor cabana, where I could hear the waves crashing and feel the breeze coming off the water. This is my idea of cancer recovery.
I got a massage on my birthday in an outdoor cabana, where I could hear the waves crashing and feel the breeze coming off the water. This is my idea of cancer recovery.

Cake in bed. A brilliant idea which I highly recommend.

For my birthday, on the last night of our trip, my husband bought a wishing lantern for me. You’re supposed to light the lantern with fire, make a wish, and send it out into the sky, over the water. I’ve seen them before and always thought they were so pretty and magical, as they faded into the night sky. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a wish. Whether it worked or not, I need all the help I can get, so there wasn’t much to lose. At the very least, I got to see something beautiful, and at the very most, my wish will come true. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Leaving the beautiful scenery and no-stress vibe of vacation land was very difficult. I began to feel like myself again for the first time in a long time. I even felt a bit pretty, instead of like an awkward looking boy. This week, it’s back to reality. Tomorrow I will be returning to work after a 10-month leave (which I initially thought would only be about one month. I think I underestimated what the year had in store for me. Oops). I will be on a part-time schedule at first and then build up more hours and days each week until I’m back full-time, so as to not shock my system and completely exhaust myself. I definitely have some mixed emotions about returning to work, but I am excited to get back to having a normal routine, and for the welcome distraction.Β I also have another treatment on Friday morning; unfortunately, not the massage kind, but the cancer kind. So the holiday has come to an end and it’s time to face the challenges of life once more. I am so grateful for the time I had away, to remember how beautiful the world is and how amazing it is to be alive to see it. I will dream of the next vacation, where instead of escaping from cancer life, I can just escape from regular life, like your average stressed-out, tired, burnt out human being, in need of a break. I can’t wait.

29

Greetings from Jamaica! The sun is shining, and I’ve eaten my weight in food, and I am so very happy to be here.

I assume that that sentence will be true by the time you are reading this post. I, in fact, am cheating a bit and am writing this post in advance of my trip and scheduling it to appear while I am gone.

If I have done this correctly (and it’s very possible I have not), today should be August 9th. This glorious date is also known as my birthday. The big 2-9. Happy birthday to me! (And a one-day belated happy birthday to my beautiful, smart, best sister in the whole wide world. I love you sissy!)

My birthday cake from my 21st. Thanks mom!

This birthday feels like a pretty significant one for me, as I say goodbye to twenty-eight. It was right after my birthday last year, at this time, that I found a lump in my breast and my entire world changed after that moment. Twenty-eight was a hard year; a year filled with many lessons, challenges, and triumphs. I’m sure for most people, twenty-eight is not necessarily a particularly significant year in their lives. Eventually all the years start to mush together, and become periods of time or life-stages, rather than an individual 365 days. But in my case, I am quite confident that I will never forget the 365 days of being a twenty-eight year-old.

I think many people who have had cancer would say that birthdays take on a new meaning after you have been diagnosed. They truly do become a celebration, and an accomplishment, rather thanΒ just another year. I have noticed that most people view getting older and aging as something to fear, and something they don’t want to face. It seems everyone makes comments and complains about how old they are getting, or how much they’re dreading turning 30/40/50/60, etc.

I am no longer part of this massive majority of humans who fear birthdays and wish for eternal youth. I dream of getting old. I dream of turning thirty. Occasionally, if I’m having an overly optimistic day, I may even dream of what it would be like to be forty. Forty, right now, sounds ancient to me. I wish I could be forty right now, and have 11 more years under my belt. And if I’m really fantasizing here, I wish I were ninety right now, with all the life experiences one is supposed to have had. Ninety, with cancer. Still not ideal, but I’d take it over twenty-eight, with cancer.

I think getting older is a gift. It’s a privilege, to make it through another year, and have your health. It’s not a given, and it’s not your right. With each birthday you are fortunate enough to celebrate, comes a certain amount of luck. I feel very lucky to get to have another birthday, and to be able to share it with the person I love most in the world, while sitting on a sunny beach. I’ve earned this day, and I’ve struggled to get here. And now that I’m here, getting older never looked so good.

Here’s to twenty-nine, and the dream of thirty.

If you’d like to give me a birthday gift, please help fund breast cancer research, which is the only gift I really want. Thank you!

All my drugs are packed, I’m ready to go

During chemo, all I dreamed about was going on a tropical vacation. Somewhere quiet, with sand and a beach. I was filled with envy, while everyone seemed to be hopping on planes and jetting off somewhere, as I sat in a ball on my couch trying to find the physical strength just to get up and make it to the bathroom.

And now, it’s my turn. And you all have my permission to be jealous.

See ya!

Life lessons: a case of scanxiety

Back in November, before starting my chemo, I had some scans to get a better idea of what was going on in other parts of my body. The hope being, of course, that nothing was going on. Just regular healthy human stuff.

Everything appeared to be okay, except a few small spots lit up on my lungs. Many strange things can take place in the average human body, but when you have cancer, everything gets extra attention and is slightly more suspicious. We weren’t sure what these “nodules” were and it is not such a simple task to just remove them, when you’re dealing with an area like the lungs. So the plan was to leave them, do chemo, wait a few months until the chemo had left my body, and do a re-scan to see if there had been any change in size or quantity.

I was not happy that these spots showed up. But I quickly fell into my chemo/cancer routine and was so overwhelmed with everything and feeling so terrible, that my lungs moved to the back of my mind (not literally… obviously that is impossible. I think.). Then chemo came and went, radiation began, and I saw that my dreaded follow-up scan appeared in my hospital schedule.

There is something cancer patients refer to as scanxiety, which, I’m sure you can guess, is having anxiety about upcoming scans and results. Over the past several weeks, I have been suffering from a major case of scanxiety. I have gone through all the scenarios in my head. I have imagined getting the results, hearing my cancer has spread, hearing I have 1-2 years left to live if I’m lucky. I’ve imagined being thrown back into chemo and never feeling good again for the remainder of whatever time I have left. I thought about how I would tell everyone, and how I would be destroying the happiness of so many loved ones in my life.

Because of this scanxiety, I’ve felt like my life has been on hold, mentally. I have tried to stop myself from getting excited about any future plans on the horizon. I have been unwilling to let anyone plan any kind of party or celebration for me, as I feared that soon enough, I would be mourning and not celebrating. I have tried to take an interest in everything going on around me and everyone’s daily lives and problems, when inside, I have constantly been panicked that I am getting closer and closer to the date when I’m going to be told my life, as I know it, is over.

So there’s been a lot going on inside this ol’ head of mine. And I told almost no one about my lungs or the scan, because I didn’t really want to face what it could mean, and I didn’t want everyone worrying along with me. Trust me, I do enough of that all on my own.

Yesterday, the day at last arrived and I had my CT scan, in the early hours of the morning. Afterwards, I wondered if this would be the last “good” day I’d have. The last day of my former cancer life. I thought maybe I should do something special, in case it was. But I didn’t. I just carried on with my normal life and normal day. I got groceries. I watched some TV. I went to bed. I said a prayer to whoever might be listening. Please don’t let me die. Not just yet. Thanks.

Today after completing my Herceptin infusion and radiation treatment, I went home. A couple hours later, I received a phone call from my oncologist, who knew I was anxious about my CT scan.

The areas on your lung look exactly the same as the first scan. Nothing has changed. If they were cancer, I believe the chemo would have made them disappear. They are exactly the same. Most likely something that has been there since your childhood. I’m happy to draw the line here and never scan it again and be done with it.

So there you have it. No cancer in my lungs. At least not right now. I am not going to die. At least not today.

After I hung up the phone, I started dancing and jumping around. Then I fell into my chair and burst into tears, everything that I had been trying to bury deep down inside suddenly pouring out of me.

It is hard to describe how I’m feeling right now. You really can’t understand until you’ve walked the walk of cancer and scans and all that jazz. Living life every day, thinking you’re about to be told your illness has become incurable… that is some pretty crazy stuff for a young woman to have to think about. For anyone, I suppose. I feel like the heaviest weight imagineable has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel as though I could just float away, in a sea of relief.

For the first time since I was diagnosed, I am choosing to believe it. That my life could be good again. That I could have years ahead of me. I don’t believe this is a definite. I’m not at that point yet, and don’t know if I ever will be. But I believe it is a possiblity, and that is enough for me right now. The possibility of life. How exciting.

In one month, I will be on a beach in Jamaica with my husband. We booked the trip last year, and then had to cancel after my diagnosis, a couple months before we were scheduled to go. We re-booked it as a post-radiation/post-chemo trip, in hopes that I would be okay at that point. That we could celebrate and take a much needed and much deserved break from the daily realities we have been facing for almost a year. And now it looks as though it is actually going to happen this time. In one month, I will be okay, and I will be alive. I am going to go to Jamaica and I am going to swim in the Carribean sea and I am going to be grateful for every single second that I am there.

I truly believe that no one on Earth is happier than I am right now at this moment. No one.

And all it took was a bit of cancer. Fancy that.

I will be doing this again soon. Except with a lot less hair, some weird boobs, and a chest burn. But otherwise - the same.
I will be doing this again soon. Except with a lot less hair, some weird boobs, and a chest burn. But otherwise – the same.