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The Year It All Didn't Change: A Cancer Recap

putting on a brave face for the scariest moment of my life

"I'm actually doing really well." If I had a slice of good pizza for ever time I've used that response in the past 6 months... we could have a pizza party. In the interest of an update and in the spirit of trilogies, it made sense to write a third post here, with reflections since being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, in November 2016. The purpose is to be a therapeutic exercise for me, but why not debrief the world at the same time.

Between my first cancer share and now, I have become in expert in all things nobody wants to be an expert in. For example, I know what chemotherapy feels like. Before treatment began, I tried to research what it would be like and didn't get very far. I like knowing and preparing but I couldn't get my questions answered to know how it would feel or what it would interfere with. I prepared as best as I could and it helped.

This is what it was like for me; I scribbled notes every day so I wouldn't forget/block it from my memory. Treatment took place over a two month period, every other Thursday. I always wore bright lipstick and made sure to contour. My family would be there, as was my doting boyfriend who took such scrupulous care of me I almost resented him for it. The first treatment was terrifying and incomprehensible, "how is this really happening?" The infusion itself is more gross than painful; drugs are inserted directly into a port that was surgically implanted in my chest. The chemicals left a disturbing taste in my mouth. I mostly tried to tune out the process with rap music. Friday and Saturday would go by a bit like a blur and I spent a lot of time resting in bed, but was able to get out of the house for a few hours if I needed to, especially the first month. The Sunday and Monday I'd experience pain in my bones and headaches from a medicine given to help keep my white blood cells up. Stairs would be challenging and I had a lot of dizziness and shortness of breath that got worse cumulatively after each treatment. I lost interest in food, which was obviously a strange thing for me. And besides as a consequence of excruciating, chemo induced heartburn, I never vomited. At night, I wasn't sleeping well due to intense hot flashes that also stuck around for a month after chemo just for fun. I worked throughout treatment, taking off an average of 8 days a month. In the beginning I probably pushed myself a little too hard to make up for hours at work, looking back I can admit I put in a few too many 10+ hour days and that was plain silly. By the end of March, the cumulative effect of the toxins was more apparent, a pathetic example: making an egg for breakfast would wear me out and I'd need to lie down.

But here is a list of things I did during chemo: attended a baby shower and (parts of) a bachelorette party, coordinated a networking event, ran a workshop, drank whiskey, sat at the top of stairs to catch my breath, skipped meals, ate meals at Res Ipsa, South Helm, and Applebee's, got hit on, wrote dozens of thank you cards, watched every episode of Black Mirror and Westworld.

Then it was spring and my appetite came back and I had my follow up surgery and I taught business classes and traveled to NY for fun and biked to the train every day and gave food tours and drank at bars and went to a wedding in Florida as a bridesmaid wearing a purple wig

and then it was summer and I got a haircut and went to the beach and attended my college reunion and ate at all the restaurants I had been meaning to try and starting going back to the gym and figured out my bra size and witnessed my friend give birth

and then it was fall and I won an award in Philly tourism and my boyfriend moved in and I went on a white water kayaking trip in Wyoming with other survivors and was awesome at it and I felt strong and maybe even got some closure.

and then a year had gone by.

So here I am. Though I feel a little more scattered and tired than I used to, that could just be getting older, right? I am lucky to not have many significant long term effects from the treatment. I am, actually, doing really well. One hard part now is worrying that people might be confused about how to move forward with me. Miraculously and thankfully, the important people in my life know exactly what I need. I am also unafraid to ask for things. A bigger challenge is my projection of an expectation from others and the demand from myself that now I am to just be normal at all times. I am facing this battle of watching myself move on in living that busy, fun, active, normal life but also not wanting to or being able to ever fully go back to what life looked like a year ago. It isn't normal to be missing body parts, to have a nightly ritual of rubbing creams in to scars, to get upset watching someone braid their hair, to have fleeting thoughts about recurrence at inconvenient moments, or to forever need to fit oncology follow ups in your schedule.

But I can handle it; I have handled it. I now know I will handle anything, and that gives me peace. I am not a wholly different person which was something I promised to myself, but I am a better person, more patient and more appreciative. I expect less from others and try to deliver more. I am still stubborn and gluttonous but I drink less and am more of a real adult.

I have so much to look forward to and I am ready for all of it.


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