I Finished Chemo
I can’t believe a year ago from today was my last day of chemo. The picture above is the length of my current hair. Crazy to think it has grown so much! A year ago, I thought it would be impossible for my hair to grow back.
I remember the last day of chemo so vividly. That morning I was so anxious. I kept praying and hoping that my numbers were at the appropriate level to receive chemo that day. I didn’t want any further delay because I just wanted to be done. I was fed up with feeling so weak and sick from chemo. I missed so much how delicious food tasted and I couldn’t wait to be able to enjoy eating again. Cycle after cycle, my body felt worn down and I was just tired of that.
Waiting for my blood test results was so nerve-wracking. As I mentioned above, I really wanted my numbers to be spot on. After what felt like hours, I received the results and was admitted to chemo. The nurses and staff were awesome. They knew that day could potentially be my last day of chemo. They gave me the biggest room so it could accommodate all of my immediate family. It was a day to celebrate!!
When that last drip completed, we were all jumping for joy, literally. It wasn’t guaranteed at that time that it would be my official last day of chemo, but you know what, I cherished that moment. Luckily, after my mastectomy, it was concluded that I no longer needed chemo. However, I did have other treatments in my plan. But I didn’t care, I was done with chemo. One thing to mark off.
Without a doubt, being diagnosed is scary. Heck, a lot of things you hear about cancer are pretty scary. When I first heard I had to go through chemo, I cried and cried and cried in the car after I left the hospital. There’s that possibility of death that just hovers right over your head. But you know what, I learned a lot since I was diagnosed with cancer. Some are new things, some are things I already knew that were confirmed.
What Cancer Taught Me
(in no particular order)
There’s always a silver lining.
Yes, that is right. There’s ALWAYS a silver lining. Not just on good days but on any type of day and scenario. Sometimes we have to look a little deeper. Sometimes we take some of the good things for granted that we don’t realize we actually already have it good. I’ve heard a lot of heartbreaking news my entire life. Some are harder to accept. But no matter what, even in a tragedy, there is ALWAYS something good. It could be something as simple as your cup of coffee staying hot longer than usual, able to catch the bus on time, or catching every green light on the road. No matter what, there are always good things happening in your life. Even on bad days, there’s more good things that happened than bad things.
There’s more than one kind of cancer treatment.
I’ll admit it, prior to diagnosis, I thought surgery and chemo were the only options for treating cancer. But there are SO many more treatment options out there. Each person’s treatment plan can be very different and can contain any number or combination of treatment options. For me, it was chemo, targeted therapy, surgery, and hormonal therapy. Many people assume that because I finished chemo, I was done with getting treated. However, that was only one part of my treatment plan. After chemo, I started targeted therapy. My targeted therapy consisted of continuing to get one of my chemo drugs administered intravenous (aka – the process is just like chemo). However, instead of having the drugs target my entire body it targets a specific part of my body. It also has its own set of side effects.
I used to be afraid to tell people ‘no’. But after being worn down from treatments and trying to recover from side effects, it can be too much to agree to do even the most simple task. I learned that it is okay to take care of yourself. I used to feel like if I didn’t have a legitimate excuse, then I couldn’t say ‘no’ to people. I felt the reason behind my ‘no’ was not legitimate and so therefore I would agree to whatever someone asked me. For instance, I would agree to go out for dinner because I didn’t think saying “I can’t because I want to stay in after a long day” was an acceptable excuse. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But in reality, the people who love and care about you will understand. Not taking care of yourself (physically and mentally) can have harmful effects. So it is okay to give yourself a break.
The body is resilient.
I never fully understood this statement until I experienced what my body went through. My body went to hell and back, but guess what people, I am still here and living. It still needs work and time to feel better, but I’m all in one-piece. What we fail to realize is that the body’s natural reaction when something goes wrong is to amend it and try to get it back to normal. It may take time, but the body can heal itself. It is amazing when I looked back (especially the photos in this post) how much my body has transformed.
Cancer is a lifelong journey.
This is a current revelation. The journey doesn’t end after chemo, after surgery, or after any treatment. Getting better either physically, mentally, and/or medically, will take time and it may take the rest of your life. I learned to come to terms with this when I attended the YSC Summit and they validated all the things I was thinking and feeling. I’m not going to lie, it’s not an easy road. Some days are so much harder than others and I can’t explain why. But no matter what, I don’t let cancer define me. It’s ok to let it be part of my life. It has shaped me into who I am.
I used to constantly compare myself to others, especially during the beginning of my diagnosis. I was sad I couldn’t travel, I was jealous some people didn’t lose their hair and I did, and I was worried that my treatment plan wasn’t the same as someone else’s with the exact same diagnosis. But what I found out is everyone is different. Everyone is at a different point in their lives and everyone’s body is different. No one truly knows what someone else’s life is like day in and day out. What type of struggles or hurdles that person is going through behind the scenes. It’s best just to focus on you and work on you. And regarding my treatment plan being different from others with the same diagnosis? I learned that everyone’s body is different and reacts differently and that each person’s treatment plan is tailored to their own body.
Have you ever waited in the oncology unit? Man, we would be in the waiting area for at least a couple hours until we got called in. It felt like my whole day was gone. But in the end, no matter how long it took, I did end up seeing my oncologist and I got what I needed. It’s a lot like in life. Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘good things come to those who wait’? Well, that may be a cliche, but it’s never felt more true. No matter how long you have to wait, you can still get the results you were hoping for. It just takes patience.
My time is precious.
It truly is and I don’t have time for any of the BS. Life can be short, but it doesn’t mean we have to live in misery. I don’t have the time to be surrounded by negative people, I don’t have the time to do things I don’t want to do, I don’t have the time to consume my life with work, and I don’t have the time to complain. We should enjoy life. Time will continue to tick and move on regardless of where we are in life. It’s not worth it to give up a happy life. I’m not ashamed to say ‘bye felicia’ to drama. I can’t help but roll my eyes at some people about the things they complain about day to day. Time is precious, so let’s spend it on something worthwhile. I also thought putting in more hours at work meant something. I don’t know what, but I thought it did. It took time away, precious time, from spending time with people I love or doing something I love. Work will always be there. Work to live, don’t live to work.
Listen to your body.
Your body knows you the best. If you can’t describe something but it feels wrong, call it out. When I did my breast exam, I felt like I was about to faint. I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t sure if the lump got bigger or not, but it just wasn’t right. Glad, I went to the doctor. If I didn’t, I’m not sure where I’d be right now in my life. Even during treatment, I called out every single thing that just didn’t seem normal. Yes, I will admit some were not a big deal, but I am glad I said something. Otherwise, it could have led me to some other serious issues.
I didn’t give myself enough credit.
I never gave myself a chance or realized what I was capable of. Looking back, all the things I now think are awesome, cool, or would love to be able to do, are things I did do. But back then, I brushed it off like it was nothing or criticized myself that it wasn’t enough. For my first marathon, I finished under 4 hours and at that time I was upset I didn’t have a Boston marathon qualifying time. OMG, this girl needed to get a grip. That was my FIRST marathon and I was sad I didn’t have a Boston marathon time?! If I can finish a 5K now, just finish and not in any specific time, I would be so grateful! Now, I embrace anything I am capable of doing. If I can wake up in the morning without feeling any aches or have a full day of work without fatigue, to me, that would be the best day ever.
It’s good to age.
I’ll admit it, I used to be one of those people who complained that I am ‘getting old’. I now laugh at myself and slightly roll my eyes that I even had those complaints. I was diagnosed at 27, and I complained I was getting old?! Let’s get real. This didn’t hit me until I was diagnosed and realized I had gotten cancer at a VERY young age. I was practically an infant in the cancer world. Getting old is a privilege, actually more of a luxury. Not many people have this luxury and many take aging for granted. There are so many great things about getting old. I look forward to each and every day I get older.
It was a blessing.
If I heard myself say cancer was a blessing right when I was diagnosed I would have thought I was bat shit crazy. But looking back, there was actually a lot of good that came out of it (see, there’s always silver linings). It gave me the opportunity to slow things down. We live in a world where everything should have be done yesterday and we are too focused on getting to the next thing without appreciating the current moment. Because I had to take breaks or take time off and needed assistance during treatment, it allowed me to step away from my day-to-day. My husband and I had more downtime together. We were both so focused with our careers, that there were times we couldn’t enjoy things together. We had an epiphany last summer when we decided “let’s go for a walk”. That’s when we realized that in previous summers, we would not have been able to do simple things like go for a walk on the lakefront together because either one or the other of us would have to work late or would be too exhausted to do anything. That was one of the best walks we ever had. It also confirmed the strength of our marriage. I know I married the best, and the hard times show people’s true colors. My husband was an angel. I could not have asked for a better man to spend the rest of my life with. I can go on and on why it was a blessing, but I’ll save that for a later post <3
I’m sure there will be more I will continue to learn or even some that I forgot to mention. My experience has truly been a learning experience especially for my mind, body, and soul. It sounds cliche, but every experience I have encountered in my life, there is always something to learn. We get better as we learn. I hope to continue to share what I learn for many, many years.