Sunday, February 7, 2016

The One Where I Realize An Entire Year Has Passed

On February 5, 2015, I received the official news that I had cancer. I was at work when my doctor called me. There was no beating around the bush. She told me I had cancer and I should hang up the phone with her and call an oncologist immediately. I did not immediately call an oncologist, instead I called my husband. And then I walked across the hall and told my boss. And then I turned the corner and went to my friend's office and told her. I am pretty sure I smiled, laughed, and dropped the cancer bomb. I laughed because I didn't want to cry and didn't know what else to do. Because that's a totally normal thing.

February 5th is my baby brother's birthday. I remember feeling horrified that this was happening on his b-day. I contemplated putting off telling him by a day so it wouldn't ruin his birthday. Now, I know that is kind of presumptuous and a bit conceited to assume that this would ruin his birthday, but I just didn't want to risk it. I remember calling my dad and being more preoccupied with figuring out if I should say anything or wait, than actually telling my dad I had cancer. I guess we fixate on weird stuff when we are stressed out. (In case you're wondering, I did tell my brother on his birthday. He doesn't seem traumatized and he still speaks to me, so I think we're okay. We even texted back and forth to make plans for a birthday dinner this year. Dessert and all.)

Here we are a while back at a Bulls vs. Mavericks pre-season game. Much fun was had by all. 
So, it's been one year since this whole debacle started. Wow. I feel like everything has changed and nothing has changed. It's an odd combination of feeling like it took me forever to get here and that it all happened in the blink of an eye. A very odd feeling and even more odd that I struggle so hard to find the words to describe it. Be prepared for a meandering post as I try really hard to get to the point...

Fuck. I survived. I had two huge tumors and now I don't. I am still alive and hearty, healthy, and hale. Please understand, it's not that I feel guilty and I am not sitting here wondering "why did it all work out for me and not those other cancer patients". I am smart enough and rational enough to understand the nuances of modern medicine, science, and sickness.  It's just that there are days where the enormity of it all hits me, right in chest. My heart hurts a little, my breathing gets a bit accelerated, and I get a little light headed. When I fully absorb what happened, it sort of freaks me out. Which is kind of stupid considering it's all done. I am cancer free. I beat cancer. I survived. So why am I freaking out on a random Friday afternoon? I dunno. Maybe all of those days where I just put one foot in front of the other, focused on one small piece at a time, plowed ahead and refused to be anything but positive and optimistic and certain that it would all work out finally caught up to me? Maybe my subconscious is finally cracking open just the tiniest bit and letting me see all of the fears I buried way down deep?

It's been a whole entire year. How do I feel about that? Like I said, some days the enormity of it all grabs me by the throat and I panic all over again. But mostly, I feel good. Really good. I feel like I have a much better sense of what is worth arguing about, and what is worth letting go. I feel like I search even deeper for the positives. I am trying so much harder to tell people what they mean to me. I am freer with compliments and gratitude. I want to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me. I am trying really hard to make sure I'm not raining on anyone's parade. I feel really good and I want everyone around me to feel really good.

I feel good emotionally AND physically. I joined the YMCA so I can work out and get my strength and endurance back. I got a Fitbit (thanks, Mom!) to make sure I keep moving and don't get too sedentary (let me know if you wanna be Fitbit friends - or whatever the cool kids call it). I've cut waaaaaay back on my caffeine intake (decaf coffee, more hot tea, little to no soda). More fruits and less Little Debbie.
Check out my nifty compression sleeves. From the right distance it looks like I am super tough and have these bad-ass tattoos. FYI - these guys help keep me from getting lymphedema, in case you were wondering. And yes, I did punch  myself in the face while trying to put them on the first time. It's cool. I'm fine.

That contraption right there? I have no idea what it is called but when I use it - it makes muscles in my chest area flex that I didn't know I had. I have a love/hate relationship with it. 
Oh, and another thing. A friend of mind messaged me recently asking if I had any idea about what I wanted to do with my wig now that I'm no longer using it. I told her that I had planned on donating it to the local cancer center, but just hadn't done it yet. That wig really did help me get through a rough spot - I was surprised at how much more confident I felt with it on and I wanted someone else to have that same experience with no worries about the cost associated with purchasing a wig (they can be kind of pricey). Turns out my friend had a friend who needed a wig. While it broke my heart that there was a reason to pass it along, I was more than happy to do so. What surprised me most about this was the little touch of sadness I felt about letting the wig go. It really was like a security blanket and I had a brief 10 minutes where I was truly sad about saying goodbye to Samantha. (The style of wig was called "Bewitched". Of course I named the wig Samantha. Duh.) I mean, don't misunderstand, I was 95% happy to be helping someone out by giving them the wig to use, but there was absolutely that 5% of sadness. Very weird, but that's the truth.

Why yes. I did have a Raquel Welch wig. 

Me having my last moment with Samantha. 

In retrospect, letting go of the wig was kind of a nice way to sad goodbye to the cancer and all of the horseshit that came with it. A nice way to physically let go, you know? Symbolic in a way. Which is a good thing. I want to let go, but I refuse to forget. This process could have easily been overwhelming and could have sent me into a depressive downward spiral. But it wasn't and I didn't thanks to my wide and deep pool of friends and family. I am learning to let go of the lingering fear and anxiety, but I will not forget what I went through. I think I have accepted my physical scars, and am working through the emotional ones. (Gotta stop waiting for the metaphorical "other shoe" to drop.)

This process showed me that I wasn't the weenie I thought I was and that it's okay to depend on other people and ask for help every once in a while. This process made me open my eyes and see the value in things that I was absolutely taking for granted - - and it's made me see that despite how good I had it before, I was missing out on so much more.

Wow. Yes. It's been a whole year. I am still a little shocked that all of this happened, but I am so grateful and relieved and awed that everything worked out the way it did. Guys, I did it. I beat cancer. Holy crap. Now, I just need to figure out how to 1) use the grill properly and 2) not burn bacon...I can beat cancer, but apparently cooking certain meats is outside of my skill set.