I’ve been trying to write this blog entry for almost 2 years now. At first I just needed a break from blogging, as I was trying to pick up the pieces of what my life had become during treatment. Honestly, I fell into a deep depression. The first six months after treatment were some of the darkest moments of my life. During treatment, time seemed to almost stop and it felt as though I was in a cocoon protecting me from everyday life. As soon as treatment ended, the ticking of the clock was deafening, life was beating down my door. I, however, was broken into a million pieces and had no idea how to pick myself back up. I felt alone and abandoned by the incredible support I had during treatment. All of a sudden my weekly doctor’s appointments turned into 3 month check-ups. My oncologist, nurses, medical assistants, and even receptionists had become a huge support system. I will never forget walking away from my last chemo treatment to a standing ovation from every single person that worked in the clinic.
My friends and family were elated that I had made it through cancer alive, and rightfully so. I know everyone was searching for some sort of normalcy after that hellish year, but I had not even started processing what had happened. The denial and shock that allowed me to put one foot in front of the other was no longer there. I felt as though my life had been reduced to the fact that I should just be happy to be alive. Somehow, I felt as though that should be enough for me, but it wasn’t. I thought I might have some great optimistic outlook on life, where the small stuff wouldn’t bother me anymore, but I didn’t. I walked around like a lost puppy dog, trying to figure out how to make it through the day. Today, I don’t feel quite as lost, but the pain still exists and the tears still flow on a regular basis…my healing continues.
If there is any area in cancer care that is lacking it is in survivorship. I have struggled through the last 2 years, trying to not only make sense of the emotional impact cancer has had on my life, but also the physical impact. My bones and body still ache on a daily basis. It feels as though I’m about to get the flu. Sometimes this is manageable. Other times it brings me to tears because I just want to feel some sort of peace and quiet within my body. Chronic pain is a world I have become very humbled by.
The Chemotherapy has also led my body into a peri-menopausal state. My cycles have become longer and longer and the bleeding time is getting shorter and shorter, currently, less than 24 hours. I’ve been experiencing all the ‘fantastic’ menopausal symptoms that accompany this transition in a woman’s life, including bone density loss. I have officially been diagnosed with osteopenia, which helps explain why my teeth have been crumbling and falling out. My dental bills have been enormous! My regular dentist will not perform any of the procedures because the chemo and radiation have changed my bone structure in a way that he does not feel qualified to deal with, so off to more specialists.
Honestly, the menopause ‘stuff’ has been the hardest to deal with. At 32 years old, I am not ready to walk that path. I desperately want another baby at some point and would love to accomplish that without it being a huge medical ordeal. Along with the intense grief I feel surrounding this, I also feel anger…. a lot of it! I can say truthfully that this is the first time I’ve felt anger around my cancer. There’s actually something that feels potent and healthy about it. This anger seems to mean business and I believe it will be the energy that carries me though this storm to a more empowering place.
One way I’m taking my body back from cancer is training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I’m going to do something I never thought I could do and something my oncologist told me I would never do after chemo. Remember the drug in my chemo cocktail that affected my lungs so severely that I had to end chemo two treatments early? Well, in my patient education session before treatment, I was told that I would never be able to run a marathon after receiving this drug. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Running a marathon was never an aspiration of mine. After I prove to myself that I can do this half, I’m moving onto a full marathon….I’d like to show up at my 3 year check-up and report that Bleomycin couldn’t keep me down.
Marathon training isn’t something that’s new to me. My Dad was a marathon runner. I remember marveling at the distances he ran when I was child. The summer before he died, my dad and I would run a mile together after dark. I have missed my dad so much through all of this. Running has given me a way to feel very connected to him again. I can feel him with me. When it came to deciding which race I was going to run, it was a no brainer. I chose San Francisco because my dad LOVED running in San Francisco and I wanted to experience it with him….hills and all!
Besides infusing my heart with the closeness of my dad, running has been an amazing way to find some peace in my mind. Even though my mind races with all of my usual brain clutter for the first few miles, something magical happens after that…peace. It’s almost an out-of-body type experience. I try to bask in it as long as it is possible. I find that when the chatter comes back, it is usually a reflection on what is amazing in my life. It changes my whole outlook on the day. I go on with my day in gratitude for my wonderful husband, son, and the life we’ve created together. I think about how much I love my mom and sister. I was born into an amazing family, including my grandparents, aunt, uncles, and cousins. I spend time in reverence for the friends I’ve been blessed with. In fact, my friend Charissa decided to embark on this Team in Training journey too, in honor of me. I reflect on what a privilege it is to do the work that I love to do and that I’m given an opportunity to serve others in such a powerful time in their lives. As a lactation consultant, I get to hold brand new life every shift I work. It is a powerful reminder that I too was given a chance to be born again.
I have Team in Training to thank for facilitating my love of running. They have provided a safe and encouraging space to accomplish this. I am humbled to be one this season’s Honorees. I have had an opportunity to share my story with others, which in and of itself is incredibly healing. The kindness and support that exists on my team is amazing. One of the biggest blessings has been meeting others with blood cancers. In fact, one of the women on my team went through Hodgkin’s treatment 10 years ago as a young mother, just like me. We immediately connected on so many levels. She understands what I went through in a way that not many others do. It helps me to not feel so alone, which makes this whole experience worth it.
And now, I humbly ask you to support me once again in my healing journey. Your donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will not only benefit me, but all of those that have yet to receive their diagnosis. My hope is that with research, the road to healing from blood cancers will be a little more bearable and the long term side effects a little gentler. Thank you for listening and for your continued support.
With Love and Gratitude,