After one cycle of IVF, egg retrieval and preservation, 6 rounds of chemo, and 2 surgeries I thought I was done missing out on all the fun. Turns out I was wrong once again. It’s like a sick trick. Each day of your fight, you use the end of treatment as your goal post, your milestone for success and completion. But once you get there, you realize that the end of treatment is only a rest stop in your never ending battle. A milestone worth celebrating for sure, but far from the end.
Many people don’t understand this. They think the end of chemotherapy or radiation marks the end of your fight. I can’t fault them for this misconception, because a year and a half ago I too was uninformed. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding a cancer diagnosis — life after cancer and what it’s really like. Hormone blocking therapy, regular doctor’s visits and reconstructive surgeries and revisions will continue to be my reality for many months and years to come. I’m looking at 5-10 more years of maintenance treatment, all of which has everyday impacts on my life. Joint pain that limits the use of my thumb and dominate hand, hot flashes that keep me up at night, weight gain that impacts my self esteem and a plethora of other menopausal symptoms that impact my body from head to toe. So life is far from normal for me.
Despite the ongoing symptoms and struggles, I did what most survivor do post-treatment. I decided to make the most of this life I have to live. Cancer was a wakeup call to live in the moment and enjoy the things in my life that continue to bring me joy. I threw myself back into work, exercise, and my friendships. I took advantage of every opportunity to share my story and work on breast advocacy and awareness in my community. For the past 8 months since my last major surgery, my life has been a pretty amazing whirlwind. I received a promotion at work, grew my blog to new levels, traveled to Europe, collaborated with amazing organization to spread awareness about young women with breast cancer and started the first Raleigh Young Women’s breast cancer support group. I even walked the runway in a World of Pink Fashion Show helping raise over $20,000 for women battling breast cancer in Long Island, NY.
The more I invested of myself into these amazing causes, the more projects I took on, I began to hear a little voice in the back of my head warning me to slow down. I knew I needed to rest, take a breath, but things were moving so quickly and I didn’t want to miss out on a single opportunity. I’d spent enough time missing out while I was sick, this was my time to live! I wanted to help every young woman who came into my life and wanted to make a difference in the fight again breast cancer.
And then the flu hit. Now some of you may be thinking It’s just the flu what’s the big deal. A few days off work, a few days in bed and you’ll be back to normal… but for me this was like treatment all over again. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at its best. As I sat in the bathroom hugging the toilet, heaving, the chemo nightmares returned. The fear that I would never get better, and that everyone would move on without me took over my psyche. The fear of never recovering from this stage of physical misery snaked through my veins.
Though, a sane person like myself can differentiate the flu from chemo, the symptoms are actually quite similar and you can imagine how the memories flooded back like a song triggering long lost emotions. While reliving the worst days after chemo (and the dreaded Nuelasta shots), what I remembered the most was this sadness of feeling left out — forgotten. I was fearful and uncomfortable missing out on all the fun and the normal stuff. Sick in bed fighting for my life, while friends, family and coworkers went about their days enjoying the everyday moments and adventures that life has to offer. I remember feeling alone in these emotions, selfish and confused.
Though almost a year of recovery and live beyond breast cancer has given me a sense of growth and perspective I can appreciate, I share these feelings today to let other women know that you are not alone. I share these feeling to remind you that the fight does not end on your final chemo day, or your final surgery day. When your physical battle wanes, your mental battle begins. You may want to make up for lost time, still fearful of missing out on the moments you used to take for granted. But, it is enough to just live! Sometimes I forget this trying to jump back into the full speed race I was in before. But I can’t maintain that pace. I had to get sick again to remind me to slow down, remind me yet again that I am not invincible and I have to take care of my body. In order to do this, I have to create a new path. One filled with balance, self care and gratitude. I may miss out things my friends, colleagues and family will experience but I just have to believe that better things will be waiting for me around the next bend. Here’s to my new journey, my new path, and may it be a very long one!