Friday, December 6, 2013

Life "after" the big C

Life after cancer will never be the same as it was before. I have spoken to a few survivors, and their post-cancer thoughts and experiences all vary wildly. I have one friend who told me that she feels like there will be a "black cloud," hovering over her for the rest of her life. I met a woman at a wedding this summer whom I could only describe as a stone cold bad ass, breast cancer survivor. She said that ever since she beat cancer, she wonders, "whats going to get me next?" She said that when she goes to the doctor, she is filled with dread, and yet, she continues to live life to the fullest and embrace it. I "met" a young lady who had the same cancer as I did on social networking. She told me that, post treatment, she feels ugly, depressed, and not the same. Me, personally? I've been riding the denial express for about 8 straight months. In case you couldn't tell by my rapid decline in blogging, then my all-out avoidance for the past month or so. It is almost as if, during treatment, you have this amazing defense mechanism in your psyche. This, at least in my case, causes you to develop the personality of a fighter. To adopt the mentality that what is happening to you is ok, you have no control over it, but that you have the ability to be cheerful while it is happening. There are two people I have met, one, a volunteer at the cancer center, and another a reporter who interviewed me about placental disease; both have called me "the world's happiest cancer patient." If only they knew what happens in the dark corners of my mind. Or how I treated my husband some days, when I was dealing with the worst of it. I am not the worlds happiest cancer patient, and I am not as strong as some of you may think. That does not mean that I am not strong. It turns out, I have my own inner "stone cold bad ass," and she is pretty epic. But I am also human. I fail. I make mistakes. I say things to the people I love that I do not mean. It feels good to get that out. After treatment, everything changed. Suddenly, I felt like it was finally real. I was terrified to stop chemo, knowing that the cancer would come back. Not that it might, but feeling, knowing inside that it would. Thankfully, it hasn't. I started mouring things that I had lost. I got weepy when I saw things on social networking or online about breastfeeding. I started to feel angry; really fucking angry. I started to grieve because I was robbed of the normal postpartum experience. And worst of all, I did not start to feel better. Sure, my hair has grown 1/4 inch. But strangers still stare. And since my last treatment on October 15, I have had some really, seriously, amazing days. But a lot of days I still feel sick. A lot of days, I continue to be frustrated by my limitations. It is still difficult for me to climb stairs. I am ready for bed at 2 pm, no matter how much I slept the night before. No amount of caffeine helps with this. In the first few weeks I struggled with worsening nausea and vomiting, and continued to use anti-emetics to deal with this. That frustrasted me. I kept thinking to myself, I thought I was DONE. Worst of all, my number climbed. Although it never went above 5, it was slowly but surely rising for about 3 weeks. I was so scared. And yet, because I was done, because I was cured, I did not reach out for help. I did not come on here and share with you, dear readers, my fear, anxiety and apprehension about life after cancer. For that, I apologize. My number has since declined, and is down to .8 as of my last blood draw. Now this, I have to share. I found out about that beta hCg because my amazing, dedicated doctor texted it to me. He had left work for the day, was feeling sick, and yet, out of curiosity, checked my number. When he saw it was .8, he let me know and Jim and I celebrated by dancing and high-fiving in the kitchen. Jack supervised from his high chair. I want to share with you something my husband read in a magazine and cut out for me. It was found in Backpacker magazine, and it written by Casey Lyons. I removed a small excerpt from it, but here is most of it: 
 survival, defined 
I once knew a guy, an inexperienced hiker, who went out for an overnight on the Appalachian Trail, got left behind by his hiking buddy, and panicked. A trail-runner found him 15 minutes later, broken, blubbering, and gearless on a blue-blaze trail. He ditched his pack because he thought it would slow his escape. He was crying because he wasn't ready to die. That's not survival. Sprained your ankle and forced to hobble out using a tree branch for a crutch? That's not survival either. That's a mishap, a blip, a frightening but ultimately funny story.So what is survival? Here's an easy baseline: You'll know it when you're eating the weakest sled dog. In a survival situation, if you come back at all, you come back without something dear to you. Maybe it's a finger, or a friend, but more likely something that was once glued to your psyche, so close you never realized it was there: The belief that the world is forever filled with warm beds, warm partners, and happy endings for all the pretty-much good enough people like you. Survival changes that. It cleaves your life into two: before it happened and after it happened. And in the middle is a gigantic monument that casts a shadow from which you may never emerge. You'll know survival is at stake when you ifnd your faith. Then lose your fiath. Then come to a haunting realization: You are going to die. You might live yet, thanks to luck or skill or probably both, but you will stare your own mortality ub uts oake and hollowed-out face, and if that image doesn't stalk you by day, you can count on seeing it in your dreams. Such life-or-death situations can materialize out of the night and set upon you. If you're still not sizing up the sled dogs or family pet, don't worry: You'll know what's at stake when you realize that the wolrd, with all its near-infinite beauty, doesn't give a damn about your good times, your feelings, or your sense of fairness. Of course, you've always known that- in an airy, detached sort of way- because you've heard about it happening to other people and you've thought to yourself "I'm too smart/prepared/careful for that." But now, for the first time ever, you'll feel it-subtle as a rasping and unanswered scream for help- right down into your bone marrow. That is survival. May you never know it.

I have never before read something that I identified with quite so powerfully. The author was able to sum up my feelings far better than I could at the time. 


  1. Wow...just wow. I am thrilled and relieved that the C is behind you! I've been thinking about you and your family. I checked your blog with trepidation, hoping for good news but fearing, you know, the worst. You made it, mama! Big hugs to you. Thank you for sharing so much of your journey. If you have time and space on your phone, come visit us on WTE April 2013 Babies group. We'd love to have you back!! Much love ~ Zumbabebe

  2. Hi, KittyKAL! I hadn't realized you were posting again until I read your post on WTE. So glad you're back in full force and letting us share in the battle called post cancer. Reading the above quote - esp the last few lines - I'm guessing that most of us can relate to varying degrees. 'Subtle as a rasping and unanswered scream for help' - yeah, I've been there. But in the same way as you because I've never faced the possibility of death like you have. And every strong person has those moments where one just crumbles in a raging heap of despair. That makes you human - not weak. And that you can share those moments with others makes you much stronger than most. Welcome back! I love your honesty in your posts and am very happy to be able to read them again. Keep sharing!