Lately I have been feeling that familiar longing to put words down on paper. When I was going through cancer treatment, writing was such a great outlet and source of comfort. But thankfully, cancer is now in my rear-view mirror! I no longer write blogs as a coping mechanism. Yet I still feel the urge to write to support my desire to be more present each day and to be a catalyst for positivity and change.
This story starts about a year ago. I was cancer free, but mentally I was still recovering. I was still trying to answer the “Why Me” question that every cancer survivor asks themselves. Don’t get me wrong; I was very grateful to be alive and I was outwardly positive. Sometimes the outward expression of joy was to also try to convince myself that I was happy. And for the most part that is how I felt. But there were times when I was alone in my own headspace that I felt anxious and disconnected.
I went for a couple of Doctor check-ups during the fall of 2016, and both visits were emotional. First, any Doctor’s visit post-cancer is stressful. Every lab and test represents the moment you’re going to find out you have cancer again. I had also gained even more weight and felt embarrassed about it. I was so ashamed of myself. Here I was given the gift of life post-cancer. Twice! And I felt like I was wasting that gift. There is a photo from me of last fall that is the worst photo I have ever seen of myself. I look fat and uncomfortable and I remember how I felt at that event. Here I was out with a great group of people at an awesome restaurant, and I couldn’t really enjoy it. I was worried about what people thought of me, and because it was a packed restaurant I felt particularly large and awkward. I hate that photo so very much.
I have a wonderful woman that is my current primary care practitioner. She has a terrific bedside manner and really tries to serve as my health coach rather than a disciplinary figure. When I went for my visit last year, she asked questions and listened to me talk about not being able to lose weight, feeling anxious, issues with insomnia, and even a little depression. I think a lot of these feelings were related to life after cancer and the associated guilt. And that anxiety seemed to amplify the “normal” stress. She empathized with me and really listened which is rare in these days of the 10-minute doctor appointments. And then she matter-of-factly presented some ideas on how to make some life changes. During this appointment, something really clicked for me. It was one of those times in my life where the right thing happened at exactly the right time. I was in the right mindset to really listen and was ready for change. I left that appointment feeling hopeful about the future; though skeptical that I could do what was necessary to really enact change in my own life.
Now let’s jump in the time machine and travel forward to now. Life has changed so much! I have made so many positive changes in my life. I’ve lost a significant amount of weight and have started exercising almost every day. I also eat much healthier, and don’t use food as an emotional crutch. I feel more confident, happy, and optimistic about the future. I see pictures of myself and I’m not embarrassed. I don’t try to hide anymore!
|Left: A recent photo. Right: A horrible, horrible picture at a work meeting. I loved that shirt until I saw this picture!|
So, making a long story even longer… I swear I’m trying to get to the point. Last week was my annual GYN appointment. Previously, GYN appointments were the ones I dreaded the most. My GYN was the Doctor who diagnosed me for uterine cancer. I had come to her as a new patient after unknowingly having the symptoms of uterine cancer for well over a year. And yes, I knew something was wrong, and yes with the history of cancer I should have been smarter. My previous Doctor that did my GYN exams before this one had left her practice and I never bothered to find another. In my mind, seeing any type of Doctor multiple times a year was enough. I had ignored the problems I was having and wrote them off as issues related to weight, growing old, the effects of chemo from cancer #1, etc. Luckily when seeing my regular Oncologist prior to this visit, he noticed some issues in a routine scan and recommended that I see a GYN as follow-up. A slightly funny side note: my Oncologist credits me having lymphoma as the reason I was diagnosed with uterine cancer soon enough to do something; he said that had I not had the routine follow-up scan at that time, that things could have turned out quite differently.
Anyways, for the first time ever, I was happy to be headed to my appointment last week. The first stop at any Doctor’s appointment is the dreaded scale. But this was a new day! I stood on the scale waiting for the number; and I already knew where the scale would land. My weight was 94 pounds less than my previous visit! The nurse raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. I’m not sure if maybe she thought there was a mistake in my chart, or that maybe the weight loss had something to do with being sick.
I could barely stop smiling. My blood pressure was also perfect. Before when it was elevated, I always used the excuse that it was anxiety from being at the Doctor’s office rather than my unhealthy lifestyle.
Next, I had to complete a questionnaire about my mental/emotional well-being. The previous year, it was harder to fill out – I remember answering a few questions about not feeling engaged or excited about things going on in my life and that I had a hard time focusing. This time, I could easily answer the questions with positive responses.
When the Doctor came in we had a great conversation. She congratulated me on the hard work and we had a great conversation about my health and what I’ve been doing to have accomplished so much over this past year. She did my exam and ran through the “questions to ask if your patient has cancer” checklist. Fevers? Back pain? Fatigue? Lumps? Abdominal pain? Decreased appetite? Strange muscle pains? Headaches? Rashes?
I left that visit so happy. For the first time in at least ten years, I feel like I’ve gained control over my health and my body. It is such a feeling of empowerment. I’ve finally stopped with the litany of excuses for not being healthy. I would blame stress. I would always say that I didn’t have time to exercise or to prepare healthy meals. I would say I was born with a crappy metabolism and that I was trying. And the excuses were all ways to try to make myself feel ok about what I was doing to myself. I’m pretty sure no one else believed me.
So back to the beginning of this short novel: Why the need to write this down? I write when I need to organize my thoughts and to fully think through the “why” of what I’m feeling. I write when I need a mechanism to later remind myself of a feeling or an experience to help me stay on the right path. I write with the thought that if even one person reads my words and it is a cause for a positive change, then it’s worth my time.
I had a couple of hesitations. First, with a ton of weight still left to lose, do I really have the right to write a blog focused on better health? Yes, I think... When I read blogs and weight loss stories, I want to read the ones written by those who have walked in my shoes or are trying to accomplish the same thing. Next, do I really want to put something so personal out there for the world to read and analyze? This was probably my biggest hesitation. I once had a troll who took information posted in a previous blog and negatively posted it out to others. It was hurtful and I almost took my blog down after that happened. But I stuck with it; particularly after hearing from another cancer patient that my blog had helped them with their experience.
And lastly, the whole act of blogging is a narcissistic exercise. I always worry about being viewed as self-centered and I know that I can be that way. But I think it’s ok for me to focus on me for a while. I’ve earned it. I don’t know that I’ll be putting a link to it on my Facebook page just yet; not sure I want to open it up to those that are closest to me just yet. It's sometimes hard to be vulnerable with those who know you best.
Anyways, hope to pick up a reader or two who want to watch me go through a different life experience that is so much more fun than enduring cancer!
So, here’s to being a better version of myself!