Monday, October 9, 2017

Now What?

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!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Post Cancer Funk

I finished up radiation treatment in January and am trying to get back to the business of being normal again.  I am back to my normal energy levels and physically feel really good.  In fact, you never realize how bad you actually felt until you are better.  We had gone to Charleston, SC back in December for an Ingress event, and I remember that all the walking we were doing felt brutal.  I ended up driving from place-to-place for some of it and felt like I couldn’t take another step.  I didn’t even want to leave the hotel for dinner that weekend and I think went to bed by 8:30 that Saturday night.  I should’ve been a little nicer to myself given I was only about 8 or 9 weeks post surgery and had started radiation that very week, but I am not one to let myself be sick.
We went away to Washington, DC for another Ingress event this past weekend, and we walked probably twice as far as the weekend we spent in Charleston.  With the exception of one almost blister, I rocked it!  We arrived on Friday and spent the evening walking around the City.  We walked pretty much all day Saturday including walking to a restaurant for dinner Saturday evening, and even went out walking on Sunday before leaving for the airport.
So physically I feel good.  It is the mental strength that I am struggling to regain.  When I go through cancer (and I hate that I’m a two-time veteran), I rally to get through it.  I am very deliberate about keeping a good attitude and not wallowing in the fact that I have cancer.  But once I’m done and better, it leaves me mentally drained.  It’s like every bit of my mental reserve is sucked dry.  And I feel like I’m going through the motions with my normal life for a while.  I have a hard time getting fired up about anything – things at work, things at home, etc.  I know this feeling passes, but I remember after the lymphoma that it took so much longer than I thought it would.  I think it was nearly a year before I felt fully able to cope. I feel a bit like a voyeur in my own life right now.  I’m going through the motions and I am able to function reasonably well.  But I don’t have that spark that I feel like I should have.  I lack confidence and creativity.
The other thing that is driving me crazy is the post-cancer follow ups.  It is always rough that first year post-cancer.  This year I have to get four pelvic exams (once every quarter) and will get scans and bloodwork.  I also am due for a Mammogram and both oncologists (yes I have two, I am that special.  I actually have three if you count my radiation oncologist) said do it as soon as possible.  And I don’t want to do it.  I am terrified of cancer at this point. Yes, I understand the whole concept of early detection.  Trust me, if anyone understands it, I do.  But the mental reserves aren’t there yet.  If I went for my Mammogram and received a cancer diagnosis, not really sure I could rock it at this moment in time. I am just starting to adequately cope with daily life.  A tough proposal at work had me in tears a couple of weeks ago.  Imagine if I found out I had to go through cancer treatment again. (No lectures please, I will go for my Mammogram!)
Anyways, as with anything that is difficult to get through, the typical mantra of taking it one day at a time holds true.  Just need to remember to make the best of each day!  I’ll leave you with a little Pink Floyd…
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Thursday, January 22, 2015

28 Days Later

It is apropos that the title of this post corresponds with a zombie movie.  Because a zombie is just what I feel like after 28 days of radiation.  But it is over and I can finally start to recover from this whole affair.   

This morning I took pastries to the radiation team that worked with me each day.  They are an amazing bunch of women that made me laugh and feel comfortable in a situation that is really one of those life events you hope to never experience.  We would laugh and talk each morning as I undressed halfway and positioned on a steel table while they adjusted my body to ensure that I was in alignment.  They were kind and caring and made a bad situation as good as it could be.   They hugged me and celebrated with me this morning.  We ceremoniously removed the stickers from my body this morning that cover and protect the marks that were drawn on in order to line up the radiation machine.    

I sit here sipping cranberry juice as a type this, because it takes a lot of cranberry juice and water to keep my very cranky radiated bladder working properly.  And my coffee cup is mostly full, because I can’t really drink the caffeine right now.   I get a cup and enjoy the smell, warmth, and taste – careful not to drink too much of it though or my bladder and digestive system will both be unhappy.

And oh the joy of trying to eat food that doesn’t make my stomach angry.  There really isn’t anything at this point that doesn’t cause a problem.  The list of foods to avoid during pelvic/adominal radiation include raw fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods including whole grains, anything greasy, acidic foods, dairy including cheese, rich pastries/ desserts, meats with high fat content, caffeine, alcohol… So basically I’m left with bananas, white pasta, potatoes that aren’t fried, lean proteins, mushy vegetables, and processed cheese.  And now, after 28 days, even those foods are questionable.  But at least I can eat.  I just need to medicate and only eat when I know I can be near a bathroom.  I was chatting with a few radiation comrades this morning that are limited to only Boost and Ensure due to their radiation treatments so I am reminded to be grateful that I can eat at all.

I had been missing Gary, my 8 AM radiation partner.  He had not around all week and I was worried that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye, but he was in the waiting room this morning.   Apparently Gary had been in the hospital for the last five days with double pneumonia and some other issues.  My heart goes out to Gary who still has quite a ways to go before he is done with his treatment.

Today I am elated to close this chapter.  I hope that there was nothing for the radiation to kill except healthy cells and it was all a waste.  I’ll never know if that is the case.   But if there were a few cancer cells floating around, I hope the radiation did its job.  Or all the processed macaroni and cheese I’ve eaten over the last few weeks will be for nothing.

The Oncologist said I should be right-as-rain within two weeks.  Can’t wait to enjoy a salad, some spicy Mexican food, and a cocktail!      

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Today was my 23rd session of radiation. Only five more to go. I was feeling pretty foul this morning as I was headed to the hospital for my session. I woke up feeling tired.  The fatigue from radiation is accumulative and I am definitely feeling the effects as I near the end.  This week has been very busy at work and coming in late everyday makes me feel rushed once I get to work and I spend the entire day feeling behind.

I have the first appointment of the day for my radiation therapy.  They have two machines, so there are two of us that arrive just before 8 AM – me and Gary.  Gary is older than I am – maybe in his late fifties or early sixties.  But he is a spry looking gentleman.  Had I not met him in the radiation waiting room, I would have never suspected he is a cancer patient.  He likes to watch the news in the morning and often chats with patients as they arrive.  He has always been cheerful and I have often wondered about why Gary was receiving radiation.

Today Gary and I finished up at the same time so we rode the elevator down together and had to wait for our vehicles.  Gary was not his usual cheerful self this morning and started telling me about his treatment.  He is not only receiving daily radiation, but is also undergoing chemotherapy right now.  Gary can’t eat at all because his throat is too raw.  I shared with him that I had previously gone through radiation of the neck area and understood his plight.  He said he’s tired, he can’t sleep, he can’t eat, and he feels like he has no quality of life right now.  He said they gave him a 60-70% chance of getting through this and that it had better work because he wouldn’t do this again.  Gary asked me how long it took to get my taste back after treatment.  I shared with him that it was a good 2-3 months before food tasted right again.  He said that his cancer was Stage 4 which is why they are treating him so aggressively.

Our cars arrived around that time so we waved and headed our separate ways.  Gary also goes to work each day after his radiation.  Those of us who fight for the early appointments usually have someplace to be.

Talking to Gary definitely gave me an attitude adjustment.  I have been complaining about being tired, but at least I can sleep.  And I can’t eat the things I would like to eat, but I am able to eat without pain.  And most importantly I am fighting the potential of cancer and not actual cancer.  Gary is fighting the real fight.
I am grateful for Gary and am sending him my hopes for the strength that he needs to get through this experience.  I am also reminded that I need to practice kindness.  You can never tell by looking at someone what they are going through at any given moment.  Life is hard sometimes, and everyone has a rough patch now and then. 
My rough patch is almost over.  And for that I am very grateful.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Radioactive New Year's Eve

It is New Year’s Eve.  I was up at 6 AM for a 7 AM radiation appointment before going to work.  That is not what anyone envisions for the last day of the year.  I should be on vacation enjoying the holidays, but my vacation time was and is being used to cover all the time associated with ridding my body of uterine cancer cells.  So today, I go to work.

After work, I’ll go home to celebrate.  The problem is I can’t really drink alcohol because my stomach can’t handle it.  And I can’t stay up late because of the fatigue associated with radiation.  So odds are that I won’t even make it until midnight to welcome in the New Year.

I will admit that I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today.  Even though logically I know that I should not.  I should consider myself very lucky because so far I’ve dodged another bullet that could have been so much worse.  So I should be celebrating.  I know there are other people that are waking up today knowing this will be their last New Year’s Eve.  Or wondering how they are going to put food on the table for their family.  So I need to snap out of it.  But once and a while it’s just hard to do it.

This week has been long, and to think it’s only Wednesday.  The week started with my second session of internal radiation and an IV iron infusion.  I will say that the iron infusion is helping with my energy so I should be grateful to have had it.  It looked like an IV of rusty water.  I tried to pretend that it was wine.  But I hardly felt drunk afterwards.

I have counted the days out, and I think radiation will end on January 22nd.  At that point I will have completed 25 external sessions and 3 internal sessions.  I will have been half naked in front of strangers 28 times.  I will have layed behind a heavy door over six inches think while radiation technicians watch and listen from the other side of the door.

One last thought.  To the woman who cut line in the drive-thru this morning.  I hope that getting your coffee one minute sooner than me was worth making my mood just a little less cheerful.  I saw you were at an awkward angle in the parking lot and I was actually going to let you go ahead of me had you looked up and made eye contact.  Instead you avoided eye contact and jammed your car in front of mine.  Happy Freaking New Year to you.   

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oranges Are the Devil

Last week I went to see my oncologist (my Lymphoma oncologist who I see for routine follow-up and to monitor my post-op blood thinner).  When he came in to talk to me he said he wasn’t sure why I was there for a visit.  I told him that frankly I wasn’t sure why I needed to see him either.  They always schedule the next appointment at the end of the previous appointment, and apparently he couldn’t remember why he had them schedule it so soon.

But actually he found something to discuss.  They always do a quick blood check while I’m there; just a finger prick’s worth of blood.  They ran my hemoglobin and the test showed that I was anemic.  He went ahead and had them take additional blood so he could further analyze my blood. There are many reasons that I could be anemic including recovery from surgery, radiation, and medications. He told me to go ahead and start taking iron pills.    
Today the oncology center called back about the bloodwork results.  Apparently he wants me to have two sessions of iron infusion (via IV) to help with the anemia and one additional test.  It seems like this whole ordeal is the gift that keeps on giving.  I go next week for my first iron infusion.  This time of year I want to think about infusions of cinnamon, ginger, and brandy.  Not iron.  The anemia can cause fatigue as well as sensitivity to cold.  I have been experiencing both.  I assumed the fatigue was radiation related. 

Speaking of radiation, today was day eight (out of 28) of radiation and my first session of internal radiation.  The internal radiation takes a little longer and is a bit more awkward and uncomfortable.  I will have internal radiation for the next two Mondays. The side effects of radiation had already started a bit late last week and the dose of internal radiation seemed to have kicked them into high gear this morning.  I have an irritated stomach pretty much every day and I feel like I have to pee RIGHT NOW even when I don’t.  Luckily I can take medications to help, and I can also alter my diet.
Bizarrely, the “radiation diet” suggests that I don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains.  I’ve been kidding around with Robbie that I’m now on the white food diet!  Mashed potatoes, pasta, dumplings, white bread, and chicken breast.  The unfortunate part is that it looks like coffee is no longer tolerable.  And heaven forbid I eat an orange.  I ate an orange a couple of days ago and I was miserable for hours. 
Today has been tough.  The news about the IV iron along with a round of side effects that came on fast this morning has left me a little weary.  I want to be drinking candy cane martinis and enjoying myself without worrying about the consequences.  This shall pass, but I am having a hard time being cheerful today.  Robbie brought me home beautiful flowers at lunch as well as much needed medication.  As always, he is a rock star when it comes to taking care of me.  As a veteran of “the fight”, I know that these days happen and that tomorrow will be a new day.  I just need to be kind to myself and wait this one out. If you are of good health, please go out and have a martini for me – I am with you in spirit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Radiation

Today was day five of radiation.  I am 17% done with my treatment.  So far, so good.  No real side effects yet except feeling like I need an early bedtime.  But that could be lingering effects of the surgery in combination with the radiation.  I’m starting to get into the routine of hitting the hospital each morning and getting radiated.  I wear Christmas earrings each day and they play Christmas music in the radiation room so I suppose it’s a downright festive environment.  The radiation technicians are a great bunch of women.  They are compassionate and joyful, particularly given what they deal with each day.  They make me laugh and help me overcome the anxiousness of being half naked while getting nuked in front of strangers everyday.
The hospital has valet parking for radiation patients.  This is very accommodating, except it posed a dilemma for me.  When you are told to use valet at a medical facility, do you tip the valet?  I researched online and found a variety of answers.  By the time I’m done with my treatment I will go there over 30 times in the course of just over a month.  That would be a lot of tipping.  I was feeling guilty every time I showed up and didn’t tip.  And it didn’t help that the weather has been cold or rainy almost every morning.  And the folks that work the valet are about as nice as they come.
I finally decided to tip – if nothing else to relieve the stress I was feeling about the situation.  There are two people that work pretty much everyday so yesterday I took a $10 for each of them.  I figured that would cover me for this month and I could gauge their reaction about tipping.  Both said I didn’t need to do it, but did not refuse the tip.  So from the reaction, it’s allowed but not expected.  That was good to know.  I figure in January I can do it again.
The other “side effect” I am experiencing is that I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  Between all the appointments, keeping up with work, and the to-do list associated with the holidays there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day.  I am starting to become a little scrooge-esque in my attitude towards the holidays.  I am working through the to-do list and am hopeful that I will feel a little less negative by the weekend.