Today marks one year since I stopped being inconvenienced by cancer. That may sound flippant…but I never thought cancer was gonna be the end of me. A big reason for that was the amazing medical attention I received at Memorial Health here in Savannah. A bigger reason was one I used to deflect any fear or negativity by me or anyone else when the subject came up: I ain’t got time for that.
I think back now about the whole ordeal and certain moments are crystal clear.
Like the beautiful September day I walked out of Dr. Rehl’s office after my biopsy wondering if I was dreaming. I thought, “No matter the outcome, my life will never be the same.”
I remember telling my daughter in the most inelegant way…blurting it out because I was exhausted from covering Hurricane Matthew non-stop for 4 days.
I remember telling my dear friend Drew about it early because he and I spend a lot of work hours together. He hugged me and then said, “Can we start making bad cancer jokes yet?” I said, “Yes, please!”
I remember telling my parents and trying to soften the blow. “It seems I caught a touch of cancer…”
I remember walking down the hall to surgery and not being able to turn around and look at my parents because I was trying just to keep it together.
I remember a few days after my surgery when I tried to take the bandages off in the shower and was completely wrecked by what I saw.
I remember my first chemo treatment…my dear friend Michele by my side. And yes, I really did wear a tiara.
I remember feeling relieved when my hair started falling out because what makes your hair stop growing also makes the cancer stop growing.
I remember the day I decided to just go ahead and have my head shaved. My dear friend Christie came to her salon on her day off and made me feel beautiful even though I was nauseous from chemo. I also remember Drew coming to film it (to use later in a story I planned to do about my ordeal…yeah, that never happened.) When I asked him where his camera was, he said, “Ah…I think I’ll just get my head shaved today too.” (**swoon** I’ll never be able to adequately express what that meant to me and still means to me to this day!)
I remember being so exhausted from chemo that I had to sit down in the shower sometimes. My mom and dad would take me downtown for walks and just covering a few Savannah blocks would take us hours. But it was fun!
I remember the last day of my chemo. I had kept my cancer from a lot of people. I never posted on FB because I didn’t want family and friends far away to learn about it that way. My dear friend Tami was one of the last to know. She’d been through so much with her own family that year, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her until near the end. When I opened the door that day, I knew my parents would be there waiting. But so was Tami. She flew hundreds of miles to be with me on that last day. She made me a banner and held my hand. I’m tearing up again just thinking about it. I will never be able to let her know exactly what that meant to me because there aren’t enough words.
I remember my first radiation treatment. It took longer to drive to the hospital and find parking than the treatment did…but it was every day for 6 weeks.
I remember making a joke (as I did a lot) at one radiation appointment about some weird face apparatus that was always hanging on the wall. “That looks cool. I want one of those! How come I don’t get a face thingy?” And the radiation tech looked me in the eye and calmly said, “You don’t want one of those. That’s for brain cancer.” I was rendered speechless. I never made another stupid joke like that again.
I remember walking out of Memorial Health after my last radiation treatment. I was still suffering from the “bad sunburn” that radiation can give you. My hair had only started growing back. (Yay, hats!) And I was HUGE from all the steroids and mashed potatoes I’d ingested during all the treatment. But I was FREE!
After treatment, I thought I’d feel elated…happy…grateful. But I didn’t. And that’s when the guilt set in. I couldn’t believe that I’d kicked cancer’s ass but wasn’t happy. So I started to see a therapist. And I was diagnosed with PTSD. I remember saying to her, “What crap is this? I am not a soldier. Soldiers get PTSD because they do and see things that no one ever should. I just survived cancer.” And she looked me in the eye and said, ” You just did and saw things no one ever should either.” LIGHTBULB!
So I started working on why I didn’t feel happy or grateful. I discovered that cancer is something I felt I brought on myself. Since doctors and nurses (angels on earth, I tell you!) provided the things I needed to get rid of cancer, I didn’t feel I was an active participant in my recovery. Once I realized that I’m better because I CHOSE to follow the suggestion of my medical team, I started to feel better. Like a champion…not like a victim. I remember feeling a powerful sense of worth. I tell my therapist thank you for giving me that gift every time I see her.
I remember the first haircut I got once my head had more than just peach fuzz. I went to Ulta and the stylist was just as excited as I was. We giggled and she took a long time making me feel like a girl again. (My hair grew back curly and gray. Who knew?)
So now it’s been a year. I am part of a clinical trial to see if a low fat diet can help stop cancer from returning. I’ve lost weight. I’m going to the gym so I feel stronger. And today, on the one year anniversary of my final cancer treatment, I had a wonderful realization: I don’t think about cancer that much any more. Sure, I still have to take a handful of drugs every day…but mostly just vitamins now.
Think about that: the thing that consumed my life for more than a year doesn’t even register most days.
So yeah, I remember cancer. And cancer can suck it.