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So here I am, at 3am, like a child so excited about the first day of school I can’t sleep. Normally I’d be getting ready for work at this time but Monday is going to be a paperwork day, so I come in at 9. I’ve been gone for almost a year so I’m practically a new hire. I have to sign the usual paper work and fill out the forms that a new employee goes through. I hope – for the love of all that is holy – they spare me the sexual harassment video. I think the last time I saw it was back in 2004, when I was first hired at Local 6. Even back then it was so outdated and exaggerated it (ironically) made me uncomfortable
I’ll be starting out on a part-time basis and working behind the scenes. I definitely have to get reacquainted with the traffic system and traffic cams again. I even hear there’s training I’ll have to do with new technology. I’m also curious to see if I’m still able to work the green screen. And more than likely I’m going to start a drinking game for every time someone tells me “it’ll be just like riding a bike!”
My managers have been so wonderfully supportive and understanding. It is as if work is a swimming pool and they’re letting me ease in gently on the shallow end instead of making me do a triple back-tuck off the high dive, which is good because I’m afraid of heights. I have to admit I have moments of anxiety. While I’m feeling TONS better than I did just six months ago, there are still four things that worry me:
1) Chemo brain. It’s a real thing. When you have toxic chemicals pumped into your body on a fairly regular basis it only stands to reason that it’s going to mess with your brain. During treatments my loved ones just got used to me constantly forgetting simple things, like where I put the keys, whether the dog had been fed, what day was my next appointment. And because I was sleeping so much I even started to get my dreams mixed up with reality, which was REALLY weird. I would honestly forget if I made phone calls or had certain conversations in a dream or in real life. Also, reading is one of my favorite things to do! But for the first time in my life I found myself having to go back pages to remember a character – not an easy thing to do on a Kindle, and especially when reading A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones books). It’s gotten a LOT better, but I worry sometimes that I’ll be on air, talking my way through a litany of traffic information and just stop mid-sentence, forgetting what I was going to say and, for the life of me, unable to remember.
2) Joint pain. In the months after my last chemo treatment I was hit hard with “chemo-induced arthropathy.” Basically, arthritis. I guess it’s normal. It could even hang around for a few more years. Awesome. There were days I could barely get out of bed, I would limp to the bathroom like I was 125 years old and limp back. It’s not nearly that bad now, but I still have a difficult time bending down because the joints in my ankles and knees practically give out on me. Some days I wake up and I can’t bend my fingers or move my wrists and I think to myself, “How in the hell would I hold a clicker in my hand to change the maps and camera?” I guess we’ll see.
3) Hot flashes. I still get them. I also still get night sweats. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up on a sweat-stained pillow. And several times a day I get so hot I start profusely sweating. It doesn’t matter what the temperature is; my hands could be cold but my head will still sweat. It’s created quite the role reversal in our home because for the first time ever I’M not the one complaining it’s cold :). I tell my boyfriend, “NOW you know how it feels!” Is this what menopause feels like? And does it mean I’m infertile? I try not to dwell on that last question. Instead I just wonder what it’ll look like on air when my face gets shiny and I start dripping.
4) Fatigue. It’s no longer a bone-weary tiredness that I cannot fight off, but I still feel very fatigued several times throughout the day. Sometimes I fight it, other times I succumb to it. Just last Wednesday I laid down to “take a nap” at 7pm and didn’t wake up until the next morning. It actually worried me that that could still happen. 7pm is my typical bedtime when I work on the morning show.
To say it’s been a while since I’ve written is a gross understatement. It’s been six months!! At the time I remember thinking I would never feel right again. I had forgotten what “normal” felt like. Energy and motivation had become as foreign to my mind as the tumor was to my body. I lost interest in pretty much everything except feeling better. And Bridezillas. That’s the only show I could watch in my emotionally fragile state. Sure, the show is sad, but in a different way. Anything else, even the news, had the potential to open a flood gate of tears that would seemingly come out of nowhere. My boyfriend finally stopped asking what’s wrong every time he saw me in tears because the answer was always the same, “I don’t know. I just started crying!” And it was true. I honestly didn’t know. He also stopped showing me Youtube videos of anything other than animals doing wildly hilarious things. Even a touching animal rescue story with a wonderfully happy ending would leave my boyfriend looking absolutely perplexed as I sobbed over why the animal needed rescuing in the first place, instead of just being happy for the animal now. I guess it’s safe to say my mind wasn’t in a strong place. I stayed away from Facebook for a while as well because well-intentioned friends would send me inspirational stories of people with cancer who did incredible things. Before they died :/. Seriously.
So I was a little off emotionally. Physically, well that just plain sucked. The pain I felt during the four months of chemotherapy was sharp and miserable. It came like clockwork the day after each chemo treatment and lasted about a week. My bones and muscles would ache to the point where even a gentle hug hurt. I cursed the brick-paved roads that rattled my body with every car ride. On two occasions the pain was so severe I had Greg rush me to the ER because I was convinced something was wrong. “Describe the pain,” doctors would say. “Well,” I’d start, “it feels like some of my ribs are shattered and the jagged edges of the bone are zigzagging back and forth through my chest, turning it into a bloody pulp of muscle and lung.” I tend to be a bit dramatic. Both times, after numerous x-rays and urine samples, I was told the pain is a normal part of the healing process as the tumor shrinks and the dead cancer cells slough off. Both times I was prescribed enough pain killers to kill a small horse. The meds never seemed to work 100%. On the pain, I mean. I never tried to kill a small horse with them. Just the thought probably would’ve sent me into another bout of uncontrollable tears.
Besides the pain, fatigue hovered over me like a worried parent, always ushering me into a dream if I happened to do something crazy that day, like go to the grocery store. Everything looks like a petri dish of bacteria when your immune system is so weak, and everything becomes a colossal effort when you’re so tired all the time. I hated the fact that I left so many texts, emails, tweets and comments unreturned. If you were one of them please don’t be offended, even my medical bills slid from the To-do box and into a pile of apathy. I’m still sorting through that pile.
So you can imagine my relief when I finished chemo at the end of July. I naively thought my journey was over. Chemo is done! Let’s put it all behind us now and let bygones be bygones. You see, before I got cancer the only thing I really knew about it was whatever I had seen on Breaking Bad. Oh how pitifully innocent I was to the vile ways of cancer and its cohort, chemo. They were far from finished with me.
So that is just a small explanation of why I’ve been MIA. I plan to go into more details about the last six months in more blogs to come. They get more and more positive, I promise :). I actually tried to go back to work twice, but both times I wasn’t ready. I’ll write about my recovery, the good and the bad, including my struggle with a different kind of addiction (no, NOT to pain killers) (and not to Candy Crush Saga) (well… I AM addicted to Candy Crush but I’m not exactly struggling with it).
Anyway, the real reason for this newest update can be seen in this photo of me without my shirt on.
There it is. A bare bones look into the very depths of my heart if ever you question my love for you. Just kidding. The Before picture shows a 13 cm tumor awkwardly growing against my lung and heart. The After photo shows nothing!!! Just a black hole where my heart should be. No. Wait, that IS my heart. But the tumor is gone! My oncologist, Dr. Landau, says I am cancer free!!!! I made him repeat it a few times, “So you mean, like… GONE? No cancer? Not like the there-are-cancerous-cells-but-if-I-eat-right-and-exercise- they-won’t-come-back kind of gone, but GONE?” Dr. Landau says yes! But I should still eat right and exercise.