I’m sorry for the delay in writing and wanted to start by saying how much I’ve appreciated all your kind words of encouragement in the last few months. I’ve gotten many emails and comments from people checking in and wondering how I’m doing, and it means so much to me to have so many positive thoughts sent my way.
I finished the end of the intensive rounds of chemo a few weeks ago and am getting settled into maintenance, which, unfortunately has been more physically challenging than I was hoping it would be (we’ll get to that in a bit). Fortunately, though, the worst seems to be behind me and small signs of progress are becoming apparent.
My hair is even starting to grow back, although the new look makes me remember why I’ve never worn it short in the past. As my hair is very thick and wavy, it looks less like the cute pixie I had been looking forward to and more like a dark brown puff of cotton sticking straight out in every direction. And that’s after 20 minutes of blow-drying and hair product application. How long does hair need to be before one can get extensions, anyway?
Oh, and a question for the young men out there—I know guys tend to prefer long hair, but can I make this short hair thing work for me on my match.com profile (assuming I can get those hairs to grow in the proper direction)?
Looking at me, you would no longer guess I was sick. My color has come back, my body has regained its womanly curve (rather than resembling Sponge Bob Square Pants), I stand up straight when I walk, and I have two inches of cotton-puff hair that’s growing out a little bit more each day. Progress is progress!
Inside, though, I still feel frustratingly distant from my former self.
A few weeks ago I joined an exercise program at the YMCA for cancer patients working to recover from muscle weakness and atrophy caused by treatment. On the first day, I walked into the room feeling confident. I looked to be the only person there with any sort of athletic background and was younger than the average participant by several decades. But then we had to do something I really do not like doing, which was sit in a circle, identify myself as a “cancer survivor,” and tell my “cancer story” to a group of strangers.
(There’s nothing wrong with the term “cancer survivor” — I, personally, just don’t identify with that label).
I kept it brief and presented the facts. I’m 32. I was diagnosed with ALL a little over a year ago. I’m a year through a three-year chemotherapy regimen. I’m here to get my ass back into shape.
I looked over to the next person in the group, but my turn was apparently not over. Hearing that I still had two shitty years of chemo left lead several people in the room to audibly gasp, and the rest seemed to look at me with pity.
The leader, in what was perhaps not his greatest moment of empathy, continued to ask me painfully dragged out follow up questions, and having a dozen people who were older, and I would have assumed sicker, than I was look at me like they felt sorry for me was more than I could handle. I bumbled out a brief answer and then quickly excused myself from the room. I wandered around the bottom floor of the YCMA, hoping to find a bathroom stall before anyone could notice the tears welling up in my eyes.
It’s hard to still be seen as “that poor girl who has cancer,” and it’s even harder to feel I am her. I used up all my energy to make it through the most obvious challenge—kicking that cancer into remission and finishing a year of intensive treatment—only to look up and see there’s another mountain in front of me, one I feel too drained to climb. How can I make it through two more years off this bullshit? When will I get any semblance of my normal life back? When can I move forward to a better life?
I’m at a cross in the road. Behind me is the pain of this last year, which I will happily leave behind. To my left is a path of delusion, where I continue to tell myself that everything is fine and that, sure, I’ll be able to live a completely normal life while four different chemo drugs are being pumped into my body on a daily basis.
To my right is a path that doesn’t look so inviting, but looks more like the truth. The truth tells me I still have two really hard years ahead of me, and that no amount of well-intentioned reassurances coming from myself or anyone else is going to change that.
I probably will not be able to work as much as I could before. Some of my entrepreneurial and writing goals may have to sit by the sidelines for the time being. My weekends will more likely be spent recovering from the week than seeking out new adventures or the biggest waves to surf. And when I see my friends getting married, having children, and starting their families, I will feel so happy to share in their joy, but my heart will hurt knowing that even if my fertility is intact (which I have every hope and confidence it will be), I can not try to get pregnant until I’m almost 35, when the last remnants of maintenance chemo will hopefully have been processed from my body.
But what am I to do? I said it a year ago when I was diagnosed, and I will say it again now. I want to live. And I don’t want to just live, I want to be awake, to open my soul and spirit to the entirety of my life experiences, both the beautiful and the sad.