10 months ago I finished up active treatment for Breast Cancer. 17 months of my life spent dedicated to eradicating the terrorist that had invaded my body and threatened my well-being.
18 weeks of chemotherapy involving 2 chemotherapy drugs and 2 immunotherapy drugs.
17 immunotherapy infusions.
5 surgeries including a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
25 radiation treatments.
Completed. Done. Finished. Over with. Sigh. Hallelujah.
Being the hope filled, positive-attitude-kind-of-girl that I am, I had noble aspirations that finally life could go back to normal after everything was said and done, right? Yeah, I know, I love the way I crack my own self up sometimes but a girl can dream, right?!?
According to Webster’s dictionary normal is “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” I am sure that at some point in my educational plight ‘normal’ had been a spelling word that I had to look up the definition for. I was in fact the spelling bee champion for many years throughout my elementary and junior high years (hey, we all have to be good at something! I just so happened to thrive at memorization!) and I have always had a love for words, their meanings and the way you can scramble them together and write a beautiful story. Anyways…
I was ready to be ‘normal’ again. My healthy, active, adventurous happy world had been rocked by the diagnosis of breast cancer. I had sat week after week enduring treatments that, although the ultimate goal was healing, came in like a wrecking ball and transformed my fit, strong body into a caricature of weakness. I worked hard during the off-weeks of my treatments to keep myself built up, knowing that the next round would inevitably wreak a little more damage, bring a little more fatigue, a little more muscle atrophy, and a little more transformation to the woman I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I don’t despise the treatments that were successful and have given me more years to live my life, but I won’t pretend that I enjoyed those suckers one hairy bit! They were a dastardly yet necessary task and I would be just fine to never, ever, ever have to endure them again! I was ready to begin the process of rebuilding without the task of being tore down again.
I was ready to be normal again. To not have to undress in an open room and lay bare chested on a table while nurses chatted casually as if I wasn’t present. At times I didn’t even feel human as they lined up the fire-breathing dragon machine to zap any cancer cells that might be lingering in the shadows of my chest area formally known as my breasts but now a cavity with muscles separated from the chest wall and stuffed with concrete filled expanders.
I was ready to be normal again. To get up, get dressed, put on my face and not have to worry that throughout my day my painted-on eyebrows would get rubbed off and I would be walking around looking like Pinky after his horrifying eye-brow shaving bathroom scene. (referencing Pink Floyd’s ‘live action/adult animated surrealism musical The Wall Movie’ that was popular in the 80’s. The majority of you reading this blog may have no clue what I am talking about, and if you don’t, it’s okay, don’t watch it. You will forever be traumatized any time you hear any of the songs from the soundtrack. Just googling the album cover is enough to scar you for life!)
After 17 months of fighting a disease that was sent to take me out, I was ready to be normal again.
9 months later, I can say to you that normal is:
A setting on your dryer.
A temperature of 98.6.
An average statistic.
A blood pressure of 120/80.
A man not asking for directions.
However, normal has nothing to do with how you feel after active treatments are over.
Don’t get me wrong, physically, for the most part, I feel great!
My hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes have all grown back and I look pretty much like myself again (except for the natural hair color. No more Clairol! 😊)
On most days, my energy level is fantastic. I can now work again until I am done – not until my body says whoa…you have used up all of your energy cells today and I am shutting down…at 11 am.
I am starting to rebuild muscle tone – it’s a slow process but hey, it’s a process!
I can wear tank tops now without being self-conscious of a port bulging out of my chest like a third eye.
I am no longer referred to as a cancer patient – I am now a cancer survivor! whoop whoop!
There are SO many positives and for each and every one I am thankful.
But am I normal? Of course, some would debate that I was never normal to start with, right but zip it!
My point is I have discovered that going through cancer changes you. There is no such thing as going back to normal. It not only alters your physical body – noobies and nice new boobies are not the same! Trust me! My whole entire upper body has been restructured; I have shoulder aches, I have noobie muscle spasms (OUCH!), I am constantly aware of the discomforting tightness on my right side, blah blah blah – For more information you may read a previous blog about the new girls. 😉
There are some days, for absolutely no reason at all, that I am unusually tired and I have to have a zero evening.
My hair that was so nice and thick growing back is now thinning due to the medication I have to take daily.
I am depleted of estrogen as a preventative to keep new cancer cells from growing back. My body went from pre-menopause to post menopause, which is normally a several year transformation, in 8 seconds.
In spite of all of the physical changes I have experienced, I can honestly say that the thing I have found most challenging with surviving cancer is the way that it affects your mind set. Yes, I feel great, I take care of myself, I eat healthy, I exercise on the daily. I feed my body, soul, and mind daily with positive energy. I am religious with my check-up appointments and I even google my bloodwork to make sure things are, yeah you know, NORMAL! UGH!
However, any woman (or man!) who has had cancer knows that there is a constant nagging forethought of reoccurrence. Any odd feeling. Any abnormal pain. Any unexplained fatigue. Time for a check-up? Count on some anxiety. Time for yearly scans? They call that nervousness ‘scan-xiety.’ Even on the best of days, the thought of reoccurrence can creep up like an ex-boyfriend showing up at the same restaurant. The timetable of your life is now forever associated with and referenced to “before cancer” and “after cancer.” Will this course of thinking change with time, perhaps, maybe, hopefully, please Lord!
So, is life after active treatment perfect? Nah? Am I back to normal, double-nah. It is a futile pursuit and I have given up the ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as me and normal in the same sentence. Nevertheless, I am certain of one thing as sure as my name is Christy. I endeavor to enjoy every single day of life after active treatment that I am blessed with and to live to the absolute fullest. I also know undoubtedly that I am much better now than I was when I began this journey many months ago, and for this I am forever thankful.