Remission. Cancer free. Whatever you want to call it, life does not return to normal after treatment, something I learned the hard way.
I returned to work quickly after treatment. I was anxious to get back to my normal life. It quickly became apparent though that I was living a new type of normal. I was still in a wig, and had to deal with stress surrounding THAT. When will my wig come off? What will the kids at work think if they see me with a "buzz cut"? I was always known for my long blonde hair.
When I met new people, I found that I felt like there was this secret luring over my head. At what point does the topic come up? HOW does the topic come up?
Remission isn't only the end of my battle, but it was the start of my acceptance to life after treatment. It was living with a "me" who is NOT the most fit, who has some quirks and post-traumatic stress issues from cancer, etc. My muscles and bones ached like I was 85 years old.
Most days, I do great. My scars are just part of who I am, and my hair is back to normal. I have finally recently started to lose my weight that I gained during treatment. Other days however, I get thrown right back into it.
When I started working again after treatment, I would develop irrational fears of hurting myself. I was scared to slip on ice or something and would picture people saying, "She survived cancer!..... but broke her hip" I had a panic attack the morning of our first family vacation and we almost canceled. We went. My kids deserved a vacation. They deserved to enjoy themselves after the hell I put them through. I cried and spent most of the time in bed. I didn't know HOW to live again.
A few weeks ago, my irrational fear appeared again, but this time it was because it became a reality - I had a biking accident. Lying in the emergency room, I wasn't sure what the damage was yet, but I knew it was bad. Because it was a trauma, I went to a different hospital than the one where I was treated for cancer. I didn't know these people. This place did not feel like "home" like the Jewish General Hospital did. These people didn't know me and had to ask my medical history.
As the nurse gave me morphine by IV, I started to cry. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a flashback. I tasted the morphine and it brought me back to chemotherapy. The nurse tried to calm me and assure me that the pain would subside. Unable to catch my breath and speak through the tears, I exposed my port-o-cath to her. My badge of honor. My tell-tale sign of what I had been through.
Last week I reached the four year mark of having "No Evidence of Disease". The big FIVE to officially be "Cancer Free" is less than 365 days away. Realistically though, are we ever actually free from cancer? Do we ever experience a trauma, have an ache or a pain, and do not automatically think of our cancer? Though we may became medically free from cancer, our scars are a reminder that it is always part of us.
I am learning to live my new normal. I understand that it is OK to mourn the pre-cancer Joy. Hurting myself post-cancer was such a great fear of mine, and here I am, thriving with my injuries. They are temporary.
I do not know what the future holds for my health, but I need to keep in mind that nobody does. Nobody has that super-power to see into the future.
Today, I celebrate my health. I celebrate that....
Long story short, I survived.