Life After Cancer

My senior year of high school I was diagnosed with cancer, and yes, the punch in your gut, thing you never want to hear, cancer. After telling my cancer story hundreds of times, it has become automatic, but what many people don’t ask is about my life after cancer story. I get the common, “How are you doing,” with the sympathetic head tilt when I run into familiar faces around town, and commonly, I answer with, “I’ve been good,” not wanting to dive into the details about how much has changed since my fight. Once someone is cancer-free and done with treatment, people believe it’s all over with. But I’m here to reveal the man behind the curtain.

     

Nothing feels better than being done with treatment, knowing your hair is going to come back, you’re done with chemotherapy, and you can get back to normal life. But, no one tells you that going back to normal is another rollercoaster. I’ve taken into my life a motto when things start to change, you have to find your new normal. So I’m going to introduce you to a little bit of my normal.

 

Your hair can’t grow back fast enough.

            Going from 24 inches of curly hair down my back, having a short hairdo is an adjustment. It’s been almost three years since I lost my hair, and my hair is now past my shoulders, and it’s still not growing back fast enough. I constantly pull at my curly hair to see how long it really is. I continuously compare my hair length to old pictures of me to see how far it’s come. No matter how many times people feel my hair and exclaim, “It’s getting so long,” I look at it and think, it’s still not long enough.

 

I developed Raynaud’s after treatment

            After chemotherapy I developed Raynaud’s disease. (It sounds worse than it is.) It means that my circulation is so poor in my feet and hands, if there is a drastic temperature change, or my hands and feet get cold, I lose all feeling in my fingers and feet. If not warmed up then, they start to turn white and swell up. This has led to creativity when it comes to keeping my hands and feet warm, including, mittens that I can wear to class, electric warming socks, battery powered hand warmer, and heated insoles. Whether this was caused by chemotherapy or just a coincidence of when I developed this, the world may never know. But one thing’s for sure, mittens and fuzzy socks are definitely my friends.

I became lonely after treatment   

            Cancer is a rollercoaster that you get off of and go, “what the heck just happened.” When I was going through treatment, I had hundreds and hundreds of messages, cards, phone calls, and people stopping me to talk to me. I had so much support and love surrounding me, and I still do. But when treatment was over, I got lonely, because those hundreds of messages, became a few each scan day, and the many people stopping me, became a once-in-a-while scenario. People no longer needed to be my close friend anymore, or send me “stay strong” messages, so it was an adjustment, part of going back to normal life. But don’t get me wrong I always have so much love surrounding me.

Scan days will always be stressful and emotional

            No matter what day it is, if it’s a scan day to check to make sure I’m still cancer-free, it’s awful. The stress still consumes me the day before, and the appointments are mentally, physically and emotional exhausting. And these days don’t include the many times a simple cough can put me in a panic that something is wrong, or the “bad feelings” I get when my chest hurts. It will always be stressful, and something to manage.

It’s hard to find your identity again

             After having cancer, one of my biggest battles is finding who I am now. Going to college and not everyone referring to me as “the one with cancer,” was a big adjustment because I feel like to really know me you have to understand what I’ve been through and the battles I face each day because of it. I keep waiting to find the reason for why I survived, why me? Why did I get to continue to live when others don’t? And that is something I will always search for.

Emotional aftermath

            The emotional aftermath of cancer is something that one individual cannot describe. Some days I can talk about my fight just fine, and even last week, one of my scars got bumped wrong, and hurt the scar tissue, which sent me into a ball of tears because, I had cancer and that’s freaking terrifying. Two years later and I still haven’t processed the entire thing, but once and a while it hits me, I had cancer. And survived.

Scars are your battle wounds

            My scars are my battle wounds, and oddly enough, I love my scars, I wouldn’t be me without them. I was asked one time, “Who would ever want to show their scars in public? I would hide mine,” to which I responded, “These are more beautiful than any shirt that could cover them up.”

 

Understanding that things will never be the same

            The most important thing to understand after cancer, and understand about me, is that I am still to this day, adjusting to being a survivor because things will never be the same. I am still finding my way in this world just like everyone else, but one thing I know is true. God gave me the strength to win my battle, and he has a plan. Now it is my choice to pass the strength he gave to me, onto others with their own battles. Things may never be the same, but I am not afraid of what’s to come because I let my faith be bigger than my fears.