About my body and those residents

residents_EDIT2When I was diagnosed with BC, and I was having constant medical exams, I remember all the onco residents who surrounded me, as if they had just discovered gold, to examine me and ask me tons of questions about my health history. I was OK with it. In a way I felt that all this attention was for my own good. And it was a positive thing to allow the residents to study me because it would help future patients too. Residents need to train after all. But lately, I’ve become annoyed at all of them.

At one appointment last year, another resident saw me. She asked the usual questions about my health status, and proceeded with examinations. I walked out uncomfortable but not because she did anything inappropriate. However, she said things that showed she was not on the same page as my regular doctors. For instance, she was 100% against pregnancy after cancer and tried to discourage me, while my regular onco doctors are not against me trying. And it wasn’t the fact that this resident was against it, it was how she expressed her reasoning, which was not backed up by scientific evidence. I understand she had good intentions but receiving conflicting advice at the same cancer facility can be upsetting and confusing for a patient. I don’t believe my hospital would want to create such confusion for me. I made a note that next time I would let my hospital know I no longer want to interact with residents, but I let it slide.

This year, it happened again. This time there were two residents — a male and a female. They both asked questions and proceeded to examine me, simultaneously. This bothered me more than the conflicting opinion/misinformation I was given by the other resident last year. This time I got angry, and asked that only one of them touch me. Not their fault, I could have asked them both to leave but I didn’t. I am not intimidated by my hospital but I also wouldn’t want my care to be influenced if they start viewing me as too demanding or “difficult.” And that shouldn’t affect my care, right?

I’ve realized what the problem is. It’s my breasts. They are a sexual part of my body and although I know these interactions are for medical purposes, it still bothers me. I don’t want to be constantly touched by strangers anymore. I want my appointments to seem more normal than they are now. I want to be able to see my doctors and not feel like I am part of an exhibit or an experiment, for once. Because having cancer already makes me feel like I am. I know, I know, this is helping the residents become better – it’s training. Well, I don’t want to be part of it anymore. On top of that, I am already having a hard time feeling comfortable about physical intimacy as it is, and having all these people touch me makes the way I view my body even more complicated. I mean, my GYN, Onco, survivorship nurse, radiation doctor, residents, that’s a lot of grabbing. Don’t want it!

Perhaps if the cancer had been someplace else I wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable. I think having had this damn cancer on an intimate part of my body has really screwed things up for me, in so many different ways. Sometimes I wish the cancer would have been someplace else, even though breast cancer seems to have more treatment options among all cancer types – at least for early stagers. Of course I don’t really know the challenges of having a different cancer and I am not saying one is better than the other. I just feel this BC has been a big hit to my sexual self concept, and having too many people involved in my healthcare doesn’t make things easier for me.

Posted in Coping after cancer | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

15 Random Facts About Me – Part II

Last year, Nancy Stordahl challenged her readers and fellow bloggers to share 15 random facts about themselves (to read my old list, click here). Now she is challenging us again! And since I had so much fun the first time, I’ve decided to share more about me with all of you. I hope you’ll take some time to share some random facts about yourself too.

Here are 15 more random facts about me:

clowns

two of my toys

1. I am not afraid of clowns. In fact, I love clowns! I think they are misunderstood.

2. I was MVP of both my high school and college varsity volleyball teams. I even got the game ball once and I still have it. I was pretty athletic through my years, and got cancer anyway.

3. I’ve read “Of Love and Other Demons” by Gabriel García Márquez (my inspiration for writing) 4 times, and have cried every time. I am hoping that next time I read it, I won’t cry. There are just some things about the main character that remind me of my life.

4. When I was a child, I would steal flowers from different houses to bring to the cemetery near my house and I would place the flowers on the graves that didn’t have markers.

5. I used to climb the fruit trees in our yard and sit on the roof of my house to eat mangoes and guavas. Every day. I would try to get the mangoes off the trees with a long stick (from the roof) and it was difficult to keep my balance. This made my grandmother very nervous. But I never fell.

6. I was called Pink Panther in fifth grade because I was the tallest girl in class and had long skinny arms.

7. I had all my adult teeth by the time I was 8 and all my wisdom teeth by the time I was 18. A lot came too early in my life, including breast cancer.

8. I talked a lot when I was a child, so much that I was often offered money or other bribes to be quiet for a while.

9. When I was around 9 years old, I met Ramona, a fortune teller who was mute. When she read my left palm she stated, in writing, that I was going to have serious health problems very young and I was going to have infertility issues, but that I would have one child when I was closer to my 40s. (Not bad fortune-telling.) I recently found Ramona on Facebook. And no, I did not request her as a friend.

10. I have a cat who I named after my grandmother. She also shares my grandmother’s birthday.

11. I don’t own a smart phone. I have a dumb phone and I am very proud of it.

12. I love Charlie Chaplin and enjoy watching black and white movies.

animals

In this collection, you can see some of my pets: Bingobella, Basil, Layla, Angel, Goofy, among others.

13. If I had to choose a favorite city to live it will have to be Montreal Quebec. I love the  food, the people, the arts and atmosphere. I feel like I am home every time I go there.

14. I collect miniature animals that represent the pets and other animals that have been important to me in my life.

15. Two of my short stories about my childhood with my grandmother have been published in a Journal – “Respect” and “You won’t forget, right?” My goal is to write my own book of short stories one day, soon.

——————————

Now my clowns ask: Please share some things about yourself in the comments. We would like to learn more about you.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Eternal Stormclouds of a Conscious Mind

erase memoriesI’ve been thinking about the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” It’s about a couple that has a painful breakup, and each goes through a procedure to erase their memories of each other, slowly forgetting the person they used to love.  

I’ve wondered if I would consider undergoing the same procedure those characters went through, if such an option were ever available to me. If I were able to select the specific memories I want erased from my brain, then I would have to say yes, I would consider it.

But, I’ve also wondered, would my cancer experience be one of those memories I would want to erase? While contemplating the idea, I thought of the positives and the negatives.

Removing the memory of my cancer experience from my mind would allow me to live in a fantasy. And what a fantasy that would be!

My past five years — with my memories of cancer erased— would have been completely different. I would have the same level of awareness about my mortality that I had before being diagnosed — because there would be no reason to even think about cancer hitting me at the age of 32. (No one else in my family had been diagnosed so young.) I wouldn’t be making every decision with my health in mind. I probably would have built a family by now and taken more risks, like moving out of NYC. I would have allowed myself to hold on to my innocence and my denial a little longer. And friends and family would be THRILLED because they never want to talk about cancer anyway.

But would I really be better off?

I have conflicting thoughts about removing this specific memory, because since my diagnosis there is something I want to try to hold onto. And that something is awareness, even though it is a burden. I am not exclusively referring to the awareness of cancer. In this case, awareness covers a much bigger part of reality.

To a degree, I don’t want to make myself innocent again, because it puts me in a place where I can get hurt. I want to keep myself aware of pain, so I can be ready. Maybe it will hurt less when it comes.

I remembered how I felt when I was diagnosed. I felt like I jumped off a cliff with no parachute to save my life. Reality never looked rawer. I felt fooled. I don’t want to experience that same sensation if I were to face cancer again.

As much as I hate being a cancer patient, I don’t want to lose that level of awareness that this pain can happen. I don’t want to be naïve again. Now, I no longer look the other way because of fear. I force myself to know the facts and the potential issues related to my health so there are fewer surprises. Now I expose myself to as much information as I can. Anything I learn, as painful as it may be, would only help me make educated decisions about my health and about my life.

Also, the fact that cancer is real and personal to me has allowed me to feel a different kind of compassion that I was not prepared to feel before. I am able to connect with other patients who have been emotionally and physically affected by this disease in a more profound way. We all come from a familiar place which is why the support we give to one another is so genuine. It feels as if I have all these friends even though I haven’t met most of them in person. I don’t feel alone. I can freely be vulnerable with these friends and I am not afraid or ashamed to let my emotions show. I appreciate this connection that my memory of my cancer has created for me.

And as a bonus, I have also become more aware of who my true friends (and family) are.

It sucks that I had to experience cancer at such a young age, because part of that innocence and freedom I once had died too quickly for me. I would have liked to hold on to that a little longer. But cancer happened and I could never change that by simply removing the memory.

—————————–

If you had the choice to erase a memory (or memories), which one would it be and why?

Posted in Awareness, c World, Coping after cancer | Tagged | 22 Comments

22 Tips for Chemo

GE_No_Rants_20566520-retro-cartoon-woman-holding-a-blank-sign

When I was diagnosed with BC, I only wanted to hear about stuff I was dealing with at the time, and not, let’s say, someone ranting about survivorship challenges. You know — like what I usually do here on my blog.

Ranting helps me relieve stress, but I wouldn’t want my rants to discourage a newly-diagnosed patient in any way. It is such an overwhelming time when you’re first diagnosed that it is probably best for patients to try to absorb information one step at a time.

I haven’t really shared my experience with cancer treatments on this blog, other than complain about Tamoxifen from time to time. I thought it would be helpful to share some of these experiences in case a newly-diagnosed patient comes across this blog.

Before I continue, I have to mention that, obviously, the information I share here is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use it in place of a consultation with your physician or other healthcare provider.

If you are newly diagnosed and are scheduled to receive AC/T (A-Adriamycin, C-Cytoxan/T-Taxol) as your chemo regimen, here are some tips that helped me cope with — and sometimes prevent — side effects. Many of these tips originated from the wonderful group of ladies I came in contact with during the beginning of my cancer mess. I am fortunate to have found them during a time when I was super scared. No one could really offer the same level of support they did.

1) DRINK, DRINK, DRINK! You must drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to help flush the chemicals from your body. It was much easier for me to drink lukewarm water. Drinking cold water made me feel sick.

2) During the infusion, chew on ice chips to help prevent mouth sores. This worked for me.

3) Request a prescription for anxiety to help calm your nerves. Mine was Ativan, which also helped with nausea.

4) Always bring things with you to your chemo appts. to keep you entertained—such as books, electronics, games, a personal journal, etc.

5) Eat very small portions of meals more frequently – at least for the first 5 days after the infusionuntil you know how you’d react to your treatments. I had 6 meals a day – an apple, a small bowl of oats, a little bit of fish with cooked veggies, for example.

6) Have stool softeners handy and take them as soon as you start feeling constipated. Some people suggest taking them 1-2 days prior to the chemo infusion, especially for Adriamycin. Believe me, you want to do all you can to avoid constipation. Ask your doctor about it and get a prescription right away.

7) Rinse foods before eating. For veggies, try steaming or keep in water with apple cider vinegar for 20 minutes, then rinse, before eating.

8) Be sure someone helps you clean your bathtub from time to time. In general, there’s a lot of bacteria in the bathroom and you want to avoid infections.

9) Have foods available and ready to eat (especially cooked foods) so you don’t have to use your energy on trying to prepare meals.

10) It is best to keep nutrients in your body than to try keeping a diet during chemo. Eat everything your stomach can tolerate.

11) Having taste changes during chemo? Here’s a helpful link on how to manage that side effect.

12) Watch Supplements. Dietitians in cancer treatment centers suggest not taking dietary supplements during chemo. These include vitamins, minerals, herbals, and botanicals. There are potential drug-nutrient interactions that can interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about taking any supplements when you are undergoing chemo.

13) REST, REST, REST! Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. Don’t push yourself too hard. But also try to keep moving.

14) Let others help you. I don’t like being dependent on others, but if there’s ever a time when we need to accept help, this is it.

15) If possible, stay away from people who make you feel guilty about your cancer. Cancer was NOT your fault. You need to hear things that lift you up during chemo, not things that bring you down.

16) It is helpful to have someone you trust in charge of communicating to others about your health status to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Having this person will also allow you to do #15 (above).

17) Allow your caregiver to help you. Be open and flexible.

18) It is helpful to see a dentist before starting chemo to make sure your teeth are in good shape. It is important to keep your mouth clean during chemo to help prevent dental problems. Biotene mouthwash and toothpaste helped me prevent those. (If you’re getting a mastectomy, please check with your surgeon about when you should visit your dentist.)

19) If you experience any side effects or symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Do not wait. But try not to panic as these may be normal during chemo.

20) Be sure to wear sunscreen when being exposed to the sun. Ask your oncologist or dermatologist what the best brand recommendation is if undergoing chemotherapy.

21) Some patients have asked me if I would use the cold caps to prevent hair loss and my answer is always no. My cancer was invasive. If I am going to go through chemo, I am going to let it hit every part of my body, including the top of my head. But that’s my personal preference. Perhaps in the future, when there is enough statistical evidence about the benefits of this tool, I would consider using it.

22) Remember: Whatever feelings you are experiencing during this difficult time are normal. Don’t question whether or not you’re reacting to the situation the right way. There’s no right way, only your way. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions as this will help with your healing process.

Day 1 of the first treatment was the worst for me because I had no idea what I would be facing. It’s normal to feel scared. As I continued with treatments, I had more confidence. Chemo was no picnic but it turned out to be “easier” than I had thought. Please keep in mind everyone reacts to treatments differently. Be patient with yourself.

Lastly, I was not able to find sources on how to mentally prepare for chemo. My dear friend Nancy Stordahl wrote a helpful guide, “Getting Past the Fear”, to help others face their fears. I recommend it.

I am sorry you had to search for this topic. And good luck with your treatments.

——————–

If you had AC/T as your chemo regimen, please feel free to share some tips in the comments section.

Posted in c World, Chemo, Treatment | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Fighting myself

image

Image credit: 123RF

I used to be one of those people who picked fights with cancer. I would disconnect cancer from the people it hit by imagining it was a separate entity, and I cursed it as an invader.

For instance, I was so angry when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in her early 60s. I remember her delicate scalp with just a few hairs left to decorate her head. I wanted to go to battle (as if my grandmother, with all her life experience and wisdom, needed me to fight it for her). I wanted to literally beat up cancer, without realizing I would have been beating up my grandmother in the process. It was hard for me to accept that her body was falling apart, and that once her body could no longer function, she would no longer exist.

But watching her made me think that if cancer was to ever mess with someone like me, it would be sorry.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer and my perspective suddenly shifted.

When I went through my chemo treatments, I remember looking in the mirror and grabbing chunks of hair from my scalp as they fell on the floor. I thought of my grandma instantly, and about what I had said to myself then — that cancer would be sorry if it ever messed with me. But something felt different when I looked into that mirror. It didn’t make any sense that after hating cancer for so long, I wasn’t able to curse at it anymore. Instead, I felt sad. I did not want to be at ‘war’ with my cancer. I no longer felt like it was a fight or battle. I felt that cancer was part of me. And, having such a strong family history of cancers, in addition to being a carrier of a mutated gene, has made this thinking even stronger in me.

Because I can’t separate cancer from me, I am unable to use military metaphors — identify myself as a ‘warrior’ or put on my ‘pink boxing gloves’ for example. Ultimately, I’d be punching myself — and in a way I already have been punching myself with chemotherapy, radiation, and currently with the Tamoxifen. Obviously, I am trying to kill all the cancer with those things, but in the process of doing so I am also physically and emotionally hurting myself. I don’t want to add more punches.

I realize that, in the end, I am really fighting with myself when I think of cancer as an attacker. These are my cells. They are part of who I am. My body has an expiration date whether I want to accept it or not. And dammit, it’s still hard to accept this! My body cannot be replaced —at times I had wished it could be. I feel I have no control over what it does anymore. This is how it behaves. It hurts itself.

Now this does not mean I don’t hate cancer, or that I would stop treating it. It means I need to accept the things I cannot change to allow myself some level of peace. I’ve learned that I have less control over my life than I thought I did. That’s what makes this situation so difficult. I must learn to go with the flow.

Now, when I think back to when my grandma was ill, it is easier for me to see that it was her time to go. Cancer wasn’t a pre-meditated attack by an intruder. She had no control over what her body was going through. Same applies to the rest of us who desperately look for answers as to “why?” or “why now?” – in our 20’s, in our 30’s, in our 40’s, and so on.

There may be no answer. Accept to know that we are all fragile. Fighting or not, we get hurt. We need to each figure out the best strategy for enduring the punches.


“Where is my Mind” from the movie “Fight Club”

Posted in c World, Reflections | 7 Comments

The worst part

I’ve been wondering what I would say to someone if they asked me what the worst part of having cancer is. I mean, I complain about everything related to my disease — nothing about it is pleasant. Ok, maybe the wonderful people I’ve met, but that’s about it.

I realize that it isn’t a specific thing or event that makes the cancer experience so bad for me. And of course I can only speak as an early-stager.

Let’s talk about chemo, for example. For me, chemo was not a walk in the park, but it was doable. I had some challenging side effects. Some days were better than others. There were times I felt so ill, I was not sure if I would survive the treatment. These chemicals are heavy on our bodies. For instance, I remember the terrible constipation that went on for weeks at a time because of Adriamycin – the worst constipation you can imagine. I wondered if I was going to lose my intestines. Eventually all this trial came to an end. But even after all this suffering, this is not the worst part of having cancer.

And what about radiation. Well, that wasn’t too bad compared to chemo. The most annoying thing was having to be at my hospital everyday for 21 consecutive days. The burns caused by the radiation were not pleasant but eventually the skin healed. I have to say though that, emotionally, radiation was worse for me than chemo. There was something about that machine shooting an invisible laser, and me not being able to move while being watched by an entire hospital staff staring coldly from behind a window that made me feel… subjugated. And yet, this is not the worst part of having cancer.

Let’s talk Tamoxifen. I know some patients have a better experience on this pill than others. I am not a happy camper when it comes to Tamoxifen, which I’ve been taking for almost 5 years now. My moods are all over the place. I experience pains everywhere. I often feel like an old lady. My intimacy is suffering a lot. I have to continually check my uterus to make sure the pill isn’t causing a secondary cancer. I am unable to build a family while I am taking this medication. At times — every day, really — I want to stop taking it, but I am afraid to. I know that eventually this treatment will come to an end. Perhaps this is why being on Tamoxifen is not the worst part about having cancer.

And it isn’t even the follow-up appointments and the anxiety I experience a lot of times in my life due to my diagnosis. And it’s not the relationships I’ve lost due to the different life I now live.

So what’s the worst part about having cancer?

For me, the worst part of having cancer is the fact that no matter how many treatments I’ve completed and how many times I’ve had NED (no evidence of disease) results, I am never really done with it. I always feel like cancer is watching me. Forever.

I’ve experienced some bad things in my life before. I believe I’ve overcame those things. When I think of those experiences today, I look back and say “damn, that was painful! But I am glad it’s over now”. I can’t say that with cancer though. True, it’s a great feeling not having to do those heavy treatments anymore, but the ghost that is cancer never leaves my life completely. I have to involve cancer in every decision I make. And because of this, every decision feels heavy, making my life more complicated to live.

Although I am done with chemo and radiation, I still need to be on a pill to help keep my cancer at bay. And after I am done with Tamoxifen, there’s another pill I may need to take. I will always need to be seen by an oncologist. Scans will never end for me. The fear that cancer will come back is always in the back of my head because there’s no cure for it, regardless of how early you ‘catch it’. No matter how many times I get good results at the doctor’s office, I am not completely done. And yes, I do embrace those moments when I receive good news about my health. Until the next time. And the next time.

————-

Cancer isn’t a before and after event. It’s part of the continuum that is your life.” – Jody Schoger

Posted in c World, Coping after cancer, Reflections | 41 Comments

I don’t want to sound like a weirdo, but…

A few months before finding my lump, I didn’t feel like myself. I sensed something was wrong but couldn’t figure it out. It’s not like I felt sick or anything. I didn’t experience any symptoms of any kind. Plus my blood work had been excellent according to my doctor.

Then, I experienced a series of strange situations that led me to suspect something was def. wrong.

In the summer of 2010, a few months before finding my lump, I felt emotionally down. I would cry for no particular reason. I experienced heart palpitations a lot too. I thought maybe I was experiencing some level of depression but I was unclear as to what the cause of it was. I allowed myself to just be, without consulting anyone about it.

Then, that fall, a few weeks before finding the lump in my right breast, I was on the train. A young bald woman was sitting across from me. Of course, cancer was the first thing that popped into my head when I noticed her. Perhaps she was undergoing some type of chemo treatment, I thought. I was trying to be cautious so as not to seem like I was staring. Her train stop eventually came before mine. As she was leaving the train she suddenly made a full stop, and turned and stared at me.  Her look lasted long enough to freak me out so I quickly turned my face away. I felt nervous.

Then, I started having some strange dreams. One involved a cemetery I am now very familiar with. I’ve never actually visited this cemetery in real life, but I’ve found myself visiting this place in my dreams, repeatedly, at different stages of my life.

The cemetery is located in this colorful little town surrounded by different shaped houses made out of inconsistent looking bricks, and very colorful. There’s a lot of nature surrounding the houses — plants and beautiful yellow flowers.  It’s always sunny and warm. The streets often seem isolated though.

I’ve been dreaming about this cemetery since I was a teen.  I’ve become so familiar with it that I’ve figured out shortcuts for how to get there. The many times I’ve visited this place I am unclear as to why I am even there. It’s not like I am visiting anyone in particular. I seem to know this place very well too. Usually there are people visiting their loved ones. The place looks beautiful with many lights and colorful flowers. I am always on my way in rather than my way out.

On this occasion, in the dream, as I enter the gate, I see many people leaving, but they don’t notice me going in. It is after dusk and it looks like the place is getting ready to close. I continue walking through the graveyard, as I usually do, with no destination in mind. It never feels like a nightmare when I am here. In fact, I feel peaceful, with a sense of comfort. I like this place.

As I continue with my walk, I come across one particular stone. I stop. My full name is engraved on it. I don’t recall noticing a date engraved in the stone. I rest my body on what seemed to be my grave, and closed my eyes.

Then, I woke up in the middle of the night, in a sweat, with my heart beating very fast. But I didn’t think much about it, until I had another dream the following week. This one involved my grandma.

I was in my grandmother’s house (back in Barahona, the town where I grew up, where she raised me). I saw a very bright light shining from the roof, which blinded me. As my eyes were halfway closed, I noticed my grandmother’s reflection floating. She was trying to reach out to me, but something did not allow us to interact. All I heard was a struggling voice which echoed repetitively. Then I woke up.

At this point, I began wondering if these dreams were a way for my body to unconsciously tell me something was wrong.

In December, days after having these dreams, I was sitting in a rocking chair at my fiancé’s apt. He had bought it for me because he knew it reminded me of my grandma. He was trying to talk to me but I was completely absent from reality. My folded arms were positioned in a way that allowed my hands to touch my breasts. I felt something. At that exact moment I knew. I ran to my guy asking him to feel my lump. He felt it too. He asked for me to call my doctor immediately, which I did. I received a response the following day and was in my doctor’s office the next day. After the examination, she recommended a sonogram. She suspected it was a fibroadenoma. I felt it was cancer.

Eventually I had the sonogram. I turned to see the monitor. I saw the dark hole. I knew. Even if the technician didn’t tell me, I still knew. A doctor comes into the room to look at the images and recommends a biopsy. I never shook in my life the way I did on that examination table.

The day before my biopsy, I had another dream about my grandma.

I was back in my grandma’s house. She was standing in the livingroom, staring at the floor. The only light was the one coming from the windows. I approached her and said, “hey mama, I am having a breast biopsy”. She doesn’t respond and continues looking down. “Have you ever had a breast biopsy before?” I ask. “Never,” she says, still looking down. “Well, I am having one” I repeat. “I know,” she replies as she slowing raises her head to look at me. There are tears rolling down her face. She walks towards me and hugs me. I hug her back, confused, and tell her that I am OK. Then I woke up.

I had my biopsy the next day and received the results the following day. I had breast cancer.

Of course all these events I experienced before my diagnosis were coincidences, but I do believe sometimes our bodies have a way to tell us when something is wrong. If this happens to you, please listen to your body and take action immediately. It is scary but it’s better to know than to ignore. And because cancer doesn’t warn you a lot of times, all you can do is be diligent with your health and continue with those regular checkups.

My dreams haven’t taken me back to that cemetery since that year. I don’t know how I’ll feel if my dreams take me there again. As for my grandma? I still have dreams of her, but there are no tears from her. But I am back to crying for no reason. It’s probably the Tamoxifen.

Posted in Awareness | 24 Comments

One year older, and I want a reset

giphyI turn one year older today, April 22, and I’m wishing I could go back to the year where I left off —before I was diagnosed. I want to reset time to when I was 32, and try to live the life I might have lived if cancer never happened. Sometimes I wonder what those years would have been like.

Would I have felt the same urgency to have a child as I do now?
Would I still have been at the same job?
Would I have been living in the same city?
Would I have kept those friends who are no longer friends today?

Yes, I am grateful I am here to celebrate another birthday. But I often think about all the tradeoffs that came with the decisions I’ve made, or failed to make, since my diagnosis.

I am aware that things could be a lot worse. I even feel a little shameful that I am complaining, on my birthday, considering all the people who don’t get to be a year older. But I just feel like the older I get, the further away I get from doing things I probably would have done by now if cancer never happened.

For example, before, I had the option to build a family and not have to worry about the cancer coming back, and me leaving my family alone. I also had my denial before my diagnosis. I miss the feeling of safety it brought. Today every decision I make is important. Before, I had some room for risks. Today that space is occupied with insecurities and uncertainties. Taking risks seems a lot more dangerous than before.

Of course, being alive is my top priority, which is why I’ve chosen to stay on treatment. And perhaps these treatments are the reasons why I am still here today to celebrate another birthday. But there is a context. By choosing to focus so much on staying alive, I also give up some quality of life. I wish there was a “hold” button I could press to stop ‘getting older’ while I finish my Tamoxifen treatment, but that’s not how things work.  Time doesn’t wait for anyone.

Somehow I’ve adjusted. I don’t want to see my birthday as the only reason for celebration. I want to try to make random days special, when I can. But I don’t like the feeling of being restricted.  This is why I am wishing I could have my years back.

Everyone who has gone through this disease deserves their years back.

Posted in Coping after cancer, Reflections | Tagged | 24 Comments