Cancerversary: Reflecting on a year out
This month will mark the one year anniversary of finishing chemo. Tomorrow marks the one year of finishing round 5. When I think back on a year ago, I think about the whirlwind I was in the midst of. And I think how surreal it seems. Like, seriously did I really go through that!? Did that cancer shit actually happen? Life after cancer goes on.
I gotta say, sometimes it feels like a distant memory, a surreal dream. Nightmare perhaps. I have to look back at pictures to remember what it was really like. What I looked like. Remember what if felt like. Because, now, life is good. Now, I don’t look like a person with a story behind that extra short haircut. Now, I generally don’t feel like that person in recovery.
Now, the only visible reminders are my faint PICC scars on my inner upper right arm which very few people probably ever notice, and my short pixie cut. Which, to anyone who didn’t know, just looks like a cute short haircut.
Realities of Recovery: The Ups and Downs
And truth be told, I put up a good front most of the time. I share about how well I’m doing and how good life is. Because mostly, life after cancer is good and I am doing pretty darn well. I’m getting paid to write – a dream I had but never thought would be a reality. I am a wellness coach and my own boss – another dream I kept putting off in the years B.C. (Before Cancer ;).
But almost a year out, the truth is, I’m most definitely still a work in progress. 600 hours of chemo ain’t no joke. My body went through so much. Chemo. Antibiotics. Hormones. Anti-anxiety meds. All sorts of crazy stuff. Not only did I lose weight, but I lost muscle. And though I gained the necessary weight back slowly, regaining my muscle and metabolism re-regulated is very much a work in progress. My hormones have thankfully balanced out and returned my cycles more or less back to normal, but after years of fake hormones followed by the intense stuff I went through pre-treatment and everything else that’s re-regulating in my body, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth process.
Pic on the left: me before treatment, more or less depicting how I feel when I struggle through periods of insomnia. Me on the right: more or less how I feel about life now, even on the days I’m on the struggle bus.
Insomnia, fatigue, and brain fog
And then comes the most frustrating aspect of all: I still have insomnia. I still experience extreme fatigue. I still struggle with brain fog, otherwise known as chemo brain, like I am right now as I write this (case in point: the first time I wrote this sentence I wrote brain fog twice. there ya go). The latter are most definitely related to the insomnia.
So at this point, I am trying to figure out what’s really what – is the insomnia a lingering effect of hormones and nutrients in my body still being out of whack (very likely)? Or is it a deeper issue that goes back to what I experienced before diagnosis, that perhaps was an underlying cause of my lymphoma (also very possible)? Is it both? I have gone for extra blood testing and have been taking supplements to help sort these issues out, yet it seems it hasn’t yet had the desired effects.
Or could it be caffeine? While it may not help, I’m quite certain caffeine is not the underlying source of the issue. I’ve experienced insomnia on nights when I haven’t consumed coffee that day, or for many days on end. I cut coffee for months and it still didn’t really help the insomnia.
Life after cancer: The work in progress
And as far as the rest of life goes, I’m still very much a work in progress, figuring it out day by day. And there are many days when I feel like a failure. Like I’m falling short of my own standards, and the standards of being a ‘health coach’ – I’m supposed to have it ALL figured out, right!? (Wrong. Not possible. 😉
But in spite of the brain fog and fatigue I continue to push forward to the best of my abilities. Trust me, as a health coach, I do know all the things to do to help with insomnia. And for the most part, I do all the right things. And sometimes I still struggle. As a coach, I’m very much in this healing journey myself. Life after cancer is a whole new journey. I’m invested in this because I have personal motivation to keep working on becoming a better, healthier, more balanced version of me.
Progress not perfection
Sometimes I get frustrated that things aren’t happening more quickly, both in my life and in my body. So I just have to keep reminding myself of all the progress I have made in this life after cancer. And that it’s really not about being perfect or doing everything perfectly, because that’s not what life is about. It’s about progress. And this year I’ve been focused on rebuilding a better foundation – a stronger one upon which I can build an even better life.
I guess that’s the gift that cancer gave me: the opportunity to go back and refocus so that I could rebuild and create an even more beautiful life. A masterpiece. And masterpieces take time.
And as they say, beauty lies in the imperfections anyway.