Maybe it’s the unusual weather we’ve been having in Arizona lately, but I have been feeling great. Sure, I still battle my fair share of intermittent nausea (followed by the barfs of course), but everything is relative, so I’ll take it. Dissolvable Zofran have become my new best friend and although I’m terrible at going to the grocery store, I always seem to make sure I have Ginger Ale in the fridge.
Work is busy again (well, I’m busy at work again) and it feels so good. Maybe I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I feel like less like an unreliable blob and more like who I used to be. I started back on my exercise routine (yay Madison spin classes!) and swam a couple times last week with Dad. I’m really starting to feel like ‘me’ again and I can’t even begin to tell you how unbelievably good that feels.
Enter: the next obstacle of being a cancer patient – "The Invisible Mental Battle."
After my last appointment, I met with a social worker who talked to me about a group they have available for young adults living with cancer. It’s no surprise that every time I’m at Mayo I feel like the youngest person there by a solid 30-40 years. Sometimes I see kids, but most of the time I’m in waiting rooms full of grandmas and grandpas. I’m pretty good at relating to people, but being so young with such a life-altering diagnosis can feel pretty damn isolating. To be honest, it wasn’t until I started this blog and found a few people via Instagram that I realized there were other people around the country going through eerily similar situations, just like me. I had swapped some initial messages with these internet strangers, and somehow felt like I knew them better than I know some of my best friends.
Melody (the social worker) was FANTASTIC. As she was talking, I was sitting there and practically saying “YES GIRL! PREACH!” in my head. I literally almost cried because in that moment, I had never felt so understood. I hadn’t met her before that day, but all of a sudden the words coming out of her mouth were feelings I didn’t even know I felt. She’s right, though. Having a cancer diagnosis in your 20s and 30s is very different than having a diagnosis later in life. I don’t mean it’s any more or less serious or life-altering, or whatever. But the aftermath has the potential to be so different. It might sound morbid (just bear with me) but us young folks have so much more time to be a survivor. And as much as that sounds like a good thing (it still is!) that means SO much more time fearing reoccurrence and having to go through this all over again. I have yet to meet a cancer survivor that doesn’t fear reoccurrence, but you get my point. Also, in my life stage, my friends (and other people my age) are starting the beginning of their adult lives – so many of them are getting married, just recently married, having kids, investing in their careers, etc. As wonderful as my friends are (I could honestly write an entire post about just how wonderful they are) they don’t get it. Some of them try so hard (and I’m forever grateful for it) but they just don’t fully understand. It can be so difficult because as much as I want things to be “normal” I’m not sure they ever will for me. My new normal is continuous specialist appointments, ongoing scans and surveillance, and the anxiety associated with my cancer coming back. Ignoring all that, and pretending it’s not there, makes everything else feel so surface-level. It’s a constant mental struggle for me.
Being an optimist has never been a challenge for me. I famously find the silver lining in almost every terrible situation and am pretty darn good at forgetting about the bad things that have happened. The other day I was thinking about what it’s going to be like when I’m done with Immunotherapy. I’ve been feeling so much better and closer to “normal,” that it’s becoming easier for me to picture it. At the same time, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the impact of my cancer diagnosis and what that really means for me long-term. Right now, I feel like I have this insurance (for lack of a better term) in my body. Every 4 weeks, I have another infusion and get more good soldiers and they get to do the dirty work on my behalf. But there is going to become a point (hopefully) where I won’t have these infusions anymore. At some point, I’m going to have scans periodically and I won’t have Nivolumab in my corner. I’ll be left to my own body, and let’s be totally honest, it got me here today so I’d say we don’t have a very good track record.
I guess this is my very long winded way of saying I’m excited to attend this young adults with cancer group next week. I’m excited to meet people that understand on a different level what these feelings are like. I’m excited to share my experience and learn from theirs. If they are anything like my new internet friends, I’m sure they’ll be great!