Did you all think I’d stop having things to say since I stopped treatment?! Well, guess again! The cancer may be gone, but my story is far from over.
This past weekend, I attended a conference in L.A. put on by a non-profit I discovered, Cancer and Careers. They’re a pretty unique organization that offer TONS of resources and support about something that people don’t talk much about: work and cancer. Being a workaholic pre-diagnosis, this organization really resonated with me and I’m super glad I got to attend. I’m still trying to sift through all the great information I received! They’re worth mentioning in this post because I feel like they need more awareness. I know there are SO many people trying to navigate the workforce with cancer treatment (or return to the workforce post-treatment) and this organization is fantastic. I’m fortunate enough to have one of the best employers on the planet, but if I didn’t, I’d sure be wishing I found them sooner.
At the conference, we talked about so many great topics, but one that really piqued my interest was about setting boundaries in the workplace (and well, in life). I quickly came to the realization that I have basically no boundaries. That might sound like a joke, but it’s true! As evident with this blog 😉 I am an open book. My story includes providing the raw and honest truth about my cancer experience – and I never really ever considered it a private matter. Sure, it’s personal as all hell, but I can’t even begin to tell you all the amazing people I’ve met via the Internet that I’d likely wouldn’t have met otherwise. Not talking about the details of my diagnosis seems untrue and inauthentic – and that just doesn’t feel like me.
So, in the spirit of being transparent and raw (despite that whole “setting boundaries” thing I learned about this weekend), I want to continue to share the mental healing process that I’m going through. I consider this the invisible (yet not so invisible) side effect of cancer. I’m just beginning, but I’m really dedicated on working through this process much like I worked through everything else to date.
I’m in sort of a weird place right now. Since treatment ended, I find myself stuck in the balance of reliving the past year of my life and fearing what’s ahead. Part of me wants to pause time for a bit so I can be present in the “I don’t have cancer anymore” moment and really, really enjoy it with my family and friends. Lately, I’m really challenging myself to be mindful in the moment while trying to also make sure I’m not burying any thoughts/feelings. Turns out I did such a good job of burying those feelings when I was first diagnosed that it all caught up with me in a BIG way over the summer.
If I’m being honest though, being present in the moment is more difficult than it sounds. The further I get away from my last treatment and the more I move into this “season” the trickier it becomes for me. EVERYTHING about this time of year reminds me of something that happened last year. For starters, last Halloween I was admitted into the Hospital and became what felt like a lab rat for 9 days. Although I don’t remember much of the hospital stay itself (thanks, drugs) I remember very vividly how I felt and it was awful. It’s hard to not relive those memories when all the things around me keep pulling me back to that place. The triggers are seemingly unpredictable. While most days I’m thankful for my vivid memory, I wouldn’t be too upset if these memories were replaced with happier ones 😉
On the flip side, if I force myself to stop reminiscing on the past and move myself forward, I start to feel uneasy and worried. January is my next set of scans and at that point, I’ll be without treatment for 2 months. Dr. B. isn’t worried (if he was, we wouldn’t have halted treatment) but it’s SO hard to not let your mind wander. For me in particular, I think the most nerve-wracking thing is that I feel like I can’t trust my own body. Prior to my diagnosis, I was completely asymptomatic. I was living with Stage IV cancer and I had no f*cking clue. No cough, no headaches, no aches and pains, NOTHING (well, except a few “muscle knots”). It’s hard for me to know what to look for should my cancer return. I understand that’s the point of the routine scans, but it’s still pretty unsettling to think about. I try not to get caught up in the “what ifs” but that’s also far more challenging than you think.
I know that this cancer experience is a roller coaster. Right now, I’m on the part of the roller coaster where I throw my hands up in the air, scream and smile for the camera. I know there are more twists and turns and just because treatment is over, doesn’t mean the ride is done. There is the rest of the theme park! (Did I take that analogy too far?). The point is, I’m trying to learn how to pull myself out of this bubble I’ve been living in (through?) for the last year and dump myself back into the real world, as gracefully as possible. I know the results aren’t immediate, but I feel like I’m on the right path. I’ve reestablished my values and I’m trying to realign my activities to support them. I started a gratitude journal to find a piece of good every single day. And I’m trying not to take as many naps (arguably the toughest part). I’m trying. And sometimes, I think that’s enough.