I did not know much about cancer, or the side effects of treatment before I myself was diagnosed. I expected I would feel sick often, my hair would fall out and I would likely not be able to taste properly or at all. What I did not consider, until the very moment it became my reality is that chemotherapy would wreak havoc on my gastrointestinal system. If we stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense. All of that toxic liquid is being pumped into our veins and like anything else, it’s gotta come out one way or the other!
Join me for more on my cancer recovery and why it is so important to self-advocate.
Imagine a lone potential criminal debating murder openly – and it’s an acceptable open debate. A random, innocent person who did nothing to inflame someone enough to elicit such a contemplation who has to listen to their potential attacker debate whether they should go through with their heinous, unthinkable act. Whether the attempt was made or not, the fact is that the potential victim is already aware that someone wants to do them harm. Such an experience could lead to a lifetime of looking over ones shoulder, waiting for them to change their mind. It could be the end of their feeling of safety in the world.
I spent days incredulous, trying to make sense of the senseless. I knew that even sympathizers could not truly understand what I was feeling. I had to do something about it.
I felt guilty for doing what was natural to me all too often; sharing. I heard it often enough that it became part of my internal dialogue. I started scolding myself for sharing, questioning everything I said to my friends, and at times even felt shame for sharing. At some point over the years, I decided to give myself grace and settled into the type of comfort only people who genuinely know and love themselves can understand. After my diagnosis, I began noticing how people reacted to my honesty. It is no surprise that people are uncomfortable with talking about ‘the big C’. I am acutely aware of this, as I used to be one of those people. I also recognized that people just do not like the feeling of experiencing someone else’s negative feelings. It’s never pleasant and many people default to fixers. Still, I had this driving need to honor myself, to speak my truth, and, maybe most importantly in this case, to raise awareness of an illness I never even knew existed until I was sitting in front of a doctor telling me I had it.
At the point, during my cancer treatment, that we were confident I would not imminently die, I began to feel that my diagnosis had been my personal wake up call. The God that I had spent the better part of my life rejecting, had put a serious smackdown on me as if to say, ‘You can’t live like this anymore. Get your shit together or you are done for’. I did not take this message lightly. In fact, I spent the following two and a half years working hard at living a healthier life. Getting on track looks different for everyone. The reality is, I had managed to succeed in some areas of my life. I had a great job and was well respected in my industry but I had not honored my body or my mental health over the years. Read more to find out how the hard work of the last few years has paid off as I returned to work after cancer treatment.
I continued to ask myself that question, ‘What the hell is going on?’, in the years to follow, but the things that would stir the question became the most trivial of things. I mean, a bad breakup with an unknowingly mentally unstable partner or drug deal gone bad were not scenarios anyone chose to find themselves in but knowing the backstory at least made it make some sort of sick sense. But a 10 car pile up on HWY410 because someone didn’t like the guy in front of him only doing 20 kilometers over the speed limit had apparently become an acceptable reason to cut 4 different cars off with the staunch intent of getting in front of said 20km over speeder to give him the finger and cut him off…or maybe just shoot him. In my very humble opinion, what I continued to see happening around me, and maybe even in my very own car when I was the one being cut off and finding myself uncontrollably screaming expletives with my little human in the backseat saying, ‘What does (insert four letter word here) mean Mommy?’ was a strong indication that society was spinning out of control. Something had to give.
It was three years ago, right this very moment, I sat on the side of my bed, covered in bruises, blood vessels bursting, hemorrhaging, on the phone with TeleHealth to ask them if they thought I should go to work or not. I intended on going. I had already missed a full week in the office for the muscle I had locked in my hip days before. I didn’t want to miss anymore time at work.
It was easy to pass it off as not a big deal. Like I was being a big baby. I should just suck it up because duty calls.
I allowed the emotions to visit me because it’s healthy to remember from where and how far you’ve come. Not only to pat myself on the back for my progress but also as continued motivation.
I only stayed there for a very short while; a few minutes at best. It’s not healthy to stay there any longer. It’s in the past and serves no great purpose. Instead, I began thinking about what it took to break the anxiety. Not only learning the lessons of how to be healthier mentally but also to begin putting those lessons into practice.
One of the things I promised myself was I would never lead my life with fear again.
When you think of what cancer treatment might be like or even what you’ve witnessed in the past, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sick people laying in a hospital bed? That’s what I thought of. It’s even an accurate depiction of what I had experienced up to the point I was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. I’m happy to say, gone are the days of spending all day in a hospital bed during cancer treatment – at least the expectation of. I wore my own clothes in the hospital, cleaned my own body, made my own bed and even used the hospital kitchenette to heat up and eat the home cooked food that others brought for me. All that said, there is nothing that could have prepared me for the day my oncologist told me how much I should be exercising during treatment.