Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Its crazy how in an instant, your list of priorities or things that are important can suddenly vanish. We can so easily get caught up in the day to day. Getting that promotion, getting that new job, or new car, and then like that. BOOM. That list vanishes because life steps in. Reality check time whether you want it or not. It's pretty humbling when you realize how little control you actually have in this life. At the time my life changer hit, I was on a new job high. I was just about to start a new job that I was so damn excited about (if you read my previous post, you know how well that turned out). My priorities were getting new work clothes, what to wear on my first day, and impressing my new boss. In a single instant those things vanished. My list of priorities became making it through the surgery, getting a clean PET scan, not throwing up from all the meds I was on, and keeping my weight up.

Healing hurts and recovery sucks. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I don't care what it is you're going through, that statement is fact. To say my surgery and recovery was horrendous would be an understatement. Without having any choice in the matter, things got scary simplified for me. Getting enough sleep and the adequate amount of protein and calories without actually being able to bite or chew was all that was on the agenda each day. My body automatically shifted into survival mode for the sole reason had to.  I would have traded anything for a clean PET scan or simply a piece of bread during those brutal months. I dreamed of the day of finally sinking my teeth into a cheeseburger again, of not having a dozen doctors appointments each week, or being able to physically be outside all day. I slowly stepped out of survival mode and into a much more demanding place...the real world. I wanted a clean PET scan and I wanted the closer parking spot in my complex. I wanted to be able to eat again and I wanted to go on that vacation with friends. Basically, I began to hope for more, other than simply making it out of this. Not that long ago, I was simply asking to be cancer free, now here I am, asking for a little bit more. Can't I be cancer free, and have a new job, and live in a new place, and go on that fun summer trip with my friends?

Its so easy to get caught up in that mentality of always chasing or wanting something more. Something better. It is important to have those goals and to strive for better, but don't let it take over your big picture because in the end, that stuff really doesn't matter. Be thankful for what you have. The simple things, the good things, it usually is enough. A new job would be nice, my own place would be nice, and a trip to the Virgin Islands with friends would be pretty damn nice too, but without all that, what I have is definitely nice. What I have is enough. And I am enough.

Who says tomorrow is guaranteed? It's a scary thought, but it's the truth. Life can flip you upside down in a single moment. The course your life is on can get thrown a major curve ball whether you want it or not. I'm not saying don't plan for your future, but don't get caught up in it either. What really matters is the here and now because that's all we get. It's times when I'm looking back at the past is when I can get depressed, sad, or angry, and times when I'm looking forward to the future I can get anxious, worried, or stressed. But when I am in the moment and focusing on the present, I am thankful. I am content. That usually is enough.

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Quit or I Surrender??

I am fully aware that there is never a good time to get cancer. Ever. But the timing of my cancer bomb was pretty ridiculous. I had just put in my 2 weeks notice with the Marriott. I had worked there 2 years, but I was leaving because I accepted another job opportunity. My new job was starting in less than 2 weeks when I discovered the tumor. The whole new job thing was just another major stressor to an already scary, stressed time. This also meant my insurance was about to end and all I had was the insanely high premiums of COBRA until my new employers insurance kicked in. In the early days of figuring out what was going on, I actually thought maybe if I get this surgery done ASAP I can still make my start date and not have to miss any work. Ha, yeah right! My family and I actually brought this up to one of the first doctors I saw, like, I'm starting a new job in 2 weeks, so the sooner we get this done and over with the better because I have work. He looked at us and kind of chuckled as if we were kidding and said something along the lines of, yeah I don't think that's going to happen.

The new job thing was hard to play. I wanted to be upfront and keep my new employer in the loop so I called to tell them what was going on before my start date. At the time though, I hardly had any answers other than I have a tumor and I will be having surgery. What kind of surgery, I didn't know, when the surgery would be, I didn't know, how long I'd be out, I didn't know. I didn't even know it was cancer yet. All of these questions were still up in the air by the time my first day came around. I brought all of this with me on my first day of work at a new job, it was awesome. After orientation and all of that first day stuff, my new colleagues were released, while I went to a meeting with the HR Director to discuss my medical situation. Exactly what everyone wants to do on their first day of work at a new job!! This was obviously not the way I wanted to start. I surprisingly made it to my second day of work. While everyone else was paying attention to the training class we were in, I was frantically and secretly checking my phone for any updates. My biopsy results should have been in by then and my mom was keeping me updated if she had heard anything from my doctor. I was physically at my new job, but I was definitely not there. It was impossible to pay attention or care about anything they were saying. Here they were going over our absentee policies, and there I was waiting to hear if I had cancer or not. We all know how that turned out. I managed to make it to day 3, all while waiting for them to just fire me and avoid me and my situation entirely. My third day of work would be my last for 4 and a half months. My leave of absence started then and my surgery followed shortly thereafter.

Surprisingly, my new job didn't let me go. Although they would have been huge assholes if they did since it was a health care company. Looking back, I returned to work waaaay too soon. Body and mind were still in survival mode, I was desperately trying to distance myself from everything that just happened, and I was trying to convince everyone, myself included, that I was fine. It caught up to me pretty fast and I returned to work just as I had left...a nightmare of an employee. The first few months back I had doctors appointments constantly. Taking half days here, 3 hours there, I was constantly missing work. I tried to avoid it as much as I could though. I was bending over backwards for work, trying to pull off a totally normal, no problems employee. I was trying to be ok for work, for myself, for my family, friends. That's just what I do, I suck it up, put on a brave face, and carry on. That whole act failed miserably this time around. It was exhausting. I was not ok and needed to just simply be not ok. My boss would ask me every now and then how I was doing, in my head I'm thinking 'horrible, I shouldn't be here'...but you can't say that to your superior. I walked in there every single day just waiting for them to fire me, some days I actually wished they did just to put me out of my misery.

My return to work went from bad to worse pretty quickly. As a result from my surgery (aka head trauma) I began suffering from migraines and a really severe case of vertigo. The vertigo was so unbelievably awful and the medication they put me on just completely flattened me out, I was a zombie. It was horrible sitting at my desk feeling as if I was spinning while squinting at my computer screen due to the horrendous migraine I had. And that's just the physical symptoms I was dealing with. The mental aspect of stuffing it all away was catching up to me quickly. Everything I had gone through was all finally starting to sink in. Work somehow got wrapped up in the same ball as cancer. They were one in the same. The stress of one triggered the other. I guess it was maybe the timing of a new job, got cancer. Or maybe how I started the job with cancer, I don't know. But work quickly became like my own personal cancer hell. I felt like I had the word "Cancer" stamped on my forehead from day one, either that or "The Girl Who Never Shows Up".  I white-knuckled it almost 6 months before I finally quit. I was having anxiety attacks, I'd get so worked up I threw up several times, although I'm not sure if that was because I was freaking out or simply the horrible vertigo. Every morning I'd drive to work racking my brain on how I could get out of going that day. This wasn't your typical 'I hate my job, I want out of here' type thing. It had nothing to do with the job itself, but everything to do with the cancer. I often drove to work thinking, maybe if I drive into this center divider right now, or ram into the back of that car, the accident would be bad enough where I didn't need to go in for a few days. How scary is that, I actually thought that?!! That freaked me out. That's when it was very clear that I was not ok and I needed some help. I want to be perfectly clear and not worry anyone, this wasn't any sort of suicidal thoughts I was having, that was never the case. Once I got to work, the anxiety got so much worse. Approaching the building my heart would start racing and it was like big huge red alarms were going off and flashing CANCER CANCER CANCER!!! That was literally the scenario playing in my head everyday. It was like I was walking into a war zone in my head. I'm not even sure what I was afraid of by being there, it was just a reminder of what happened I guess. Just like hospitals or an approaching scan can get my mind racing back to those terrifying times, being at work did the same thing. Everyday. I was a wreck. Needless to say, I was never awarded employee of the month.

I fought it for so long and tried to turn it around, but I was just the shell of a human being by that point. I needed some time to just work on myself and get myself better. Looking back through my journal I kept during that time, I started writing about how I needed to get out of my job in September. I finally ended up quitting in February, almost 6 months later. It took me that long to be ok with what that decision actually meant. It would mean going against the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to, especially my parents, it would mean I might ultimately have to move in with my parents, and it would mean quitting a job in this economy with nothing lined up. To most people, that is crazy and stupid to do. What about insurance? What about an income? What are you going to do? To all those people, I completely agree with you. I can't argue with any of those points. What I ultimately concluded though, were those things going to be my bottom line? The answer I was finally able to trust was no. I was really suffering and I needed help. A paycheck and insurance wasn't going to come before my own sanity and health.  I am also in the incredibly lucky position in that I have the family that I do and I was able to completely lean on them during this time. There is no way I would have ever made it out of this without them!

I had the white flag up for months. If anything, me waving the white flag was me surrendering to putting myself and getting better at the top of the list. Everything else must go, getting myself better is all I can and need to focus on right now. Me quitting my job actually allowed me to do that. I was mortified when I went to talk to my boss to let him know I was putting in my 2 weeks. He was very understanding and sympathetic, knowing more of my situation and how much I was struggling there than most. He was also probably relieved I was leaving, the nightmare of an employee is finally gone...that might just be the tape playing in my head again though. I was surprised with how I felt after walking out of his office. I felt powerful. I felt like I took some power back by doing that. Like I had a say in this dammit, and I'm no longer going to continue to put up with suffering. After all the changes my life had taken in that year, none of which I wanted or chose, this was a change that I had a say in. It felt good, like a weight had been lifted. I had to let go of what everyone was going to think (and still thinks) about quitting a job with nothing else lined up. I had to realize my parents were never going to give me the ok to just quit my job because that goes against everything a parent tries to ensure... safe, secure, taken care of, etc. It took me so long to come to terms with all of that and go completely against what every person was saying and do what I knew in my gut was right. That's a scary decision to make, when the world is telling you otherwise.

I have absolutely no regrets about quitting my job, it was hands down the best thing for me. My parents would actually agree with that statement now too (I think). It was a huge factor in actually giving myself the opportunity to heal. The place was toxic for me. My therapist and doctors said it was like a PTSD effect, just one big trigger. It was a decision I made and I was well aware of the scenario I was putting myself into. No, it's not my ideal situation, but I figured if finding a new job or moving in with my parents was my biggest problem after the year I had, then I can't complain. I am working now, its a seasonal position so I'm still looking for something more permanent, but it's something and I am grateful for it. When your world gets rocked like mine did and you come out the other side, putting things in perspective kind of just happens on its own. 6 months ago I couldn't even eat, chew, or bite into solid food, something that is so basic, so I guess looking for a new job or living with my parents isn't the worst thing in the world after all.

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Moving Forward

February and March are big months for me, they hold a lot of anniversary dates for my cancer and surgery. They tend to stir up a lot of emotions and can get my mind wandering back to those deep dark corners that I used to frequent often. It might seem silly to some, but each anniversary, each year is big deal for me. Each year its like I let out a big sigh, I made it, I can do anything now. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty damn proud of myself for how I've handled these last few months. I've managed them quite well. I know what my triggers are that can send me spiraling, and I know what tools work for me to manage them. When I do have bad days, (because I definitely still do) I am not hard on myself for it, I take a deep breath and try to get back to center...which sometimes can take a while, but that's ok!

I think back to only a year ago at this time and I was a complete wreck (seriously, just ask my roommate at the time). I was still in the middle of a major depression, still on anti-depressants, still seeing a therapist, and basically wearing a "handle with care" sticker across my forehead. I'm proud of my progress and where I am now. The journey is not over and my work is not done, but I have come a long way. It's funny, you don't even notice you've turned a corner until your halfway down the next block with all this new space and room to grow. You take a look back behind you and its like, hey look at that, look how far I've come. It feels good. Makes you stand up a little taller. I'm getting to the point now where I can wear my story like a badge of courage. Yeah, this happened, and yeah, I'm ok. I can share my story now instead of running and hiding from it. A year ago, talking about everything that happened like I am now with all of its dark and dirty parts would have been impossible. Talking about it means actually admitting it all happened, and a year ago I wasn't there yet. I am there now though and I am ready for the next chapter. There was a time when I needed to be lost and miserable, to just sit with my thoughts and figure this all out. It was perfectly acceptable given the situation, to take some time off from everything, to recover both mentally and physically. But that time is over. I no longer want to use this traumatic event as a crutch. Don't get me wrong, it was traumatic and I did need some time, but I am ready to move on.

What I have found with all of the things I have learned is that it has nothing to do with cancer. These lessons and aha moments I have come to learn are universal to all of life's lemons. They are not limited to cancer patients or someone whose struggle is similar to mine. Everyone struggles, everyone has something to overcome, or some kind of suffering to face. I most certainly will have other obstacles to overcome, although I hope to god it's not this again. But if you let these struggles or tragedies teach you and grow from them, you are so ready to take things on the next time around. With impossible situations comes great opportunities. Pain, suffering,'s truly a humbling experience. Nelson Mandela said it best, "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." Through this journey, I've learned to tackle life, not cancer. My cancer journey has not been about what I've lost, its been about what I've gained. My mouth may have shrunk, but my heart has grown and my perspective has broadened, and here I am, thriving more than ever.

Never forget...Be thankful. Everyday.