Monday, August 22, 2016

What If?

What if I never got cancer?

Someone recently asked me this and it got me thinking. I'm not a fan of "What if..." questions and thinking, but this one hit me hard.

That thought, that question makes me tear up. It's a wonderful thought and a terrifying thought.

I tear up thinking about all of the pain, struggle, depression, agony, and fear I endured for so long would have never existed. And I tear up at the thought that all the lessons, insight, and understanding I have learned on a deeper level would not exist.

To be rid of my prosthetic, to have my mouth back, to be rid of that fear of it returning, to never have endured any of it to begin with... that all sounds amazing. But what if I never learned the lessons? What if I stayed on the same path I was on? The clarity and appreciation for absolutely everything that cancer and its aftermath has brought me, I would never want to lose that.

I often think of the image of an earthquake being tracked on a Richter scale. All of those up and down squiggly lines are the ups and downs of life, and then the earthquake hits and the line shoots up and is set on a whole new trajectory. My cancer diagnosis was my own personal earthquake that set my life on a new trajectory, never to return to the path it was on before. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I can honestly say, if I was given a magic wand (because I'm still waiting on my acceptance letter from Hogwarts) and had the opportunity to undo the cancer nightmare I was given, I wouldn't. At the same time, I hope I never have to endure it again. Ever. There were some dark days on this journey. Dark, miserable, painful, terrifying days. But too much light has come out of that darkness. And that is what I choose to lean on.

Be thankful. Everyday. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Just a thought....

I had a moment the other day. I was leaving work after a long week. I was exhausted, my energy was pretty low, and I was dragging. It was late and already dark out when walking to my car. All I could think was how tired and exhausted I was. And then suddenly, to my own surprise, a great big smile came across my face. How great is this, I thought, I have a job that I work hard at. I've busted my ass all week and yes, I'm tired, but I feel good about it. I have responsibilities and expectations that I look forward to make happen each day. How great is that?!

A memory of me sitting in my room at my parents house unemployed with an empty bank account filling out application after application while recovering from my cancer nightmare and its aftermath flashed before my eyes. And now here I am, exhausted from a hard days work.

Life is sweet (or bittersweet). I'm grateful for the perspective I now have and that I can share this little story with a smile on my face, but you better believe how unbelievably aware I am that that perspective came with a cancer diagnosis. But I'm still grateful.

That whole train of thought really did catch me off guard. A great big smile after a long week of work. It's all about perspective, people.

Be thankful. Everyday. --- because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Still Exhaling

Most don't know this (although I'm pretty sure the word has spread by now) that I had a scary month and a half due to some bad scan results. Mid March was annual scan time for me. There I was, approaching my 4th year since surgery and remission and I got a little ahead of myself and sent out a "4 Years" post about making it 4 years and being healthy and happy. HA! My results hadn't even come in yet!

Ay yi yi Amy, you know better! Never get ahead of yourself, that's when life likes to come in and pull the rug out from under you and remind you who is in charge!

Results were in and I got the call to come in to the office for the results - never good. But I have had that in the past. It's usually my lymph nodes that light up on the scan, which sends us in to a bit of a frenzy, but is later deemed to be due to my ongoing sinus infection from surgery, and all ends up being ok. So I was doing really well this time around and not letting my mind spin too far out of control. Plus, I had recently been sick, so I knew those nodes were coming back bad! This time was different though. It wasn't my lymph nodes at all, in fact, the initial reading went well. No signs of tumor recurrence and no mention of my lymph nodes, but then there was the dreaded long pause. As if the doctor didn't really know how to say what came next. FUUUUUUUUUCK was all that was going through my head. A spot had lit up in my throat. My throat? That really threw me. This was new territory and it was not at all what I was expecting (as if it ever is). He said he didn't like what he was seeing, that it didn't look good, but that we would run more tests to correlate what these were showing. Fuck fuck fuck all the way home. And just like that, I was back at the beginning.

You have to understand, confirmed or not, being someone in remission and bad scan results being your greatest fear realized, back at the beginning is exactly where you go in your head. Straight to the starting line of another cancer nightmare. I'm tearing up just writing this. It's crushing, deflating, numbing, and fucking infuriating all at the same time (plus 10,000 other emotions). To be perfectly honest, the biggest thing I felt was betrayal. By who, I don't know... the universe maybe? This couldn't be happening again. After everything I had gone through, after learning some tough life lessons the hard way, really taking the shit situation and growing from it - and boy were there some growing pains! I mean, this could not be happening again, damnit!!

Then I broke the cardinal rule and started Googling the key words that kept popping up in my scan report - "hypermetabolic activity" being the main one. Never ever Google, people! But I did, and it confirmed what my gut instinct was telling me about what my doctor wasn't telling me. And then my mom Googled it and saw the same thing. And then my best friend Googled and she tried to play it off, but she too read the same thing. It was pretty cut and dry. Hypermetabloic activity usually means cancer when you're a former cancer patient. Taking a queue from The Hunger Games, the odds were not in my favor.

The waiting game commenced, along with keeping my head game in check. During these times, keeping your head in the right frame of mind is pretty much the entire battle, at least in my experience/opinion. It's an every second of the day battle. All your day is is waiting. Waiting for insurance approval. Waiting for your doctor's office to call. Waiting to schedule the scan. Waiting for the scan date to come. Waiting for results. Waiting, waiting, waiting. It is fucking torture, I promise. It's so hard to keep your mind in check, but it's the only thing you have control over.

A month and a half of positive scans. A month and a half of waiting in limbo. A month and a half of not being able to take a full breath because a giant gorilla named cancer was sitting on my chest. It all came down to this last appointment, one last test to confirm my greatest fear coming true. I called it judgement day. Mentally, I was going into it... I wouldn't say assuming the worst, but prepared for the worst. For self preservation,  you almost have to go there. I was a ball of nerves and felt like I was going to puke. My mom was already crying in the car on the way there. Judgement Day.

Without really being able to explain it themselves, doctors gave me the all clear. I was ecstatic and still felt like puking. One big Holy Shit moment where I actually got to exhale at the end of it. Other than getting the "these things happen" explanation from my doc, there wasn't much else to it. Maybe it was the monstrous infections I had in between all these scans that were either lingering or brewing? Who knows? I have learned that this cancer thing is one big educated guessing game, they thankfully guessed wrong this time. There was nothing to second guess with the final scan results and what they had to say because there was simply nothing there. No spots, no bad cells, no questionable areas...nothing. Add it to the list of "what the fuck" moments I've endured over the last 4 years, but I will gladly take it.

I'm still exhaling. And boy did I cry. I think I cried more that day than in the entire 4 years since this all began. I may have even cried more than my mom that day...maybe ;)

I am beyond relieved, beyond grateful, beyond happy and ecstatic. But to be totally honest, I am beyond exhausted too. I feel like I'm suffering from a hangover from the amazing news I got. I still feel wound a little tight and still sort of decompressing. That was terrifying, and yes it ended with good news, but it was still terrifying. Your mind and body go into survival mode for the sole reason of, it has to. Now here I am trying to turn that off and it's like my mind and body are hesitant to let their guard down. Is it safe, are you sure? They tell me it is. Can I trust it? They've gotten it wrong before. I've learned that it's in this space of healing where we have the opportunity to expand. It sucks and is beautiful all at the same time.

Not a day goes by without cancer crossing my mind. It's a life changer, that's for sure, and it's one that stays with you forever whether you like it or not - so it's best you like it. Or at least accept it. This was just one big reminder that I am beyond lucky, beyond blessed, and holy shit I am thankful.

Be thankful. Everyday. Life can flip your world upside down in the blink of an eye.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

4 Years

Today marks four years since the discovery of my tumor, a day that I refer to as "Tumor Day" - you can read more about my recount of that day here.

Four years. Man oh man. I always say this, but it still feels like it was yesterday and a thousand years ago all at the same time. I still have all of the memories, every last detail leading up to that moment and everything that came after. I still can't believe it's real, but at the same time I have gotten used to it. I remember doctors talking about my 'new normal' or my dental oncologist telling me one day we'd be at a point where I'd only see him once a year. I remember thinking how crazy that all sounded. When will this ever be normal and how weird to think I'll only have to come in once a year rather than every few weeks like it was for so long. But here I am. I made it. I'm there. It's 'normal' to me now, I've adjusted and my life continued.

This year truly marks a new chapter for me in a big way. And it legitimately took me all four years to get here. Other than the prosthetic I'll have in my mouth most likely the rest of my life, the last remaining remnants of the cancer years have finally passed. Four years after my diagnosis and over two years since my full blown mental breakdown, I am finally fully back on my feet (and kind of kicking ass). I am working full time and have a solid job (and it's one that I genuinely enjoy), I am fully supporting myself and living on my own again...finally. And most important, I am healthy and happy both mentally and physically. I think I can honestly say I've processed, adjusted, and essentially moved on with my life. Doesn't mean I don't think about it daily, or that things related to it no longer get to me because that definitely all still happens - that's just being human. Four effing years!!! It was a mother fucker of a process to get to this point! I do not miss any of it, but am oddly still grateful for all of it.

It's truly a humbling experience when the universe pulls the rug out from under you and you realize just how little control you actually have in this life. This quote by Marianne Williamson always struck a chord with me "...something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor." I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I can tell you that statement is true. Never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.

Be thankful. Every single day. Life can flip your world upside down in an instant.