|The beautiful flowers Christopher gave me last year for finishing chemotherapy!|
The time has come to write this post, and I cannot believe it came up so quick. Exactly one year has passed since that marvelous voicemail on my phone revealed the breath-stopping results of a clear CT scan. I can't exactly put into words how I feel writing this reflection, but I sure can try.
On Nov. 8, 2017, I drove myself three miles down the road for my first ever CT scan while conscious (apparently I had one in the hospital last July after post-surgical complications, but all was/is well).
The scan wasn't the bad part; drinking the dye beforehand and waiting for the results after were definitely tied for the worst part of the process. I was given two big bottles of contrast that were to be consumed on a certain schedule. This allowed the body to adequately "show up" in the scan before my body absorbed and digested it. It tasted awful and I 0/10 recommend to a friend.
I stripped down into a patient gown as I sipped the last of my contrast 15 minutes before my scan. Once called back to the room, I was weighed, hooked up to an IV for more contrast, and laid on the table to be pushed through the big donut.
From here, the medical professionals exited the room as the voice in the machine began to administer instructions. I moved at various times through this donut, as it spun around my body. CT scans are essentially X-rays taken at different angles to see cross-sections of bone, blood vessels, and soft tissue. This allows them to quite literally see inside tissues and organs without having to operate. The contrast is what makes the images visible and the extra contrast administered through the IV is felt as a warm sensation in real time, going from the tip of your head to the tip of your toes. The scan for me was only ordered from chin to knees as they were only concerned with examining my pelvis, abdomen, lungs and chest. It was a quick appointment and I was only advised to drink a lot of water after the test and return to my daily schedule. Of course without school or work, that meant the Christmas festivities and Family Feud marathons resumed. I was real productive, I know.
Two very long days later, on Nov. 10, 2017, I missed a phone call from a strange number. A few minutes passed and I found myself listening to the best voicemail still saved on my phone today!
The CT scan revealed no evidence of disease, or NED. In the cancer world, I prefer to celebrate NED instead of cancer-free as cancer cells are present in everyone's body at all times. The difference is, they're not dividing and metastasizing. Another reason I refrain from "cancer-free" is due in part from the constant paranoia that cancer could return at any time, as much as I'm trying to prevent it. With such a rare diagnosis, my team of doctors and I can't really say for sure if/when this could return, and how it could come back should it, unfortunately, do so. We don't dwell in that mindset, but it is something very important to just always be aware of and realistic about.
After 50+ trips to the hospital, I no longer felt a prisoner of the infusion center. I didn't feel like a burden to my family who was driving me to each appointment and tending to my every need. I felt free. But more consumably, I felt ready to go. But perhaps the most important lesson I've learned from this disease, is that I need to slow down. I swear I belong in fast-paced New York, but I also swear that that would be the worst thing for me.
I knew I had one surgery left: to remove the port. And after that, it was, Cancer who?
I wanted to go, go, go. I re-enrolled in school, signed up for classes. I bought Christmas presents and school supplies and an outfit for Thanksgiving. But really, this was just the beginning of realizing I needed to pump the brakes. My body had just gone through hell and back and what I refused to tell myself for a bit is that I needed to heal.
I also didn't realize that I still had a lot ahead of me. Cancer doesn't end once treatment stops. I was monitored every 3 months by my oncologist, and I still am today. I had a mini cancer scare before this summer started, causing me to need another CT scan. Probably overloading my schedule too much again. It showed I had a cyst on my ovary, fluid in my pelvis, a polyp in my gallbladder and mass in my lung. Now, I didn't have cancer again, but this was a very real reminder that our life doesn't snap back to normal immediately.
Cysts are common in women as they are produced with each cycle. It's when they burst or don't go away that they become a problem. I was ordered an ultrasound for 3 months later to see if it went away along with the pelvic fluid that was probably related to it. (Spoiler alert: the cyst was still there 3 months later, but there's no telling that it was the same exact cyst. So I have another appointment coming up very soon). I ended up getting a second opinion on the polyp, which consisted of a gallbladder ultrasound. It revealed that it was so tiny and without symptoms, it was fine. I go back soon to monitor that as well. And the blob in my right lung was apparently present in my last CT scan and hadn't changed size or shape so no one was concerned. Also to continue to be monitored on that as well. With all of these moving parts, slowing down only naturally seemed to be the answer.
I needed to focus 100% on myself, my health, my mind, and my priorities now more than ever. Of course to this day, I still find myself piling way too much on my plate as my subconscious is probably living out its evil plan to make up for lost time during treatment. But slowing down is key. I find myself more at peace in those moments that I follow through with restoring and recharging, and it allows for more successful days in the end of it all. If you're struggling with this too, I highly suggest planning some me-time, saying no to others for once, and recharging yourself so that you can have a more productive day tomorrow. You can't pour your energy into whatever you're trying to accomplish if you don't recharge yourself first. I cannot tell you how fantastic and life changing this year has been since slowing down and listening to my mind and body.
That's not to say I haven't celebrated my accomplishments, both big and small. Since jumping back into the swing of things, I have really come out of my shell and now take advantage of every opportunity I receive. Any and all connections I have made this year has led to jobs, internships, and even some pretty cool research projects in the making. I'm still my introverted self, but those who don't see or talk to me often will notice I am more comfortable in my skin and content holding a conversation with everyone I meet.
This fall semester is coming to a close now as I wrap up my first full semester as managing editor and also as I finish my minor! I started two new research projects along with launching this blog and I can't wait to see where it all takes me.
Life post-treatment has had its ups and downs like any other girl chasing her dreams. I'm still trying to find that balance between patient and person. I visit my oncologist every three months, and the only lingering symptoms are terrible memory (chemo brain) and decreased physical strength. I'm not reminded often that I once fell victim to my own body's wrongful turn of events, but I still listen to my body each day as if I were catching my own cancer again. My hair has grown back, so that's been a treat.
There is a lot to be thankful for that I still can't quite put into words, but sometimes words aren't always the medium to display our gratitude. I'm still figuring it out. I really cannot thank my mom and dad enough, along with Christopher and his parents and grandparents. From the absolute smallest signs of support and affection, to the largest acts of kindness, not a single event will ever be taken for granted and I could only hope that I could repay them for all that they have done, been through, and sacrificed.
My friends and family on social media have shown nothing but love and support and it took me a long way through everything. My professors continue to challenge and inspire me, and my coworkers are always there to teach me and make me laugh. My sweet clients are the best friends I could have right now, and I'm happy to work under supportive bosses as well. Even on the worst of days, I know I have a big network of love surrounding me, so if you're reading this- THANK YOU!
Cancer is life changing and its a hard, long road for some. But it also doesn't have to be a death sentence for all with the help of revolutionary science, advanced medical teams, and undying love and support. I can't tell you how grateful I am to be sharing this milestone with you and I hope you'll share in my joy as we continue to reach new milestones along the way.
Up next, I have a fundraising event tomorrow for cancer research (updates to follow) and an appointment next week Wednesday with my oncologist for my one-year check-up.
Take care of yourselves,