Updated: May 2, 2020
A cancer diagnosis changes everything, but most of all, time. Cancer, and the fear surrounding it, seems to bend time in ways I have never before experienced. There have been moments when time stood still, like it was frozen and free floating in space. Like the time I received the phone call telling me I had breast cancer and the phone went dead. I was so shocked I couldn't remember who it was I was even talking to, and I definitely didn't know the number to call her back. So, I sat there for what seemed like hours, waiting for her to call back so I could ask about what was going to happen to me. I was frozen, and so was time.
I went to work as usual on a Friday, went to a scheduled appointment the next Monday to have a breast lump checked, found out I had breast cancer the day after that, and I haven't been back to work since. That was almost two years ago already! As someone who has worked continuously since I was sixteen years old, it was weird to walk away from my job without a glance back. I have always taken pride in working and I had big plans for advancing my career through school and hard work. But, then cancer came, and it was like I hit pause on the remote of my career. I am lucky that my job has been amazingly supportive, and they are welcoming me back with open arms. But moving up the career ladder is no longer a big priority. I just want a job I enjoy, pays the bills, and allows time off for travel, and work/life balance.
I went back to the office the other day to speak with my boss about my return to work in a couple weeks. It felt strange to walk in as if nothing had happened. I have been gone for almost two years, and it felt exactly the same. Like cancer never even happened. Time stood still, yet everything in my life has changed.
Not working gave me time that I have never had before. Time to stop and think about the big picture, and what really matters. Now don't get me wrong, most of that time was not my own and I didn't have the brain power to answer all of life's many questions. It was devoted to my oncologist and the plan laid out before me to "cure" my cancer (his words). The months of chemo warped time so that my days were defined by medicines and side effects. As time went on, I learned to schedule my life around those annoyances, and I knew what to expect depending on what day of the treatment cycle I happened to land on.
Time during treatment became comforting. As one of my nurses said early on, your life is now ours, so let use guide you. My appointments were scheduled for me, the medicines were determined for me and my specific type of cancer. I knew I was doing everything in my power to survive this. It was comforting to follow the "cure" plan. I followed the directions of my doctor, attended all my appointments, took the medicines, and repeated the cycle over and over again.
Now that chemo, radiation, and my multiple surgeries are finished, time is yet again changing. I now see my oncologist every 3 months instead of weekly. I have monthly injections, and infusions every 6 months, and follow up appointments out east, but that warped cycle of poison and side effects is finished. And, the major surgery removing my stomach is over. It sounds weird, but it is a bit of a let down to not have anything major to plan for now. I was thinking about, dreading, planning for, and preparing myself for that surgery for years. It is over now, and time is different yet again.
Time is less comforting because the fear of recurrence is now sneaking in. The plan for a "cure" is done. There is nothing left to do but move on. I am regaining control of my time, and it is scarier than I imagined. When you are in treatments, all you can think about is how nice it will be to be finally done. Now that I am done, there is this pressure to move on and be "normal" again. But, I am a changed person. I will never be that pre-cancer person I was before. I am ok with that, because I am better for it. It is just weird to try and move on from such a life altering and time consuming experience.
As time winds down before I go back to work, I find myself grateful for the extra time I was given over the past two years. Without work, I was able to finish school, kick cancer in the butt, ponder life's purpose, spend time with family and friends, and take care of my body and soul. I am also grateful to be alive! When I was first diagnosed, as many cancer newbies can attest, I didn't know how long I would make it? Would I see a year, or two, or twenty? I had no idea. And, since I made it through two of the hardest years of my life to get to this point, I have hope that the years ahead of me will be more pleasant. With every passing moment in time, I feel stronger, and like I can live a full life after cancer. Everything I have done up to this point, has been to fight for my health and wellbeing, so here's looking at many happy and healthy years to come! And, to more time.
I am twelve weeks post-op this week. I am feeling better every day. Food and liquids are going down a bit easier. My digestion is leveling out because I think my intestines are finally getting the message that my stomach is gone and never coming back. And, they are beginning to learn to digest foods in a way they have never had to before. I have added coffee back into my diet and I am so happy to be back drinking one of my favorites again! Post-TG, I can only drink one cup, it is usually cold by the time I finish it, and I add lots of full fat milk to it for protein, but it still tastes wonderful and I am grateful for that.
I am planning a post about all the foods I am able to eat now. Someone requested that information to better understand what, and how much, I eat on a daily basis. I hope to have that up soon. Also, a post about the holidays and how I am navigating them as a newly stomachless seahorse. In a culture where food is celebrated as a reason to get together, I am quickly realizing that I need to be open and honest about my changed relationship with foods so that I can continue to partake in these events and still feel included. My friends and family have been amazingly supportive, but it is an odd experience, so I will try and put that into words for you all.
Let's see, what else. Oh, I think I am down about 23 pounds now. That is about 14% of my pre-surgery body weight. My dietician predicted I should loose about 24% of my body weight in total, so I guess I have a little ways to go. I am already fitting into clothes that have been boxed up for years. It is like going shopping in my own house! I also started a bin of clothes that are already too big. So, I expect that bin will fill up over the next few months. Then I can donate them all, because gaining weight back is not likely. It will be nice to purge those. Although I was excited to loose weight as one of the few perks of this surgery, it has been more frightening actually experiencing it. Because the weight comes off so quickly, and without trying, it feels much different than succeeding with a diet and/or exercise. I am happy with the size I am now, but unfortunately, I will likely keep loosing. So, I just have to keep reminding myself that this is normal, and it will stabilize one of these days. I am still healthy, and that is all I am concerned about now.
I am heading back to the NIH next week for my 3-month follow up. I will have tons of bloodwork taken to check nutrition levels and chemistry panels to make sure I am doing ok in that respect. I will also have a CT scan and MRI to make sure everything anatomically looks good. My mom will be meeting me out there, and I will meet up with some fellow seahorses as well. Should be a good/short trip.
Take Great Care, Kate