As my surgery date approaches, I begin to contemplate what lies ahead for me on the other side. As the doctor appointments become further and further apart, and life starts to return to normal – questions begin to arise. Where do I want to be? Who do I want to be? How do I want to live the rest of my life?
It slowly becomes more clear with each passing day. The easy answer is simple – I choose to live.
The bank offers a large mortgage. Do you use the whole sum just because it was offered to you? What kind of life will you then have? Yes, you will have a beautiful home – but how else will you choose to spend your time? How fun is it really to stay in every night because you cannot afford to go out? Before I would have said yes. I would have found a way to make it all work. Now – that is just foolish. Why cause stress when it is not needed? When I am not working I want to be able to do things – whether it be a casual night out or an expensive vacation. Either way I want to be living a life instead of sitting on my money. (That is a fantastic term that was recently said to me by a certain friend – you know who you are 😉 ).
While we are on the topic – let’s talk about work. I love work. I like having a purpose for my day. I enjoy the social aspect. I like the feeling that comes over me when I complete a project and I see it live. (By live, I mean online – I work in ecommerce. Have I mentioned that before?) If you work in a field that you enjoy and are passionate about, it is easy to go into work everyday. Working a little overtime never bothered me because I enjoy what I do.
Work however, should not be the only reason to get up in the morning. I am not “working for the weekend”, as the song goes – but I do plan on enjoying my time away from work. It is hard not to bring your work home with you if you are a workaholic like myself. It is easy however to look back and think “man, I wish I went on that trip”. You never hear anyone say, “Ten years ago I wanted to go on vacation, but chose to work instead. Totally do not regret that”. You are given vacation days for a reason. If you are worried that your boss will look down on you for wanting time off – then maybe they are not the right boss for you. (I am thankful not to have this problem 🙂 ) It is healthy to want a break. You need a mental break. Most people (and by most, I could probably say all) work harder when they are happy. Who would ever be happy working 80 hours a week, 365 days a year? Work hard – yes. Choose work over your life – no.
That being said – if you know your work is busy during certain times of the year – do not be a fool and ask to book time off then. That is just dumb.
This is taken out of Jerry Seinfeld’s book “Seinlanguage“, from 1993. It perfectly sums up exactly why most people are not even close to my level.
Yes Jerry, that is exactly what I did in the last 12 months – I didn’t die.
Also, for the people who say – “Oh, don’t remind me how old I am turning.”, “I have decided to be ____ forever, that was a good age.”, “Oh my gosh I stopped getting carded at the liquor store – This is horrible.”, “Ew I can’t believe I am turning ___.”
You people are also not on my level.
What did you accomplish from your last birthday to your next?
You renovated your kitchen.
You started a new job.
You cut out gluten. (Well except those three times you were drunk and ate pizza, but that doesn’t count.)
Myself? I told death to go fuck itself. That is why I am celebrating.
Each birthday to me is a huge milestone from this point on. It is another year I won. We should all think this way. There are so many terrible things out there that can take our precious lives at any moment. To make it another year is a major accomplishment. When we were young we could not wait to celebrate our birthday. All we wanted to do was be another year older. We said our age with pride. As the years pass everything changes. Asking someone’s age can be seen as an insult. In fact, most people lie about their age. They always strive to be younger. This should change. You should shout from the rooftop how many years you have survived on this planet. With so many things against you – you have made it. There are a countless number of people in this world that wish they could have lived to your age.
So I hold my head high and am proud to say I have made it to 29. I will always choose to celebrate my birthday.
Since my diagnosis I have not participated in any outside program related to cancer. At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of identifying myself with cancer. I am not one to just bring it up and a conversation. Who really wants to hear depressing shit? The only place I have felt truly comfortable saying whatever is on my mind, is in my colon cancer group. There, everyone has the same problems more or less. During one of those meetings the opportunity was presented to volunteer at a local hockey game to promote Colon Cancer Awareness Month. I was intrigued and thought this would be a perfect way to start giving back.
When I received the information on what we would be speaking about, I discovered it was not so much about colon cancer, but more about promoting a new website entitled “Cancer IQ”. We were encouraged to try it out first. This site asks the user approximately 15 questions, and then identifies what their risk factor is for a specific cancer. I decided to fill out my form based on myself one year ago – before my diagnosis. To my surprise my risk for colon cancer was only 10%. Is this site useful? Absolutely – it brings awareness to the user, and maybe reminds them to go and speak to their healthcare professional about being tested. What this site does not do however is ask the right questions. The biggest sign for colon cancer is all about the way your poop looks. Is it pencil shaped? Is there blood? Is it a solid or a loose movement? These questions would greatly help determine whether or not a person should be concerned. But no – not one single poop question. No wonder I only received a 10% risk factor. Imagine someone like me out there took this? They would pat themselves on the back and go back to sleep. No worries in the world. Wrong.
What does this teach us? Do not take one opinion as the be all end all. If you have concerns, ask around. Each person will provide you with a different piece of the puzzle.
I find it interesting when I speak to people these days, I consistantly hear the word “journey” being used.
“Oh what a journey you have been on this past year”
“I bet you can’t wait until this journey is over with”
“Just think in a years time you can look back at this journey you went on and laugh”
I myself may be guilty in the past of using this word in order to help describe my current situation. The truth of the matter is, this is not a “journey” for me – this is my life. There is no end to this experience. After my lung surgery, when the doctor annouces I am cancer free, that will just be the end of one phase. From everyone on the outside life will go on. Slowly the fact that I had cancer will become just a memory for them. New people will come into my life that will not even know anything I have been through. For someone with cancer however – it never ends. There are side effects from every surgery – phantom pains, scars, etc. – these are things we have to just suck up and deal with because we exchanged them in order to save our lives. Every scan creates a mound of aniexty for the chance we will be told bad news. Every time there is the littest amount of pain in a new area – the thought that our cancer is back will instantly enter our minds. This is no journey, because journies usually have a end point. We cancer survivors forever live in the “for now”. In May when my surgeon enters the room with a big smile on his face, and annouces that I am officially cancer free – inside my head I will be saying, “for now”.
I should be more fucked up. I mean seriously – what kind of a mind fuck is it to be told pretty much you are on deaths door, to all of the sudden having some surgeries, doing some chemo, and then being told – oh wait, never mind, maybe you will have some years ahead. I think I can attribute my sanity to the fact I have always been more focused on other things.
Before my first surgery, my mind was not thinking about my doctor pulling and poking at all of my organs, but was more focused on how many people would prefer a burger over a hot dog at my BBQ. In between my first and second surgery I was not caught up in the horror from the first, but more focused on making sure I was well enough to go to Arcade Fire back to back. During my chemo in the Fall I was not spending day in and day out with thoughts of if it was even working, but more on what course at the University of Toronto I should take in January.
Today my focus is still partly on my health (obviously), but more on my school, my upcoming trip (yep – I am all booked for Punta Cana 3 weeks after my last shot of chemo), and then I am already excited to go back to work (currently aiming for January 2016). All of these things and more, I believe, have contributed to keeping me from becoming a crazy person. I am rarely thinking about the now, but more times than not I am focusing on what is ahead. Do not misinterpret what I am saying here – I LIVE in the now. I do pretty much what I want day in and day out because it makes me happy. I am saying my mind however, is always racing with plans for the next big thing.
I know I have spoken quite a bit about the changes in my body – but I am a girl so obviously this is a major issue for me. When I first learnt I would be on chemo for about a year, I thought like most people do – weight loss central. This however is not the case with all treatments. Yes, there is that stereotypical look of a chemo patient with no hair who looks like skin and bones. Then there are the people whose drugs react in the total opposite way – like myself. My drugs not only cause me to never have a full feeling (that’s right, I can eat for days and never get the sense I have had enough) – but the steroids have also caused some serious ballooning of my body.
The stomach was an obvious stand out at first because, well, it started standing out. Then I noticed my thighs had a few more bumps than normal. The shirts I would try on at the store went from medium to extra large – and even some of those looked too tight. I went from my skinniest after surgery to my heaviest in a matter of months – and there was really not much I could do about it. I knew the steroids were causing my face to swell – but until I did a side-by-side photo – I did not realize how much.
Yes, I understand that gaining weight is much better than losing. I did not expect to be going through this and also look like a supermodel the entire time. As a young female however, our looks are still important to us. Well not even as a young female – I would say as a female in general. Heck, even some men would probably have a tough time with this. The scars I could care less about – but looking in the mirror and seeing back rolls (yep, thats right, I now have back rolls) – was more than shocking to me. If I haven’t said it enough, I am ever so thankful to have such a strong support system. They really come in handy when I am having a “nothing fits me” kind of day. And yes I know at the end of it all, a little weight gain in order to save my life is probably a fair trade off. I think I need to put that into perspective a little more.
A few days ago I had this crazy dream that ended up being an idea I cannot get out of my head now. What if there was a reunion of people – but instead of high school it was grade school. Epic right? I mean think about. We spent with some of these people 8 years of our lives. Do you not ever wonder what they are up to lately? And yes, before you go there, I understand the easiest thing to do would be to look them up on Facebook – but how boring is that. I want to actually get to know who these people are – not who they pretend to be through a sepia filter. Ok, in a two to three hour reunion setting I understand I will not be able to ever fully grasp what role these people play in our society today – but at least if I drop a Michael Scott joke I can see if they smirk or not. (By the way, I rate my level of “Do I care about you?” or not, if you find The Office funny. If you do not, please stop reading my blog and go throw all of your shit out on the curb because we are breaking up.)
The reason why my reunion in my dream was so fun was because we built a massive snowboarding hill. However besides that fact, I also seemed to enjoy myself because no one had any preconceived notions going in. There was no “Oh she/he was such a geek/bitch/weirdo”. Well even though we were 11 at the time and our end all be all was going to a Much Music dance party – ya she/he is probably the exact same….
I look back at old school pictures and completely forgot some of these people even existed. How awful is that? But it is reality. If I haven’t heard a peep of your name in ten plus years – then yes, I am sorry but I probably forgot about you. That does not mean however I wouldn’t be interested in what you had to say as we both awkwardly held a glass of wine at a cocktail party.
Unfortunately I do believe my dream will stay as such. From what I have observed in today’s world – people love to hold grudges. That geek who got picked on would probably show up hating the person who picked on him/her the most. They would either A: not want to give that person the time of day, or B: spend the entire time trying to prove how much better they turned out. This would be the same in the reverse for the bully I would bet.
Well, if it does happen I have a request – someone bring a bunch of Pogs. Who can get mad when there is a serious Pog tournament happening? I would bring mine but I am pretty sure my parents put them in a garage sale years ago. Damn them for trying to make a quick buck off of my youth.
At what point in my journey can I use the phrase “I had cancer”? Is there any specific time that you can switch a “have” to a “had” when you have stage 4? Since the cancer cells in my body are just floating around like dust particles, I wonder if I will ever be able to speak of cancer in a past tense. If I forget about the microscopic cancer cells and just go by what we can see, can I use the term after my first clear scan? Or do I have to wait till that all coveted 5 year mark to finally say, “I had cancer”. Even when that time comes, is that a description I would want to define myself? I am so much more than this disease, but yet it seems to be in the top five of words used to describe myself these days.
Having a “planner” personality it is very difficult to throw all of my papers up in the air and just let life unfold as it may. I am always looking years ahead but now I find myself only being able to plan 3 months at a time. Right now I am not even sure what will happen next month as my next body scan is January 27th. That will determine a yay or nay to surgery on my lung. However if that scan is clear then in February, am I stepping into the “had” zone? Maybe it is when I am off chemo and all I have is scars as evidence of my battle with cancer. Maybe I should stop thinking so much.
The common theme in my “Happy New Year” messages from friends was – “Hopefully 2015 is better than 2014”. It got me thinking – was 2014 really that bad? Pointing out the obvious it could seem that way, but I think the total opposite. It’s not 2014’s fault that it happened to be the year I was diagnosed with cancer. It could have been found up to 8 years ago, but unfortunately just was not.
Yes, at the beginning of the year it looked like things were going to be rough. I was unsure of how long I had in this world. Even though that question is still unanswered (and if you really think about it, it is unanswered for everyone) – I now have what will hopefully be a longer life span because of my two surgeries. That is a positive.
Is chemo something I would choose to do? No. However from the horror stories I have heard from others – my go at it has not been horribly bad.
The support system surrounding me from family, to friends, to even people I have never met – is stronger than I ever would have imagined. My relationships are forever changed and for the most part has brought me closer to these people.
2014 was a year where I learned so much about myself. I have been more of a shoulder to lean on for most than me choosing to lean on others. I do not like to be a burden to anyone, so for the most I try to never complain. I have taken on the comforting role by using humour to make people not afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. No one needs to be sad for me because I am not sad. In a twisted way, being diagnosed has a few positives that came along with it.
This year truly has been the best holiday season I have ever had. It was the first time where each day spent with family and friends, was taken in moment by moment. Little things that would have come and gone before are now remembered and will become a cherished memory of mine. Gift giving was thought out and it was done not by monetary value, but with heart. I enjoyed the pleasure of watching other people open there gifts and felt and took in all of their joy in that moment. Laughter was everywhere and it is still warming my heart in this moment. The positive energy is continuous and lifts me up with just a thought of these past few weeks. My eyes and heart were open more than ever for the first time in my life. It was and still continues to be a beautiful experience that I would not trade for anything. My wish during this holiday season is that every person can experience even one tenth of the joy that I am feeling. Do not let the little things pass you by – they can be bigger than you could ever have imagined.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays