There are times when I reflect on the immense challenges that I have faced in just the last few years and I can’t believe that it’s my life. A few years ago, Cancer was a foreign word to me. Nobody in my family or in close proximity had gone through Cancer. It never occurred to me that I would.
Four years ago I married my soulmate, moved to the suburbs and inherited three wonderful kids, to go along with my own son. Everybody got along great and we grew more in love each day. The picture was complete, I had it all. But the celebration of this new chapter in my life was short lived because within several months of starting our new life, my husband felt a lump on my breast and after countless tests my doctor blurted out the words you never want to hear “It’s Cancer.” The honeymoon phase of our love story involved surgery, chemotherapy and radiation– in fact, we spent our first anniversary in the hospital while I received chemo. But as my husband (bless his heart) said, “At least we’re spending it together.”
There followed six months of an emotional roller coaster, as well as a physical change that had me staring at a stranger. I became bald, gained weight from the steroids, and at times I was in severe pain from the cocktail of chemotherapy I was given that as my doctor warned me, “makes you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.” It was an experience that was extremely painful, emotionally and physically. Through it all my husband always gazed at me with the same love struck look that he did on our wedding day. Sometimes it even made me slightly annoyed, wondering, “Can’t he see what I see when I’m looking in the mirror?” Thankfully he didn’t. And trying to see through his eyes and see what he saw gave me strength to know that despite all this, under it all it was still me.
I was also fortunate to have a group of friends and family who would pick me up and make me laugh, specifically in the hospital I had a rule, the conversation could never be serious even if you had to make it up it had to be steamy and fun. After a tough day at the chemo ward I would arrive to home cooked meals sent by family and a wide array of indulgent television shows that were mindless but nonetheless took the seriousness out of the moment. Ultimately, I was happy to finally be able to call myself a survivor.
My strong support group which included family, friends, and other women who were survivors, as well as my doctors, all told me the same thing, “…put it behind you now and live. You made it.” The emotional scars however, ran deep even when I physically got to a familiar looking me, internally I was left feeling raw and completely terrified of a reoccurrence, and therefore, I became fearful of ever feeling completely happy and facing life. I made a conscious decision to take time to heal in all sense of the word, which included seeing a therapist and being immersed in yoga and meditation.
I also took part in an anxiety group therapy session. My husband and I laughed when I told him of the members of my anxiety group– all of us normal people from all walks of life facing various fears– all getting into the elevator together at the end of each session, and my thoughts of what would happen if the elevator got stuck with all of us in it.
Following my therapy and two years after my last cancer treatment I finally started feeling free, healthy and confident in my well being. People had finally moved past that annoying stage when they would ask me how I’m doing, and when I answer; “I’m fine” they would lean there head to one side quizzically and say skeptically; “Really?” I recognized the person staring back at me in the mirror and I started dreaming again of all the wonderful things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go and most importantly the romantic notion of growing old with my love.
On the dreaded Anniversary of the big C I was in my oncologist’s office and my annual tests had come back clean, briefly calming my anxiety, which I accept will now be a part of my life each year as I move farther and farther away from this ordeal. My husband and I celebrated, but I had this uneasy feeling that something was not right. Under my arm on the same side where I had previously had cancer, there was an unusual lump that was not going away. Nobody seemed as concerned as me, or perhaps they were all downplaying it so as not to terrify me. Everybody wrote if off as scar tissue from my previous surgery, even sending me to physiotherapy and massage.
But then it started growing at a rapid pace and after another visit to my oncologist and all the dreaded tests I heard those familiar words again, “It’s Cancer.” This time however, all the doctor’s faces looked more grim. The fear of the extent of this incarnation of the disease was a significant factor. It was now in my lymph nodes. I can’t begin to explain the emotions that I felt when I heard that I had a reoccurrence.
The complexity of the disease triggered hysterical fear, anger and guilt as once again the ability to dream was taken away from me. The aggressive nature of this recurrence, and the fact that it was in my lymph nodes created a whole other level of panic. My doctors (who are amazing) reacted equally aggressively. Chemotherapy was scheduled immediately- for two days after Christmas, which was also the day after my birthday. I would be going in without answers to key questions the doctors did not know at this point. “Had it spread? Or is it contained in just the lymph nodes under my arm?” You can imagine how tough those two weeks were until the test results came back.
Thank God that as part of my anxiety therapy they made me face my deepest fear: the recurrence of my cancer. It was part of a rather painful exercise. As tough as it was dealing with this new diagnosis, I don’t think I could have made it through had I not had to confront that fear hypothetically just a few months before.
For New Years I decided since I still had my hair and I felt well, that my husband and I were going to forget about illness and celebrate our life by dancing and getting all hot and sexy before I found myself bald and fat again. It’s been six months of fighting this disease again the prognosis is good and I’m healing from surgery.
I’m allowing myself to dream, but the fear of the unknown still lingers. There are times when I feel complete sadness because I can’t remember what it’s like not to be afraid of my mortality but because of this fear I also find myself being more care free and emotionally heightened. I’m doing my part in healing and nurturing myself that’s all I can do. So my love story continues scars and all.
Every day I leap out of bed and watch the sunrise in awe. For each day I am thankful.
Karla is a wife-mother-fashion-food-music & culture enthusiast, blogger, freelance remote corporate associate & wardrobe coiffure. She has survived breast cancer, breakups, fashion mishaps and eyelash extensions. She’s a big believer that DNA doesn’t make you a family. Her family is comprised of a myriad of characters that have the commonalities of love-loyalty-commitment and presence. Life has given her a million reasons to cry, and many more to laugh. Follow her on my recently-launched blog, City Girl Seeking Culture in the ‘Burbs, where she shares stories highlighting her endless search for all that is inspiring in art, theater, music and fashion in the ‘burbs. You can also follow her on Twitter @KWellington.