It's the time of year where the news programs are filled with "year in review" segments, predictions for the future, look-backs and all. I have a lot to reflect on this year but in a different way. I've been thinking more and more about the things that I was doing just before I was diagnosed and it really just baffles me. Just a couple months before, we were in Miami living the life at a wedding. Literally, the week before I was admitted to the hospital I was running with Sammy full tilt on a hot day through the neighborhood. No matter how much I reflect, it still just doesn't make sense and I suppose it probably never will.
The oddest thing is this whole transition from patient to survivor. I use the "survivor" term loosely as I'm still not completely out of the woods. I've been feeling a lot of fullness in my chest and having the occasional pains still. That led to an echocardiogram, which was all clear -heart's still strong - and now I go in for another PET-CT Scan on Monday - two weeks earlier than scheduled. Hopefully this will finally be an all-clear and I can get this constant physical reminder that is my port o-u-t out!
But I digress ... . What's so different about being "post-chemo" is that I no longer have that "eye on the prize" goal. There was always that light at the end of the tunnel - the 12th treatment - when I knew it would be over. However, now that I'm past that, I realize that it's not over and that it probably never will be. It's the issues that arise during survivorship that no one really talks about. I didn't get any preperation about the long-term effects. I suppose that's because every oncologist has enough bad news to dish out to you having to explain to you the fact that you not only have cancer, but you have to go through hell to treat it - nevermind telling you that your body and mind will never be the same. That would have been way too much to process at the beginning of all of this - inevitable system overload.
But now, that drive, that hope, that ultimate goal has faded because there is no longer an endpoint. I will forever be wondering if the cancer will remanifest itself. I will forever live with the long-term havoc wrecked on my body. I was listening to The Stupid Cancer Show this week. The episode was focused on "Who the Hell is Hodgkin?" A lot of discussion was centered around how high the Hodgkin cure rates are, but how toxic the treatment is. I posed a question in the chat room to the show's guest oncologist telling him that I had 6 cycles of ABVD and asking him about the long-term effects I could expect from it. He gave it to me straight - fertility problems, neuropathy issues (I still can't feel my lower leg), chronic fatigue, predisposition to other cancers, hormonal imbalances ... the list went on.
That's the thing about being a young adult cancer survivor. I'm not 80 years old and cured. I am only 27 and I thankfully have many, many decades of life to live still. But you don't hear a lot about how the hell you're supposed to handle all of these effects as you keep on living. There is so much positive and so much that I am grateful for, but at the same time I've also found myself getting very frustrated and very emotional at times. Like getting a cast off after many weeks of healing, I guess I naiively thought that I'd be able to walk away from this and get on with my life. Instead, this is my new reality and I need to set new goals with that reality in mind.
I don't believe in New Year's resolutions, but I do believe that this time of year gives a good excuse for a fresh start. Right now the flakes are falling peacefully outside our windows and the ground is blanketed in pure white - everything is clear, raw, fresh and new. And that's how I want to enter 2010. Nothing like a bout with cancer to realize the precious, delicate nature of life and to really get to know and appreciate yourself. I am so eager to do a million different things that it's overwhelming at times. I know now more than ever that you only get one shot at life and one shot at making a difference and a postive mark in this world. I refuse to be ever be content with simply existing. Yes, I am grateful to be alive, but for me that's not enough.
There is absolutely nothing that I can do to reverse what the chemo has done to my body. But what I can do is not let it take me down, to not use it as an excuse, but rather as an added motivator to make the most out of every moment of this life. I'm going to keep on living despite the effects. I'm going to defy the odds and start a family. I'm going to be physically and mentally stronger than ever and I'm not going to be afraid. Every day I know I'll always have those questions in the back of my mind: Is this just a headache? Does this cough mean my chest is again swollen with cancerous lymph nodes? But rather than letting it control me, I need to accept it, awknowledge it and learn to deal with it. My life as of late isn't all Care Bears and rainbows, but it is sure as hell is better than the alternative.