We are a month into that period where everyone is checking their progress toward their New Year’s resolutions. On New Year’s Eve, my fitness instructor asked me if I was making a resolution. I scoffed, because with the exception of one year that I gave up fries, I do not make resolutions, partially because I think it’s silly to arbitrarily set what is likely an unsustainable restriction and unattainable goal. The notion of resolutions continued to linger in my mind over the following days, especially because I was approaching my next scans and appointment with my oncologist, and therefore, I was feeling particularly introspective in light of awaiting news of either continued health or some that would again be life altering.
I came to the conclusion that by nature, I am constantly analyzing and assessing and making efforts for self-improvement. But even more so, in the greater awareness and understanding of myself during the past year as a cancer patient/survivor, I live and have lived in a constant state of resolutions. Through the diagnosis phase, I resolved to gain as much knowledge as possible about my cancer and treatment options and make the decisions for me. Through treatment, I resolved and fought constantly to maintain my physical, mental and emotional health and remain informed and be my best advocate. Post-treatment, I have resolved to regain physical strength and endurance, build a new life and understand how cancer changed me, my perspective, and priorities. Although some of my aforementioned “resolutions” may appear grand, all of these came with infinite daily resolutions and many failures. During treatment and in the months thereafter with lingering effects of chemotherapy, there were days where I resolved to simply eat a bagel, mac and cheese or anything I could keep down. I resolved to do something physical daily, even if it was just a walk with breaks, to focus on cardiovascular and other overall health, or rest on days when my body was too worn down, and remind myself that I am alive, and therefore winning the battle. I continually face moments when making decisions or feeling the gravity of battling cancer and the possibility of relapsing, and my resolution in those moments is to simply breathe and embrace every feeling, positive or negative.
One of the great lessons I have learned through battling cancer is that it is this constant drive to be and live better that is so innately human, but that drive must be balanced with acceptance of factors and influences beyond our control and understanding that it is okay to fall short of the goals or resolutions we set. So as I sit here, a month into a new year, and one that I was very glad to start, I am continuing in my resolve to always live better and happier. I am still living as a cancer survivor in remission. I went in for my scans, blood work and follow up appointment on January 5. I cannot say the lead up to that appointment was filled with any less anxiety than my prior appointments and scans, and I wonder if I will ever be able to go for a scan or walk into UNC without feeling my heart skip a beat (and not in the meet-cutes of old Hollywood films knowing you just saw the love of your life for the first time). The hospital was packed with people, and even as I waited to check in with the admissions clerk, I looked around and realized how different I felt sitting there this time than I did a year ago when going for my first consult with Dr. Park. Last year, I looked at so many people covering their bald heads with hats to keep warm or camouflage their diseases and felt like I didn’t belong. This year, as I looked across of a sea of similar patients and recognized some from past visits, I strangely felt a sense of comfort in knowing the building and systems and feeling commonality with those sitting around me, although my head no longer requires a hat.
My CT scan, blood work, and appointments were all routine, from the odd tasting Crystal Light contrast drink to conversations with nurses who now know me well now. Work has been insanely busy, so I squeezed in client calls and work as I moved between appointments and parts of the hospital. By the time I was put into the room to meet with Megan and Dr. Park, my anxiety was too high to do anything but sit on the examination table, stare out of the window, and fail to carry on a conversation with Jason. The smoothness of day broke down when Megan came in and announced that radiology’s system was down. She and Dr. Park examined me and stalled, but after two hours past my appointment time, they said that they would have to call me with results. The tiny amount of hope and optimism I had between anxiety and fear dissipated quickly, as I knew I would be walking out with the cloud of unknown scan results looming over me. We left the hospital and went to our favorite taco restaurant, so I could have my first meal of the day and try to relax before going home to work. After spending most of dinner with Jason telling me to relax, I was surprised to see UNC’s number pop up on my phone and hear Megan’s chipper voice. Hearing her confirm that my scans were clear and that I was still healthy and “not dying” as I had joked with her earlier that was all I wanted to hear them say. There was the one minor note that there is a cyst on one of my ovaries that showed up on my April scan and has not decreased in size, so I’m having my gynecologist check it.
I do not think I can properly or fully describe the feelings I had upon receiving the good news that my cancer is still in remission. At each announcement of results from my oncologist, whether positive or negative, the commonality is that the feelings are always similarly complex. The bad news brings not only fear, but hope and the drive to fight, and the good news comes with memories of past experiences and knowledge of the fragility and unpredictability of life. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my first day of chemotherapy. In many ways, tomorrow will look like any other day with an extremely long day of work followed by a gym session, but it will resonate in my mind throughout the day that it is a special day, even if no one around me knows. One year ago, I was determined to make it to tomorrow, but it was not a certainty that I would make it to my first chemoversary. I continue to fight through post-chemo side effects and growth into a cancer survivor. My resolution for tomorrow is to embrace the fullness of each emotion and each moment, and celebrate the fact that I have another day to better myself professionally and personally and revel in the happiness of upcoming travel and time with loved ones.
In March, I will be riding during the closing events for Cycle for Survival in New York at the Bryant Park events! This is my third year riding, and I am thrilled to get to ride this year, and celebrate my remission and fight for others battling rare cancers like mine.Cycle for Survival specifically supports research of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Please consider donating to my ride and sharing my event page!
For all of those wondering about the hair growth and other post-chemo effects, here are a couple of pictures below (one with product and one without). My eyelashes have regained their former length, but are not quite as thick yet, nor are my eyebrows. My hair is quite a few inches long now, but so curly! I haven’t figured out how or if I should dry it, and am not ready to cut it. I am sticking with headbands and a curl cream to try to prevent frizz until I have enough length and find the bravery to go for a trim/shape. I think the color is approximately what it was before (under the highlights). I am feeling good physically, outside of battling terribly dry skin and lips and an irritable and sensitive digestive system. I have had two major sinus infections since October, and cannot seem to shake a sniffly nose and other cold-like symptoms. Dr. Park assured me that this is normal, and that I will continue to be more susceptible to bacterial and viral inventions in this first year post-chemotherapy since my immune system was basically reset to zero. But, all in all, these are manageable and pale in comparison to where I was a year ago.