I recently celebrated five years cancer free – WOOO!!! This is a HUGE milestone because this magical five year mark means that I AM CURED!!! The disease has not come back and it better never come back! I have too much life to live! It means a lot to me, and means more than some other birthdays I have had. This milestone seemed so far away and difficult to get to but I made it.
This post is dedicated to my time spent during cancer and my thoughts and memories. I also thank a whole heck of a lot of people in this blog post. So if you really want to read this, you might want to grab some coffee or a snack because this is a long post! This isn’t all happy either! (Thank you in advance for reading!!)
I remember crying alone in my car when I got the news from my new primary care doctor and how I needed to try to hold it together when I needed to call off work because I was being sent to an oncologist immediately when my first results came back.
I remember coming home to tell my brother, who had to drive me to the oncologist (my brother was 19 at the time) and my sister (22 at the time) meeting us there straight after work. I remember their faces and I remember how I felt. I remember trying to relax and be calm because they were so worried.
I remember getting a bone marrow biopsy which still makes me cringe to this day. It was painful.
I remember shutting everyone out and having my brother and my boyfriend at the time call my family members to tell them the news. I couldn’t bare to talk to anyone and only hung out with a few people that weekend (Memorial Day weekend – so long weekend thank God!)
I remember going for my first PET scan and so many other procedures that I never had to do ever in my life.
I remember my first chemo and how I can’t stand the taste of honey nut cheerios anymore. My first chemo was seven hours and my aunt brought me and then my sister sat with me all of those hours after she worked beforehand.
I remember the taste of those bitter steroid pills that instantly dissolved in your mouth – I would eat them with sour patch kids!
I remember the day my hair starting falling out – I barely could brush it and by the next day, my brother was shaving my head because I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I remember all of my chemo sessions afterwards – my grandma came with me to each one and my grandpa drove us. We sat and talked for four hours every time about everything and anything.
I remember getting the call that I didn’t need chemo anymore and my excitement was short lived because I called you and you couldn’t talk to me to celebrate. We then had a fight and I had to celebrate without you. I remember thinking this wasn’t that big of a deal.
I remember my brother in law and sister taking me out to celebrate I didn’t need chemo anymore because my cancer was gone. I remember some of my friends coming out also since it was so last minute. They made me feel this was a big deal.
I remember my first radiation treatment and how all of the nurses were so nice. My radiologist was so awesome too and I learned so much from him as he too was a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer survivor. I learned so much more from him that I ever did from my oncologist.
I remember the nurses at St. Margaret’s gave me a head wrap because I wore head wraps to radiation all the time.
I remember celebrating two times with my groups of friends because I was done with radiation and I was cancer free.
I remember getting back to my life somewhat normally – and getting a haircut for the first time and how scary it was to not need a wig anymore.
I remember going in for my 6 month check-up after being declared cancer free. My treatment had worked – 6 months of chemo and three weeks of radiation. I also went for my first mammogram. I had no reason to believe I was going to be a cancer patient again in a week’s time. I was so focused on my life outside of my health and focused on boy drama that it never crossed my mind that I would end up having cancer again.
I remember about a week later I was talking to my oncologist that I had cancer again and then being referred to a fertility specialist all within an hour on the same day because I was also told that my eggs would basically be gone after this round of chemo after a second time. Within an hour, everything came crashing down and I was alone to receive this news.
I remember depending on a person to help me find solace – I remember wanting that person to make me feel better and be there to support me. I felt so broken and lost and lonely and again, it was about how this person was treating me and not how the news of having cancer again affected me. I remember that was my dead on focus and unfortunately I hadn’t let this news sink in of having cancer again. I was a mess and very down.
I remember seeing a therapist for the first time – it is a requirement of someone who is “under duress” needing to freeze eggs caused by a medical condition. We had an hour together and it was on a day where I found out a relationship was no longer going to happen because it was solidified that the other person had moved on. I was devastated all around. I also had to make up my mind in who I would gift my eggs to if something were to happen to me. This is the moment where everything sank in.
I remember going to Northwestern every day for three weeks – driving myself early in the morning going to a fertility clinic where there were couples and pregnant woman and me, being single and nowhere near having babies in my life, was waiting among them. I felt so odd and out of place. I had to go for daily ultrasounds because they were speeding up the “freezing of my eggs” process so I could start chemo ASAP.
I remember having my egg procedure done and the nurse in the room holding my hand, both of her hands gripped my hand tight and how sweet she was. Whoever she was, she brought me so much comfort that day. At this point in the process, I was going through the motions and I always expected the unexpected and was ready for whatever was coming because no matter what, the next few months were very unknown to me.
I remember the day before I started my first chemo I had the day off. I ran errands and made myself up and worked out and ate like a queen that day. It was also the first time I could put my hair in a ponytail for over a year.
I remember starting my first chemo – this time around I would be admitted for 48 hours (over the course of 3 days) and spent most of this time alone.
I remember my best friend spending the night on a hard hospital bed next to me and it was the best thing ever. Anything I could to distract my mind from what was happening would be a good thing for me. Social media was my friend where I lived on it to communicate with the outside world. I was administered chemo straight for 12 hours.
I remember having a positive outlook on moving on from my ended relationship and started up a new one – a distraction really. I remember also when this quickly ended as being bald was not ideal for this person.
I remember again focusing on things that should not have mattered. I needed to focus on my health and my mindset and these distractions needed to go away. I was going to put myself first and focus on getting through these next unknown months.
I remember losing my hair and this time I was able to simply pull it out from my head – I didn’t use clippers or anything. It was like pulling string and it was painless to pull out. I lost it all within a day (this would be my second time losing hair).
I remember going on a date and it was when I was bald and thinking how in the world am I pulling this off? I felt so self-conscious about this and was so nervous. I never expected anything from it but it took my mindset to a whole new direction.
I remember actually having FUN during my chemo visits and in between my chemo rounds. I would have 2.5 weeks off in between treatments and I made sure to get out and do stuff when I was feeling fine. I celebrated every little milestone – I had so many things to be grateful for and I was actually happy for a change. It was an odd feeling because the first time I went through chemo was a very stressful and difficult time and the people around me then did not fully support me how I needed to be supported.
I remember going out with all of my friends and celebrating the fact I had a chest x-ray that showed no signs of my cancer! This was after my 2nd round and I would still have to go through a 3rd round and then a stem-cell transplant. I felt great and it was awesome to be around with a group of people who were all fully supporting you.
I remember then becoming obsessed with Seagram’s ginger ale with some cranberry juice! My nurse that made that for me was the best nurse ever and my obsession with ginger ale is still thriving five years later!
I remember being in the hospital in the dead of winter. I remember for the most time being alone and not having communication with any of the outside world. I remember not WANTING to speak to anyone except for a select few. My sister was really the only person I truly wanted to talk to.
I remember the nurses having me meet another patient who was on my floor and had a similar story as mine. We met in the computer room and she was going through the same treatment as me. Her mom and her would check in on me all the time. We still communicate to this day.
I remember when walking around once on the hospital floor was a long journey. I needed to wear a mask and gloves and I couldn’t walk fast or without losing my breath.
I remember only consuming diet coke and Reese’s pieces and maybe some ginger ale as that was the only thing that I wanted. Some days I even sprung for some popcorn. I was the weakest I had ever been and with my busy mind and my “go go go” attitude that I can’t even imagine how I was able to lay in a bed for 12 hours a day. I didn’t want to get up and walk around. I felt that crummy.
This was right around the time I was having horrible fevers and had an infection in my system that the doctors didn’t know the cause for. I was cleared to go home with all other stats but I remember being so upset and frustrated that this reinforced the idea that sometimes you might do the right things with your body and be healthy and active your whole life, that you can’t do anything about it. You have to play the mental game and mentally get through these times.
I remember my sister would come and visit and take dirty clothes away and by the time I left the hospital, my suitcases were packed full with snacks and no clothes!
I remember sitting in my hospital room every night living on Facebook (Facebook memories also reminds me of this!) and planning out my next year of things I wanted to do. I remember signing up for races WHILE going through chemotherapy.
I remember coming home and not being able to walk a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I can’t believe how fast your body gets weak with being bed ridden for so long.
I remember coming home to my puppy, who from what I heard was acting really strange because I was gone. My sister had made me a cake and decorated the house for me to come home!
I remember getting another huge blow as someone important to my recovery and my happiness was once again leaving my life and I would need to pick up more pieces. I remember also not dwelling over this too much as I was going back to work and finally going to get my normal routine back. I was determined to get my strength back and walking on a treadmill for 8 minutes straight was a big accomplishment.
I remember a month after my auto transplant I ran a 5 mile race (yes one that I signed up for while getting treatment).
I remember after my first x-ray that I had signs of possible cancer growth again and had to have another surgery. This was a huge blow to my recovery. I went through this surgery and it ended up being dead cells. It was a scary moment but it was another speed bump in recovery.
I remember celebrating every milestone this time around and the people around me made it a big deal with every test, every procedure, every declaration of clear scans. I remember having a better support system this time around.
I remember finally being declared cancer free and I held a huge part at my house that involved a keg. It was one of the best parties our house had ever seen!
I remember that summer was one of the best summers I had with my friends. I got so close with so many people and developed relationships that would last the rest of my life. Those people are still my family today.
I came out of this stronger than before. I think that my first time with cancer really didn’t change me for the better because I was more of the same person – I depended on others for happiness and I wasn’t the independent person I was supposed to be. I lost myself in a relationship and during my first cancer battle, all I wanted to do was “get back to normal”. No one was there to tell me that I will have a new normal and through my 2nd battle and all the other side heartaches that happened, I love the person I have developed into today. Now being 30 years old, I think about how I was 23 years old being diagnosed, alone in a car on my way to work and needing to go see an oncologist right away. I was roped into this whirlwind and unfamiliar territory where I didn’t have my mom or dad to call or take me to my appointments. There was so much stress put on this life of a young adult that it makes me tear up thinking of my young self and how much she had to deal with. Thinking of 23 year olds today, my goodness! I can’t tell you how I got through it, I can just tell you that I did get through it. I don’t know how I did it. You just get through. I didn’t get through this alone though.
My Thank You’s
Thank you to my best friend, where I remember going out to dinner to a local Chili’s to catch up and as she was going through nursing school I decided to tell her about a painless lump in my neck that wouldn’t go away. I could tell by the way she looked at me when I told her that she was immediately concerned. I didn’t have a primary care doctor established (never needed one as I was relatively healthy) and she referred me to her local family doctor.
Thank you to that family doctor who sent me straight to get tests done because she had some major concerns. Also, thank you to her when she immediately had arranged for me to see an oncologist after I was read my cancer results.
Thank you to my assistant manager at the time, who was very caring and understanding when I had to call off work that day because I got this news and couldn’t come in because I was seeing the oncologist.
Thank you to my brother and my sister that day – my brother (who is 4 years younger than me) drove me to the oncologist because I was so upset. My sister left work and met me there as well.
Thank you to my uncle who was there for me every single step of the way and for all of the major appointments.
Thank you to my boyfriend at the time who took me to my very first PET scan and made sure I ate well and took me out for chicken wings. He calmed my fears that day.
Thank you to my aunt, uncle and boyfriend who came with me for my surgery and my boyfriend and his family buying us food all weekend.
Thank you to my sister, who sat with me for seven hours straight during my first chemo session (after she had worked all morning).
Thank you to my aunt who also came with me to my first chemo session and made sure to bring a bunch of snacks for me. (who was also caring for her sick mom at the time)
Thank you to my grandma who sat with me at every other chemo session after that. We would talk and talk and talk about life and everything else. Thank you to my grandpa for driving my grandma and me there and back every time.
Thank you to my boyfriend’s family at the time, because they took care of me and thank you for the golf outing that was put on to support me. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who donated and sponsored golf holes and thank you to my friends who made shirts, designed shirts, made jello shots and did just about everything for me that day.
Thank you to all of my friends who celebrated with me for each milestone of being done with chemo and being done with radiation and being cancer free.
Thank you to my brother in law for always driving me around and taking care of me when my sister needed a break.
Thank you to my sister who made dinner every night for me and kept the household running when I couldn’t even walk around because I was so sore and sick.
Thank you to my brother who used his clippers to shave my head when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
Thank you to so many wonderful friends, co-workers and acquaintances who sent me gift cards to myself and my family. So many random acts of kindness that it was overwhelming.
Thank you to my oncologist at Northwestern, because now I actually miss seeing you as much as I did before. I was always nervous to go to my doctor here locally, but all of the doctors and nurses at Northwestern eased my worries and actually cared about me.
Thank you to my uncle and my aunt who were with me every single step of the way when it came to more surgeries, doctors’ appointments and other procedures. Thank you to my uncle especially for sitting with me for 8 hours in a really boring room while I had my stem cells harvested.
Thank you to my sister who doesn’t like driving on the highway and made it to Northwestern once a week by train to visit me on her own.
Thank you to my brother in law for driving me or picking me up from Northwestern when my uncle couldn’t.
Thank you to my best friends, who came and visited me and most notably one of my friends always spending the night with me.
Thank you to my boyfriend at the time, who provided overwhelming support for me while I endured this, and who was so good to me when I needed him to be. It kept me distracted a lot of the times and you were one of the only people I wanted to talk to or lean on.
Thank you to all of my friends who visited me and brought me snacks and stuffed animals and had dinner with me. I will never forget all of my visitors.
Thank you to one of my nurses at Northwestern – who made a special “cocktail” for me for the Super Bowl and made everything so painless for me. Being a big sports fan, I watched the Super Bowl alone and it was weird for me because I was used to parties. She made a special concoction of ginger ale and cranberry for me and now I am addicted.
Thank you to my friend who visited me on Sundays – those were the best days to look forward to.
Thank you to my wonderful aunt who came with me to my last surgery because it was amazing to get to spend the day with you and get to talk to you like that.
Thank you to my awesome group of friends – where you believed in my ideas and my will power and signed up for many races to run in while I was still in the hospital fully knowing I was going to be okay and run with you.
Thank you to my amazing family who constantly checked in on me, brought me food and cared for me while I needed it.
Thank you to one of my bosses (and my now husband!) for emailing me while I was in the hospital demanding pictures of food and basically just demanding contact. It is amazing how you are a little part of this story and now you are the biggest part.
Thank you to my girls – you know who you are. You are all amazing to me and I just can’t imagine not having you in my life.
Thank you to my sister – because you were my biggest champion through all of this and there were times where I couldn’t take care of myself. I can’t list the millions of things you did for me, but know I will be forever grateful. When I came home from my long stay, I walked into a house that was already decorated.
Thank you to everyone who gave me encouragement, a card, a gift card, monetary donation, said a prayer or anything else – I had an immense amount of support and I’m sure there are people that I don’t even know who supported me also. If you are no longer a part of my life anymore or we have drifted a part, please know that if you were a part of my story you helped in some way and I will be forever grateful. I am the person I am today thanks to everyone who has come into my life.
I don’t feel what I did is extraordinary – the best quote I can share with you is “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”. That was my only choice. In my mind, I feel I did what anyone else would have done. It honestly took a lot of nights of self-reflection and days where I sat alone thinking in silence about certain situations or my road to recovery, but it also took a lot of venting sessions with a lot of my friends and a lot of my distractions helped also. It takes a village, and really, there isn’t enough support for the family or friends that go through this with you. Sure, you might be the cancer patient and you can only help yourself but what about the caretakers who feel helpless and try to understand what you are going through? I had so many people in my life who were my caretakers, but my core friends and family, I will never understand what they were thinking, just as they won’t understand my feelings. I was diagnosed at 23, my sister was 22 and my brother was 19. For my sister to go through this as well, we were all so young dealing with so many adult issues. The same goes for my friends and my various significant others throughout this road; they do not understand and everyone reacts differently. Some people aren’t geared to be there for other people or geared to take on such a big responsibility and it doesn’t make them a bad person, it’s just that they aren’t the ones that need to be there for you. The people that can handle these unfortunate events are the ones that are the strongest. I don’t blame the people who I lost along the road, because like I said, everyone reacts differently. I was so young, we were all so young going through this mess and I didn’t have parents that were there to help or be there for me. A lot of young people dealing with a mess of adult issues.
The last five years have been nothing but amazing; and while there has been heartache along the road and ups and downs, I know how to live life now. When I turned 30 last summer, it was very bittersweet because I was saying good-bye to my 20’s, which were truly life changing in every way. I know how to get through tough times and really dig deep and know that certain situations are only temporary. All that matters is your reaction and what you are going to do next. You absolutely cannot control life sometimes, but you can control how you react and your actions towards your outcome. I have amazing people in my life and people that support me in whatever I do and I only hope that I show that back. You can’t waste your life on people who don’t lift you up and on not being happy with yourself. You are missing out on so much if you aren’t doing things you truly love with the people who truly build you up and make you feel great.
Thank you for reading my longest post ever – this was an ode to the young girl who didn’t know what she was getting in to and how proud I am of that girl for getting through the hardest trials of her young life.
Until next time,
If you are a cancer survivor or cancer warrior right now and have some questions or need to talk, I am here. I am a part of several groups on Facebook where I give advice and share my story and experiences to other cancer survivors or current cancer patients now. If you need to talk to someone, I am here for you to vent <3
You can connect with me on any social media outlet or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the contact tab at the top of this page.
We are back for another edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight! I am excited to keep meeting people who are willing to share their stories with the world in hopes of providing inspiration to readers out there! Hopefully you can relate to one of these stories! Let me introduce you to Amber! Sustaining an injury that makes your life completely different is a mental challenge in itself. Needing to depend on people to do the simplest of tasks is very challenging. Here is Amber’s story.
My journey started on August 4, 2017. At work as a summer camp teacher for a preschool, I broke my left tibial plateau and changed my life forever. Before my injury, I was a very active, mostly happy person. My husband and I loved to go hiking, explore Richmond and attend festivals. I swam every weekday and ran every other day. At work, I engaged with my students by playing games and engrossing myself in their activities. I loved to cook and clean and care of my house. All of that changed on a field trip at work to the basketball gym.
The field trip went great! The children had a blast running drills, playing games and navigating an obstacle course. To wrap up our trip, we played a game of Sharks and Minnows where the teachers were the sharks and the students were the minnows. As I turned to catch a little minnow, my knee “gave out” when I turned wrong and I fell hard onto the floor. My body immediately went into shock. I could not cry or breathe or ask for help. It took a few minutes for anyone to notice that I was down for the count. I could not stand or put any amount of weight on my left leg. In order to not scare our students, they were quickly ushered onto the busses while we contacted my job, husband and brother-in-law. Then, I had to be carried out of the basketball gym by two men and put into a car, on my way back to work to access my situation. It was immediately determined that I needed to go to the hospital.
At the hospital with my brother-in-law in tow, the pain started to worsen as we found out that I had broken my tibial plateau. That’s right friends, I sustained an injury most common to pro athletes and car accident victims while running with kids at work. I spent four days in the hospital while doctors accessed my pain and surgeons decided when I would have surgery to fix the bone. During this time, my anxiety kicked in to the point that my heart rate would not go below 120 and my oxygen levels would not stabilize. This was the first time I have spent any amount of time in a hospital and was my first major injury. I was eventually sent home with a brace and pain meds, ordered to stay on bed rest until I would report to a different hospital on the 22 of August for surgery.
During my time on bed rest, I did not do well. Before my injury I was active and very independent. After my injury, I had to rely on my brother-in-law and my husband for everything. I had to use a walker in order to get from the couch to the restroom to the bedroom. I also assistance standing up and someone to spot me as I moved. My depression and anxiety made the walls move in on me more and more every day. The pain was barely manageable and that just put me into a darker hole.
Finally, the time for surgery came. My mother made the trip down from New Jersey to be with me seeing as this was my very first surgery and I was nervous out of my mind. The anxiety and nervousness I felt followed me all the way into the operating room. I was later told that it took more medication than usual to sedate me and I cried and begged for them not to do the surgery. All of this I personally do not remember. The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room alone and in a lot of pain. They took me up to my room where I got to see my mom, husband and brother-in-law. I spent four days in the medical unit while I built up my strength and will to stand and move around again.
I was then transferred to an inpatient rehab unit to further my progress. There is where I really blossomed and began healing. I was taught how to move using crutches while being non-weight bearing so that I would no longer have to be on bed rest. I was also taught how to care for myself while I was healing and building up my strength after surgery. I spent another four days in the rehab unit before they finally allowed me to return home.
At home, I began to explore my mobility and independence. I still needed a lot of help to complete simple tasks. For example, I could cook dinner for myself and my family, but I could not take my plate to the table. I returned to work shortly after being released from the rehab unit. I went back part time in order to attend therapy two days a week. While at work, I am confined to a chair and need assistance with carrying things or moving things around. Hopefully, when I am fully healed, I will become more useful.
Today, I still attend therapy two times a week and hope to add more hours at work. After three months of being non-weight bearing and using crutches to move, I am finally healed enough to being trying to walk again.
There is still a very long and hard road ahead of me, but with the support of my family and friends, I am finally in a better place mentally and have hope to be walking again for Christmas.
Thank you for reading about Amber’s story. I can’t imagine how with just the simplest of tasks you need to rely on someone to assist you. Thank God Amber had people in her life to help her and seems to have a great support group.
Please connect with Amber through her social media pages!
If you have a story you would like to share, please contact me on any social media platform below or contact me through the website. I would love to showcase your story if you are willing to tell it!
For more stories like Amber’s, please visit the Laugh Always Spotlight section or you can click on this story here —> When the Small Things Become Big
Until next time,
The Laugh Always Spotlight Edition features guest posts from members of the Laugh Always Ambassador Community. Laugh Always has been created to highlight those difficult journeys and to celebrate the badass people that live to share their journey. I welcome you to the second edition of the Laugh Always Spotlight!
I want to introduce you to Ariel. She is sharing a story about how the loss of a loved one has changed her view on life and what she has learned.