I’m long overdue for an update, but for the longest time I didn’t know what to write about. I waited almost four months, so now there’s plenty to talk about!
First things first. I had my second follow up scan and I continue to be in remission! My doctors say that the first year after chemo is when recurrence is most likely to happen (which already is a low chance for the type of cancer I have) and after the first year the recurrence drops significantly. So I’m halfway out of the “danger zone” which is a great feeling.
The last time I wrote a post over three months ago, I wrote about a new normal life I was getting used to. I was accepting my body, which had been physically and mentally beat up by cancer treatment. I was accepting my limitations. I told myself to be gentle to myself. Just do what I can do and that’s better than doing nothing. I was accepting my long term side effects and my post cancer body.
Time does heal. I had neuropathy in my hands throughout chemo and after. But about four months after I finished chemo, I noticed I no longer had neuropathy!
I was dealing with a lot of chemo brain. I was more forgetful and didn’t have the same sharp memory I had before. I was learning to accept my new brain, the one that forgets things and suddenly loses my train of thought while in the middle of talking. But recently, I realized that my brain still is pretty sharp. I’m not forgetting things so much and I’m able to remember things without writing them down like I did before. Perhaps the chemo brain is fading or maybe I’m retraining my brain again. My mind feels sharp.
My hair is growing back! I no longer look like a cancer patient. I’m surprised when I get compliments for my hair, since I never chose this hairstyle. I’m using a hair dryer again!
My physical abilities is where I was the most concerned. I thought there was no way I was going to be physically as strong and in the same shape as I was pre cancer, much less pre baby. Fatigue is a long term side effect of chemo too. I told myself just to try and do what I can. I started small and had to remind myself that doing something was better than doing nothing. I did 20 minute workouts at home using body weight or light weights (bottles of lotion!). I started going to yoga again. I didn’t go crazy chatarunga pushups like the old Allie would have. Then I joined a gym by my work and tried lunch time work outs. Just 30 minutes of interval strength training. I also decided to go back to teaching BODYPUMP, which I was nervous about since I’m not in the same shape I was before.
What did I learn from all of this? I’ll never know what I’m capable of unless I just try. I can do push-ups on my toes! I’m planking for over a minute! I’m doing box jumps! I’m leading a 60 minute strength class using light weights and role modeling to my students that we all have to start somewhere before we can achieve bigger things. I still have a long way to go. Seven months ago I was finishing chemo and just had a baby, so I think my progress is pretty damn good! I would have never achieved this if I didn’t 1) accept my new self and 2) forgive myself for anything I can’t do.
Thanksgiving is a time to pause and reflect on what we are thankful for. For me, it’s also the anniversary of my diagnosis. Last year, the entire month of November was the culmination of my diagnosis. I remember finishing our family pictures and coughing so hard that I felt a sharp pain in my side. It was my rib fracturing from all the coughing. I tried to push through the pain and continue on with normal life. The pain was too much that I succumbed to getting an X-ray. The week before Thanksgiving, I got an X-ray and CT scan that showed a huge mass in my chest. I met an oncologist that told me I may have cancer. Two days before Thanksgiving, I got a biopsy of my mass. I agonized for a week waiting for the results. I had to pretend I was fine at Thanksgiving, when I was a wreck inside. I sat in an empty conference at work talking to my oncologist on the phone about my diagnosis. I spent my wedding anniversary (November 29) meeting my oncology team for the first time.
That was only a year ago but it feels like an out of body experience that was a lifetime ago. This year, Thanksgiving (and the entire month of November) is extra special. It’s like I get to redo November, but this time being able to enjoy it. I’m thankful for my health, my family who helped me through the last year, and my miracle baby Joel who is here for his first Thanksgiving.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about everything I went through. But now, I find myself thinking about it less. I am physically looking and feeling less like a cancer patient and feeling more triumphant each day, but I’ll carry cancer in the back of my mind for the rest of my life.
“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars” -Richard Evans