Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Things I Learned In 2011

I am not invincible. Like so many other 25-year-olds, I thought I was immune to all bad things. Injury and illness were far off in my future, I had youth and health on my side. Well, youth won’t keep you out of the hospital. I spent one month of 2011 living in one.

How to ask for help. I’ve always been stubborn and independent. I took a lot of pride in being self-sufficient about certain things. For me, asking for and receiving help quietly are hard to do. But being able to do so makes life so much easier.

I’m stronger than I thought. Not because of the things that have happened to me, but because of how I’ve chosen to deal with them.

When it comes to TV and movies, lighthearted is the way to go. If I’m going to escape into something, I want it to be enjoyable.

Life goes on. No matter how devastating something is, I still have to wake up the next day and go on with my life.

The saying “you can never go home again” is not true. In 2011, I moved back home  after seven years of being away. And I actually love being back. For years, I challenged myself to go outside of my comfort zone because I thought it was good for me, but that doesn’t make me happy. Being comfortable in my environment does.

Shaved poodles are kind of frightening. Poor Archie had a rough year too.

I used to take my fitness for granted. Not everyone can run, strength train, do yoga, or even move their body with ease. I can’t believe I never acknowledged how lucky I was to live pain-free before, and instead spent too much time wanting to be in better shape. Pfft.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can improve my quality of life. In 2010, I chased my dreams and found work I loved. Work I spent 14 hours a day doing and still struggled to pay my bills with. In 2011, I settled down and accepted an 8-4 desk job with a better paycheck. It doesn’t sound as fancy as chasing my dreams, but it’s a lot more satisfying in completely different ways. I really enjoy having a life outside of work rather than have work be my life.

Pets are good for your health. Getting a dog during treatment was one of the best decisions I ever made. There were concerns in the beginning he might put me at risk of illness because dogs aren’t “clean.” But my family and I work at making sure he’s always sanitized, and I will argue to the death that dogs can do amazing things for your mood and spirit. Buster kept me strong in other ways by putting a smile on my face every single day.

Happiness isn’t something that needs to be chased down or found. Oftentimes it can come to me wherever I am in the world just by opening myself up to it.

Having all the free time in the world is only an advantage when you feel well enough to do something with that time. Being unable to leave bed for days at a time is mind-numbingly boring. For those of you who complain about having too much to do, being stuck doing nothing can be just as bad.

You can, and should, french toast just about anything.

It is so, so important I find ways to feel proud of myself outside of what I am physically capable of doing. Being fit is great, but it shouldn’t be my only source of self worth. I don’t love my legs because of what they do for me, I love my legs because they are mine. I need hobbies that don’t just rely on the abilities of my body, because I can lose those abilities in a second.

I can’t let the opinions of others dictate how I deal with things. Anyone who has been ill, injured, or hell, pregnant, knows that some people feel like they are suddenly allowed to give unsolicited advice. Just because so-and-so went through a similar ordeal does not mean I’m going to go through my own ordeal in the same way. Some days I actually felt guilty for feeling so sick after chemo because I heard of others who didn’t. Or I felt like a wuss when I still couldn’t lift 10lbs months after my arm surgery. In reality, I am the only one who sets the bar with how I deal with my own unique situation.

Memorable Posts From 2011:

And just like that, my life changed…

Why I’m No Longer A ‘Healthy LIving Blogger’

A long, hard road

Three Weeks To A Diagnosis

Numbers

Radically Free

Lemon Cake For Three

The One About The Hair

Why Your Body Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Make You Happy

Time

Baking With Spoons

The Last Word On Body Weight

On Betrayal Of The Body

I started 2011 in January feeling sick. I had a 10-day fever in the first couple weeks. On February 11, I shattered my elbow and had reconstructive surgery. For months I struggled with a slow and frustrating recovery while learning how to live my life now being physically limited. Just as I started a new job and scheduled a follow-up surgery to hopefully fix my arm for good, I was diagnosed with cancer on June 22. I’ve been sick and weak every day since. I had what will hopefully be my last cancer treatment on December 21, and will take what will hopefully be my last cancer related drug on December 31.

2011 has hands down been the hardest, most challenging year of my life. I have grown and learned a lot. A lot of which I can appreciate, none of which I really cared to deal with so early in life.

I would just like to give a big “fuck you” to 2011. I am happy to see this shit year end. I’m not naive enough to believe that it will all be over when the clock strikes midnight. But I’m really fucking happy to shake 2011 off and face 2012 with a renewed sense of optimism and energy.

So here’s to a great New Year!!

Weekend Scenery

This weekend was the first good weekend I’ve had in a long while…

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Somewhere after treatment #6 three and a half weeks ago, I started to run out of steam. The physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the treatments and having cancer started to get to me. Rightfully so I think, as this is a journey with a lot of peaks and valleys. With that said though, I think it’s important to climb my way out of those valleys.

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A lot of my feeling good is just a combination of side effects and coincidences. First and foremost, the weather has been great. We’ve lucked out with a beautiful autumn in this area, and getting outside and moving my body is the best therapy I can think of.

On top of that, my lungs are feeling great. I didn’t realize how miserable I was gasping for air and coughing until I got some relief. At first I was really, really bummed to learn that the chemo poisoned my lungs. But the symptom relief has made me hopeful the damages won’t be forever, and that I won’t have to be on these steroids long enough for any major side effects to take place.

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One thing about feeling crappy all the time is that I’m stuck inside the house all the time. But this weekend I was able to get out of the house and it was so good for the soul! Excursions included an impromptu lunch at the neighbourhood diner, brunch with the fam, a scenic drive through back roads…

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There was apple picking with my sister!

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We gathered quite a bit, most of which I think is destined to become apple butter…

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I took care of the apple crisp right away, obviously.

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Not to mention, a surprise visit with some of my favourite people (my best friend’s mother, who I call my ‘second mom’). She snapped a future Christmas card photo of Buster and I.

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Apart from feeling good physically this weekend, I feel like I turned a corner emotionally. I wrote two posts last week that stimulated discussion and really got me thinking.

This past year has not been a good one for me. Before my cancer diagnosis in June, I had already been out of commission from getting reconstructive surgery on my arm. I haven’t been in good physical health since before 2011. Being unwell for such a prolonged period of time really started to get to me. As I expressed last week, I am ready for this cancer and broken arm thing to be OVER so I can just move on with my life already.

But in writing this out last week, I started to realize that it was not good to compare the life I have now to the one I had before. To compare the body I have now to the one I had before. The comments and e-mails I got from people only helped grow that seed further.

Something clicked with me this weekend, and I realized that I am never going to be the person who I was in 2010, or 2009, etc, etc. Instead it’s time I start coping with the fact that I am a person living with a disease. For so long I was scared of embracing my cancer because 1) I wanted an identity outside of my disease, and 2) I didn’t want to welcome the cancer into my body in any way.

However, I think the idea that I can just ditch my cancer to curb is what makes me feel like I am standing still until it’s gone. Instead, I am a young woman living and loving life with a disease. I do not have to wait until the disease is gone to do those things. The peaks and valleys that come with cancer don’t just exist for the duration of treatment, but will exist for the duration of my life. I realize that I should just embrace and expect it, rather than think things will ever go back to being “normal.”

The person I used to be was pretty rad, but the new me, the future me, will be just as great. Believe it or not, now that I’ve started accepting my illness as part of who I am, I feel more like myself again. Best of all however, this weekend I felt like I started moving forward again. But this time I am not moving towards any finish line, this time I’m just enjoying the scenery of the ride.

Time

I have learned a lot of lessons since being diagnosed with cancer four months ago. Things that some people don’t learn until they are several decades into life. There is one lesson however that I’ve come to realize I am having a hard time to learn and has to do with time.

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You see, when I began chemotherapy three months ago, there was talk of the possibility of my not doing the whole six months of chemo. Hodgkins responds very well to chemo, as proved after my first treatment when all my cancer symptoms vanished immediately.

But after meeting with my oncologist last week, I learned that the mass in my chest was just too large to be blasted out so quickly. I’ll have to do the full six months, with an additional six weeks of radiation still up in the air.

So at this point, that is only three more months of chemo. Maybe several weeks of radiation. To people looking in on the outside, that probably seems totally doable. To me however, the person who has to deal with the effects of these treatments and cancer every minute of my life, it’s an eternity.

I was talking about this with my dad, who was trying to convince me that in the grand scheme of things, being out of commission for 8 or so months of my life with this cancer thing isn’t that long. In my mind I started trying to do the math on what percentage 8 months of my 25 years is, compared to 8 months of his 57 years. I couldn’t come up with an answer, apart from the fact that it’s a lot longer duration for someone my age compared to someone his age.

My point being is that cancer will make a person grow up a lot, but there are some things that I can only learn with time. More specifically in this case, how to deal with time itself.

I would have never previously labelled myself as an impatient person. In fact, my rare patience is something I valued. But these days, as each treatment, each day, each minute spent being sick drags on, I feel my patience being tested. Time is always looming over me, whether it be the day I’m declared cancer-free, or the day I’m told the cancer has come back. Neither of which of course can be revealed until due time.

These days when I get upset and frustrated over what is happening, it’s not the “why me?” it used to be. It’s the “I want this to be over NOW” foot-stamping temper tantrums. I am so ready for this to be over, but time just isn’t moving fast enough for me.

As I feel worse with each passing day, the following day stretches out into something that feels longer. Three months can pass in a flash when you’re having fun, but it slows to a snail’s pace when you’re grasping to find the energy just to get through it.

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I know this is an honest and perhaps depressing post for a Monday, but it’s a very real reflection of something not only I as a cancer patient struggle with, but I think anyone who is sick or injured struggles with.

If anything, let it be a reminder that not everything is “over before you know it.” Because living through some things often gets very real, very gruelling, and very hard. That is assuming of course it is ever over. My cancer may come back. I still can’t straighten my injured left arm. And apparently, I’m still not very good at mental math.

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