To someone on the outside, I bet it makes sense that going through the rigorous treatment for cancer would be the hardest part of a diagnosis. Getting the diagnosis is earth shattering and the following treatment is no walk in the park. Hospital stays, surgery, radiation rays through the skin. Yeah, on the outside that doesn’t sound fun at all.
But from the time of my diagnosis, I’ve been on a focused path of being cancer-free again. I stopped going to work and instead woke up every day with only one job to do – get healthy again.
But what happens when I am healthy again? For six months, my life has been going to appointments, taking pills, dealing with fatigue and illness, and of course, walking the dog. But when the cancer is gone and I get a clear bill of health, how am I going to jump back into “normal” life as a citizen of the world again? I haven’t even been inside a shopping mall for six months!
In my opinion, being told you’re cancer-free is arguably harder than the initial diagnosis itself. With cancer I was told what to expect, but I have no idea what to expect of life post-cancer. Even as my hair grows back, the chemo fog lifts, and the fatigue slowly melts away, will I ever feel truly healthy again? There will always be a looming scan in the future and fear of hearing another diagnosis from a doctor’s lips.
Currently I am in this weird waiting period between my last chemo and a scan checking in on its effect. The scan will either show lingering cancer the doctors will want to radiate, or show no signs of cancer and I get to skip out of the hospital cancer-free once again.
But waking up cancer-free knowing what it’s like to wake up with cancer is not as relieving and joyous as it sounds. Especially in the first few months as my body slowly recovers and I learn to adjust back to my old life. As I adjust to being a girl in her 20′s again instead of that sick girl who watches too many movies.
I remember driving home from the hospital after being chained to an IV pole in the oncology ward for a month. It is so, so weird to be stuck inside one building for that amount of time. Kind of what I imagine jail to be like. Even though I was in my hometown the whole time, as I drove toward my house, it all felt so strange and foreign. My house was the same, but I was walking through it differently with a whole new perspective.
As I come closer to my cancer-free date, I feel very similar. Although this time I’ve been free to move around, it’s as if the news will allow me to step outside this bubble I’ve been living in for six months. In some ways it will be a refreshing breath of fresh air. In other ways, it will also feel so strange and foreign. The world will certainly look a lot different, and that can be scary.
I am not trying to be poetic here. In all seriousness, the first thing I’m doing when I’m cancer-free is walking into a bar and ordering a drink.
And then another.
It’s hurry up and wait time around here again. It’s been two weeks since my last chemo with three more weeks until the scan that will show if there’s any cancer left. I figured there’s no better way to signify this waiting period than to make dough…
And wait for it to rise.
No, not bagels yet (soon, I promise!). But this week I tackled another bread that’s been on the to-do list for a while – pita bread!
I’ve finally figured out the environment that best encourages active yeast and rising dough in my kitchen. I start with 100F degree water with a few pinches of sugar and activate the yeast with a hot, damp towel over the bowl in the microwave (turned off, obviously). It gets wonderfully bubbly after 10 minutes.
My newest trick?
A KitchenAid stand mixer!! It was a Christmas gift. So shiny. So beautiful. So dang useful. I broke it in by allowing it to knead the dough for 10 minutes while I rested my gimp left arm.
My next trick for rising dough is sticking it back in the microwave with a hot towel over top and a couple thermoses of boiling water.
Punching it is arguably the best part. Makes all that waiting worth it.
For pita bread, you have to divide the dough and roll it into balls first.
Once the dough is settled, roll it out and stick it in a very hot oven. I had mine a bit hotter at 450F. This is where you can gasp and yelp in amazement.
THEY PUFF UP!! I promptly called my sister into the room going “Look! Look!” Once you place the flat dough on the hot pan in the oven, it only takes seconds for them to start bubbling up and separating in the middle.
The recipe I followed can be found here. The pita bread was delicious, but I wouldn’t say perfect for my first attempt. Not all of them puffed fully and I found they were too fluffy. I would definitely recommend the hotter oven temperature and I think next time I’ll roll them out thinner. They also really do get crispy when kept in the oven for longer than three minutes.
Coincidentally, I had some homemade hummus on hand. (a very basic version – 1 can drained chickpeas, 2 tbsp liquid from can, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp tahini, 2 small cloves garlic, 1 tsp cumin, salt, pepper, all in the food processor!)
In completely unrelated news…
MY MOM GOT A PUPPY!!
Her name is Maggie Mae, her previous owner named her Megara, which my mom said was too ‘cumbersome.’ She’s a 12-week-old Havanese. Super shy and cuddly. So soft and fluffy!
Buster scared the bejesus out of her when he came bounding into my mom’s house and straight for her. He, err, comes on a little strong with other dogs sometimes.
And in more news, I’m calling the vet today to get Buster fixed. No more waiting with that one!
Yup, I am one of those annoying people not jumping on the resolution train this year. Partly because I now face another year having not completed my goals from the year before. But also because I am too exhausted from the cancer debacle to force myself to do anything other than recover and get better in this new year.
In 2011, I set out to make switches rather than goals:
1. Switch out sugary desserts with natural sweets.
2. Switch out 5 minutes of internet time with meditation time.
3. Switch out one workout a week with yoga.
4. Switch out unreplied emails for replied ones.
Well, I am here to tell you that I did not successfully complete any of them! In my defense, six weeks after I set these goals, I shattered my left elbow and couldn’t do yoga anymore. I hate meditating. I have a sweet tooth that a piece of fruit will never be able to satisfy. And well, the email thing is always a headache. I have a bad habit of reading emails on my phone, marking them as “read,” then forgetting to ever reply.
I used to be a big goal setter, and I do still think there is a time and place for them. But when it comes to “life” I now know there are just too many variables to think I can set myself on a linear path. The universe has very much forced me to become a “go with the flow” type person, and I sometimes feel there is just too much rigidity to goals. Plus, why would I ever want to set myself up for failure? That’s just depressing.
In August 2011, shortly after I started chemotherapy, I listed newer, more fun goals. I would instead call them things to look forward to, rather than additional items to add to my to-do list.
1. Write an outline for a book.
2. Travel somewhere in North America.
3. Bake croissants and bagels.
4. Get a dog.
See? Doesn’t that sound so much better?
As for #1, I flip flop with this a lot. I feel like every person with a cancer diagnosis is writing a book these days. It took me a really long time to come up with a concept that I think is different and would appeal to a mass audience. With that said, I feel like I still need more space from this cancer thing before I start seriously writing it. I also don’t think I’d make any money off a book, so I’m not sure if the time I put into it would be worth it.
As for #2, if I’m healthy enough I plan on travelling to Boulder, Colorado in May for the Blend Retreat! #3 will likely happen in the next few months. I’m going to start on #5 as soon as I’m told I’m cancer-free (soon, I hope!).
And we all know how #4 turned out :)
Instead of fretting over resolutions this year, Buster Bartholomew and I headed over to my mom’s house for a New Year’s feast! I still can’t drink until my chemo meds wear off, so I cooked like a fiend instead.
Three kinds of meatballs, 60 in total, with dipping sauces for each.
Leah’s Lemon Rosemary Turkey Meatballs. I didn’t make the sauce for these, but found that hummus was the perfect dipping sauce! They were also good with leftover cranberry sauce from Christmas dinner.
Sweet and Sour Pork Meatballs. I didn’t make the sauce for these either and instead dipped in bottled plum sauce.
This New Year’s Eve was certainly much more low key than I’m used to, and I’m not really a “low key” person when it comes to these things. But I’ll make up for it next year. I’ve got a lot of making up to do in 2012!
Meanwhile, it seems Archie’s resolution was to be nicer to Buster. Even if it’s only for short periods at a time.
Anyone else out there make any resolutions?