Cancerversary Part 2. Fighting the Demons

Cancerversary-n. – 1._______________ 2. The anniversary of my first Cancer diagnosis

Part 2. Fighting the Demons

When I was diagnosed with cancer the first time, the reactions I received were puzzling to me. I needed someone to listen to me, and comfort me. I desperately needed to know my life mattered. I was placated. I was talked down to. No one I approached at first was there for me in the way I needed them to be. In defense of many, there is no rule book or training program on how to react to or support someone who has just found out they have cancer. I sought out other survivors to talk to. I discovered a lot of bitter survivors out there. Many who did not get the support they needed, the very same support I was seeking.  I had one tell me “don’t talk to me until your hair falls out, that’s when it’s real cancer”.

I was shocked at how often I was dismissed. I was almost penalized because my cancers were not “real” because I never had to have radiation or chemotherapy.  I am very lucky and fortunate to have a team of doctors who encouraged me to get regular examinations. This is why all were detected in the early stages.  At one of my appointments I heard someone told, who just found out they had Thyroid cancer, by another patient in the waiting room, ”Oh you’re lucky, that’s an easy cancer”. I was just floored. This is one example of many, many, times I witnessed and experienced what I now call a cancer hierarchy. Some cancers are “respected” and some not.  I still find this bizarre and heartbreaking.

Depression set in. My insecurity levels were through the roof. I was experiencing survivor guilt. Why was my cancer not as advanced as others? Why was I allowed to live when others lost their lives?  I shut down.  I internalized all my feelings and emotions. With each new diagnosis I would barely even mention it to anyone. I would tell people when they asked where I was “oh just another doctor’s appointment”. Shutting people out was a defensive mechanism. I was not getting the support I needed. Part of this was my own fault due to my withdrawing. I did have good friends who were there for me. I was just so withdrawn at this point to know they were there.

I became increasingly bitter and angry with my life. I made a lot of bad decisions. I trusted the wrong people, dated the wrong men. I was desperately trying to recreate my life and I was going about it all the wrong way. Not to mention, I was still using tanning beds. I was on a crash course to destruction.  I was haunted by these demons of needing support and self-worth but shutting everyone out. The only thing that I started doing remotely good was working out and running. It was more for the therapeutic properties, but I was doing it regularly. During what was now a habitual morning run I realized I wanted to run away, again. So I did, I moved. I moved to another state, I started over. I wiped my slate clean. I took back my life.  It wasn’t that easy at first, a couple painful wrong decisions were made in the process…but moving away ended up being one of my best decisions yet.  This is my first public admission that I was, in fact, running away.

I made new friends, found my independence. I reconnected with old friends, good people in my life.  I put my demons in a closet and shut the door, locked it, and threw away the key. I was me again, happy, full of life and laughter.    I began dating the man I would now call my husband.  We relocated to Las Vegas and married in our home state in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by friends and family.

A few years passed and my life was settling into normal. It had been a while since I’d last heard “you have cancer”.  I began having symptoms like when I had cervical cancer, but different, very different. I was scared, here we go again? So I called my doctor. At my last appointment he had said with my new healthy habits it was as if I was reversing the damage that cancer had done.  I made an appointment just to be safe. I had a battery of tests done and only one came back positive….

Previous Post:

Part 1. The Diagnosis

Still to come:

Part 3.  Time to get healthy

Part 4.  My message to you

 

Cancerversary Part 1. The Diagnosis

Cancerversary-n. – 1._______________ 2. The anniversary of my first Cancer diagnosis

Those of you who follow my blog have come to realize that with the exception of a race recap I start all posts with a word. I then define the word, and then give my own personal definition of the word. Today, the word does not have an “official” definition.

This is my cancer story. I have never shared the full story. Only bits and pieces because I have too many painful memories that I have chosen not to face. My apologies for the length, but I am ready to share my life with cancer with you.  There are still some parts of the story that I may never share. It is too painful and personal.

Part 1. The diagnosis.

15 years ago today, September 18, 1997 I was diagnosed with cancer for what would be the first time of many to come. So many times that the dates blur, but this date I remember vividly. I even remember that it was a Thursday.

 

The day I was diagnosed with melanoma, I was in my 20’s. My worst health fear in my 20’s was trying to avoid getting the flu. Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever think I would hear “you have cancer”.

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s where being tan was beautiful. My sisters were lifeguards. They were popular for their tans. I am the fair skinned one of the three of us. I could never tan. I would use baby oil, a foil beach towel. I tried everything I could to get a tan. Then in the late 80’s & 90’s tanning beds came around and I was a frequent user. Couple this with family history and I was a shoe in. I had no clue. Not until that day.

I have had 10 total melanomas removed since that day. The worst and most advanced ones were in the beginning. To my surprise I had melanoma in places (pardon the phrase) where the sun didn’t shine. That was an eye opener. My most recent was on my stomach in August 2 years ago.

Melanoma is deadly, but survivable if caught early. I have been fortunate to have caught all of mine early enough where my treatment ended with the surgical removal or excision of the melanoma. I’ll touch more on this later in Part 2.

When you are told you have cancer, no matter your age, no matter who you are, you are scared. You are faced with thoughts you are not prepared to deal with. With each person it is different based upon life situation, but everyone is scared. I drove close to 30 miles to tell my husband.  I needed a hug, comfort, someone to confirm my life mattered. I was met with “it’s not even real cancer, don’t be so dramatic”.  My world came crashing in on me. I was faced with way too much reality that day. Way too much.

I went home and wanted to run away, from everything. I wanted to talk to someone, but after what had happened I internalized everything. I put on some old cross training shoes and took off out the door and ran. I don’t know how far I went but I remember stopping in the middle of the street and falling into a ball, crying.

I had surgery to remove an area the size of a small nerf football from my back. My doctors were concerned that due to the size and not knowing how long it was there, it may have spread. They prepared me for the worst. Imagine being in your 20’s and having a doctor tell you that there is a possibility you may need to consider “getting things in order”.  The fact is, you can’t imagine.

Fast forward a couple years, I was divorced, my life had fallen apart and I was slowly picking up the pieces.  I was still going to the doctor every 3 months to monitor all my moles, freckles and previous surgical sites. To say I had been carved up like a turkey is an understatement. I was collecting scars like some people collect airport magnets.

I can’t remember if I found the lump in my breast first, or if it was the mammogram? Like I said, after so many melanomas things began to blur. I just remember the doctor saying we need to do a needle biopsy while you are here.  Then the conversation took place of the possibility melanoma may have metastasized but pray for this to be isolated. My mother had a tough battle with breast cancer when I was in my early teens. Those images flooded through my head. Her history was why I was able to get mammograms at such an early age.

The tests were puzzling to the doctors. To some, it was precancerous, to others, early stage 1 breast cancer. The final decision was it was very early stage 1. Bottom line, the lump had to go.  After further testing, I received good news. It was a completely separate cancer and not melanoma that had spread.

Then during my annual Pap smear my doctor gave me “the look”. I had learned to recognize this look from all of my doctors. I was lying on the exam table and just laughed. I remember saying “you have GOT to be kidding me?”  She shook her head and pulled out a gadget and the next thing I knew another piece of me was sent off for a biopsy.

I now had a cancer hat trick. Melanoma, Breast, and now Cervical cancer was joining the party.

I went through a very painful (to me) treatment process. I went for weekly cryo (freezing) treatments. Also more tests to make sure this too was not melanoma or breast cancer that had metastasized.  My doctors were amazed. Seemed I had the cancer gene, but also, the cancer fighting gene.  Then they had the talk with me that the chances of me having a child were not good due to the damage to my cervix.  That was the second run where I crumbled in the street crying.

Part 2.  Fighting the Demons

Part 3.  Time to get healthy

Part 4.  My message to you