One year ago today, I received my last chemo treatment.
It was a long day.
Since I had opted to get my chemo intravenously rather than via port, my veins, never great to begin with, had deteriorated considerably. I did everything the nurses told me to do to alleviate my ‘vein’ problem. I drank huge amounts of water prior to arrival and I pumped a one-pound dumbbell, hoping to plump up my veins. To no avail.
It took a special IV team almost three hours to get the IV started. After at least 5 or 6 attempts, I requested some sort of relaxer. The nurse gave me a pill to hold under my tongue. In a New York minute, I was loopy–I didn’t care if they found a vein or not. Finally, one brave vein, deep within my muscle tissue, allowed the needle.
Even though it was a rough start, I still remember the elation I felt as my husband and I walked through the hospital doors after having spent almost 8 hours getting the chemo. I was jubilant! The day was clear and the flowers of fall– yellow and red mums, multi-colored pansies–lined the sidewalk. This was my last treatment! My last treatment! I felt like tossing my hat into the air and showing my totally bald head to the world! But I didn’t. Instead, we drove through a fast food restaurant and I enjoyed hamburger and fries–not exactly the best diet for a cancer patient, but I wanted to celebrate!
Slowly, over the next few months, my hair came back. It took forever to grow, or so it seemed to me. And, of course, it came back gray–I’d been hoping for red or blonde, even. There is a little curl to it now, when before, it had hung straight as raw spaghetti noodles.
Even more slowly, my energy returned. About a week after treatments, I could drag myself out of the house and walk up to the stop sign in our neighborhood—not very far, maybe a two houses down from my own. But I did it, almost everyday. Being outside cheered me up and reminded me there was a world that had nothing to do with cancer, a world I couldn’t wait to rejoin.
Now, one year to the day later, I’m engaging life at full throttle. I’m busy with work, making new friends, adjusting to my new home. I have big plans for the future and high hopes these dreams of mine can come true. If something doesn’t go my way or a blue mood strikes, all I have to do is remember where I was one year ago. Amazingly, the disappointment disappears and I am grateful to be breathing and healthy and cancer-free. I am humbled by my cure (I won’t be officially declared ‘cured’ until I’m cancer-free for five years) because I know not everyone makes it through this journey. I am deeply grateful.
Cancer changes people. While I have not had any huge epiphanies or deep spiritual insights, cancer has made me more filled with awe and gratitude for our amazing world. It has revealed the kindness and generosity coming from dear friends and from people I barely know. I’ve been showered with love and prayer. When I consider these blessings, even as I write these words, tears of joy spring to my eyes.
Unlike others who have travelled this road, I do not think cancer has made me a better person or turned my life in a newer, freer direction. I am not grateful I got the disease. But I am extremely thankful for good doctors, loving friends and family, loving strangers. I’m happy to find that one year out, I’m feeling great. I’m excited about my life–this life–not some fantasy life I will never have, this life, the one God and I continue to weave. I am thrilled to find myself, one year out, still me. Me with scars and memories of all sorts, me with hair, without hair, just me….on the planet with the great jumble of souls that populate it, me a part of it all.