A lot has changed over the last three years. My hair is longer, my scars have faded, and my pill count is down to just two a day. But I still don’t feel normal.
For two and a half years I followed the treatment protocol to a T. My original life plan was sidetracked for one that involved weekly trips to an oncology clinic, spinal taps, and bone marrow biopsies – and, of course, a chemo cocktail. Among the blood, spinal fluid, and bits of hip bone taken from me, I lost a big chunk of who I was and where I was going.
My normal for two and a half years revolved around a carefully planned protocol. One that involved adjusting my life timeline, and three medical professionals that became like a family to me.
Then my treatment ended and my medical family left me so that they could help save someone else. For the second time in three years, my normal had to change again. This time with thankfully fewer drugs and needles and more time for family and wedding planning. But after leaving treatment, it’s like there is this hole inside of you and there is nothing you can do can fill it. At some point during treatment, you realize your body was trying to kill you and those people in white lab coats weren’t so bad for poking you with needles. You stopped trusting yourself and started trusting people with medical degrees, and then those people are taken from you, and you’re left with no one to trust and no routine to rely on anymore.
Initially, I thought I could heal faster by pretending that everything was okay. That one day I would wake up and feel like myself again. But as we all know that doesn’t work – even while on the outside I started to look healthy my insides were a mess. All of that time treatment had been physically healing me, but I realize now that healing physically is only half the battle, after the pills, chemicals, and visits end – you need to work on healing your soul.
In my search to find a new normal, I want to find answers to my questions. I want to know if I will always have a cold for two weeks and if it’s okay to freak out every time I see a bruise. I want to know if chemo brain will ever go away, or if I’m stuck always looking for the words on the tip of my tongue.
I want to create new activities, find a new routine and build new friendships. I want to create friendships where I won’t be re-thinking every silly thing I say, and where it’s okay when I need to overshare because something reminded me of that time a guy accidently nicked my artery. I want to know it’s okay to cry, and that labeling myself as a cancer survivor isn’t a bad thing. That it’s okay to be happy I made it to the other side of chemo, and that I don’t have to feel this constant guilt for being a lucky one. Because that’s what treatment sometimes comes down to – dumb luck.
I want to find answers to why this happened.
In my new normal I want to have more energy, I want to take more risks, and I want to be free from the lingering questions.
I finally feel ready to start healing and create a new normal. And the first step for me is building this community.
For me, the journey after chemo is about learning to trust my body again. To put faith in that it won’t try to kill me. Part of my healing process is to share what I’ve kept in over the course of my first year out of treatment, and my hope is that it will help someone going through something similar feel less alone.