December 31, 1999, I rang in the New Year on the couch at my former in-laws house. Having spent the day at the mall in Capitola, California watching my head of beautiful long red hair become a pixie cut in preparation for chemotherapy that would be starting in the coming weeks, I felt only fear and dread as I watched the clock hit midnight and 2000…the decade of my 30’s…officially begin. January 2000, was a blur and yet I remember so many moments of it like it was yesterday. I associate those days with painful experiences, both physical and mental. Experiences that I wish I could forget, but know I never will.
My 30th birthday was spent at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, in an x-ray room laying flat on my back for several hours having a lymph-angiogram in an attempt to determine what Stage my Lymphoma should be categorized. Birthday dinner that year was a taco and a Diet Coke from Jack in the Box fast food restaurant at 11:00p.m. as my ex-husband and I drove home in silence exhausted by the events of the day. There were more long and painful tests to come, until the final verdict…I was “toast”…could be delivered by my Doc.
During those days, the phone rang and was used incessantly. I simply couldn’t get away from it. There were tests to schedule, people to tell about my cancer diagnosis and its latest developments and insurance companies to fight with. In fact, it might be that time of my life that is most directly responsible for my aversion to talking on the phone now when I’m at home. To this day, when the phone rings during the evening or weekend, my first thought…before I even know who is calling…is, “Sigh…what now?!”
Chemo started and I was bald about two and a half weeks later. A month or so after that, the pretty girl that I remembered being in my 20’s had been replaced by a strange creature that looked suspiciously like Uncle Fester from The Adams Family. This doesn’t do much for one’s self esteem…especially when you know that if you are going to put any sort of string of survival together, you and Fester are going to be “together” for the long haul.
I wonder what you will think when I tell you that there hasn’t been a single day of the last decade…the entire span of my 30’s…when one of the first thoughts of my day and one of the last before I go to sleep doesn’t surround cancer? I wonder what you will think when I tell you that I have lived with an almost constant sense of fear that suddenly the reaper will realize that I snuck out of line…that I haven’t followed protocol…and that I have cheating death longer than I should have been allowed? I wonder if you know what it’s like to try to bargain with a killer for just a few more months…or years? I wonder if you can understand the guilt that I have felt as I have watched friends and loved ones lose their battles, while I still muddle through? And, I wonder if you have any idea what it feels like not have any clue why cancer loves…and hates…me so much?
The last decade has been a fight for my life. With that fight came incredibly beautiful moments, breathtaking experiences, relationships that bolster and inspire…and fear, ugliness and pain. I’ve spent my 30’s trying to stay alive and as much as has been allowed by my situation, trying to have a life. As we welcome a new year…a new decade…and I eagerly await my 40th birthday, I’ve decided that having a life is going to take precedence over simply trying to stay alive. Gone forever is business as usual in my cancer care…I’ve taken the reigns and I’m leading the charge.
For me, pumping my body full of chemicals and radiation to kill…or slow…cancer and a poor diet was no longer working. It was time for me to empower myself to take control of my body and my cancer experience. I stopped all of my traditional cancer treatment, fired the docs that didn’t support my decision and looked for a new path which I happened to find while talking to someone in the CT Scan line.
Through a regimented diet (and I do mean regimented!) and a naturopathic approach to cancer care, I am welcoming 2010 feeling (and looking) better than I have in years. It hasn’t been easy, but as I have repeatedly had to remind myself when I wanted to “cheat”…this isn’t about the perfect pair of jeans…this is about my life. And, for the first time in a decade, I truly believe that there is a LONG life in there to be had!
I wish you a peaceful end to 2009 and with the stroke of midnight…optimism, courage and joy for 2010. No day is promised and nothing is easy, but my wish for you is that you find the strength to make the most of every second you have. YOU (and I) are worth it!
Happy New Year!
December 23, 2009