Poisoned, Chopped Up & Burnt: A Novel

Rooftop dinner, Ribfest, Soccer games at Landsdowne, Canada day traditions, and s'mores by the fire (featuring the cutest family selfie EVER).

Over the winter, my blog became my friend and confidante, my own way of being "social" when I wasn't able to leave my bed. More recently, however, as the fog has lifted and I have been able to return back to normal, I have been feeling less and less inclined to spend time inside on my computer and feeling more and more inclined to go out and do all the things I have been missing out on.

The first thing I want to do when I am all healed up (more details on my disgusting, terrible, horrible sunburn below...) is jump into a pool and SWIM. It is so hilarious because I have always been a tanning-poolside kind of girl but naturally as soon as I am not allowed to go swimming, it's all I can think about. Soo typical.

I have been busy. I always like to keep busy, but my life the past month has re-defined what busy means to me. Going to the hospital every single day is time consuming, draining, and frustrating. The only benefit has been the hangout time my mom and I have had: we've had the best adventures,  incorporating fun lunch dates, (window) shopping trips and car dance parties into our insanely long hospital afternoons.

Radiation has not been at the same time every day, which has made it nearly impossible to have any sort of routine. Some days I am in for 10AM, some days not until 12 or 1 o'clock. I have given up on any sense of real "normalcy" or routine as I have been progressively getting more and more tired as the days go by. I am drained of any sort of energy by 6PM most days and need my afternoon naps.

The burns are nasty. No other way to put it. It is not like your typical sunburn. I started peeling and then the fresh skin underneath got burnt as well and it is now peeling too. My skin has changed from being brown and tanned to black. The worst areas are definitely my collarbone and under the breast. Now, it isn't unbearable (yet). They prescribe creams for itching and healing and I've been instructed not to put anything else on the wounds. I originally panicked when I read that I wasn't allowed to shave under my arm during treatment, but slowly realized that I needn't worry: I am so burnt that no hair is growing anyways. My last treatment is Tuesday (!!!!!) and about 14 days after my last treatment they said to expect the skin to fully peel off and then I can start getting back on track.

They say it's supposed to get worse... how in the heck is it supposed to get worse then this...

I also had my second round of Herceptin, and I am sooo happy to say I survived this one with minimal side effects. The stomach pain and headaches have (almost) completely disappeared.

I went to go for a follow up MRI a few weeks ago because my headaches were so bad. They wanted to do a scan of my brain to make sure all was OK up there. Anyways, as most of you know, MRI's are not very pleasant. I had my IV put in, changed into my blue hospital gown (I seriously think I should just own my own set at this point), and went to go in the machine. My specialist ran over to me before I started and said 'Wait! You have an expander in your chest, don't you? What make is it? Some expanders have metal in them...'. Surely enough, mine is one that is made with metal. This means I am not able to go for an MRI while I have it in. I am very annoyed at this.

An MRI is the most accurate way to see what is going on inside the body, and it does so without using any radiation (cat scans, x-rays etc. use radiation, which can possibly cause a second cancer later on in life which I would obviously like to avoid).

Fifteen dollars in parking, an unnecessary IV and 3 hours at the hospital later they sent me packing and said there was nothing left they could do. Although I haven't voiced it, the cancerous lymphnode in my chest has been a major cause of stress for me. I realized then that I wouldn't be able to get a read on how it is progressing until this dumb, rock hard expander was taken out of my chest. I had anger towards my plastic surgeon for possibly inserting something into my body for purely cosmetic reasons that was preventing me from looking after my health. The whole idea here is to make sure I come out cancer-free... right? Additionally, I can't even have it removed because you are not supposed to touch skin that has been radiated for 6-8 months after treatments.

So here I am, having a panic at the hospital, thinking my cancer has spread to all of my limbs and that I will have to go through a lifetime of chemotherapy and never see hair on my body ever again. My radiation oncologist did tell me the cancer was tiny (less then 1mm), and that I shouldn't be worried at all. However, this is interfering with my "I am cancer-free" thing so of course I was worried.

Last Friday I go in and tell her my concerns. I don't want to return to real life worrying that I may have cancer and have to go through this all again. I don't want to start developing a routine and have to hear "You have cancer" again. I can't do it.

She told me to hold on and grabbed my "file" (more like a novel, it holds detailed write ups of every single test and appointment I have had since this started). She is flipping around and falls on my last scheduled MRI which I had before my surgery. In tiny, small print at the bottom of the page it says:

"Suspicious activity in the lymph nodes appears to have been cleared up".

"Suspicious activity in the lymph nodes appears to have been cleared up".

"Suspicious activity in the lymph nodes appears to have been cleared up".

"Suspicious activity in the lymph nodes appears to have been cleared up".

Cancer. Free.

I guess I can't expect the oncologists to read every last little detail... but there it was all along, written in my file. I have been cancer free this whole time.

Cue some happy tears and hugs with my mom later and all of a sudden radiation didn't seem so bad anymore. I don't need it to clear up any present cancer, so it's merely a preventative to sterilize my skin and affected area.

With only two sessions left, I'm not sure what I'll do with all of this newfound time I'm going to have. I have Herceptin every 21 days and some follow up appointments but my active cancer treatments will be over. 

(Since writing this post, I finished my treatments! And a throwback celebration picture, as my mom finished about 2 weeks ago. Went for a celebratory lunch with my family. As fate would have it, I finished my radiation on my mom's birthday.. double celebration!) 

One of my insta-friends whom is currently going through chemo wrote under my picture "That must feel amazing - I can't wait to get there too. Live and laugh my friend". Honestly, I can remember being 3/6 chemo sessions in and feeling like this day would never come. I had no idea what was going to happen to me back then, but here I am: poisoned, chopped up and burnt but very much alive and kickin'.

Duh. Starting with a selfie and ending with a selfie.

I had a very big internal struggle this last month with my appearance. I guess it is only natural: my hair is starting to grow back, my eyebrows are making my face look more "me" and all of a sudden I cared about how I looked again. During chemo, I was too sick to care. But, 30 pounds later and very strange, awkward hair that likes to flip up in every direction and I just started to feel... unpretty. I wanted my body back, my hair back, my wardrobe back.

Many people said to me, well aren't you supposed to lose weight during chemo? Truth is, not anymore. In fact, they encourage you to gain weight. Eat when you're hungry, which if you'll remember this hilarious post, the steroids made me very, very hungry. Paired with months of bed-dwelling and my body is very different then what I was used to.

When I worked for the salon my end goal was to look like Barbie. I'm not even kidding you. I loved my bleached blonde hair and pink dresses, I wore heels every single day and I wore a size small. My nails were always perfect and I mastered fake lashes. In reality, This was only last January (2014)! When you live like that for 3 years of your life, working in an industry that is obsessed with image, you can't help but get sucked in to trying to always look "perfect" and it is very difficult to change your mind frame. So, about a month ago I started being hard on myself about getting back into a routine and looking up gym memberships.

As radiation progressed though, I couldn't fathom the idea of exercising. I have been so tired. In the last month, I have had my first few big "outings" since I have been feeling better: Kris's bridal shower, Westfest, Canada Day, the bachelorette. Most were heavily photographed and I remember dreading taking any pictures of myself. I didn't want to see what I looked like.

Some bachelorette and bridal shower spam! Other then radiation, planning these two are what took up most of my time (and we had an absolute blast at both!). :) 

Turns out, I must have learned a thing or two along this journey. I look at pictures and I pleasantly surprise myself. Instead of being harsh and judgmental, I am so happy. Does that sound cheesy and self centered? I look like me. I look happy. I am enjoying my life. I am able to celebrate. I am able to go out and do things again. A long 8 months later and I feel like me, finally. I love my body, I'm proud of it. Poisoned, chopped up and burnt... my body saved my life. Every single doctor I have had has told me how great I am at "healing". I bounce back quickly.

It took me a long time to write this post, because I wanted to be sure I was being true with myself. Body issue and image struggles are a very real reality after cancer - Nalie, Krysta and others have all openly struggled the same way I did. You don't look or feel the same anymore. You keep getting waves of "Woah. Did that really just happen to me?". Your body is scarred and changed and you need to deal with all of that. I'm sure it will be a battle I fight over again, but for now...

I am constantly wowed at how our bodies look after us and fight for us.

I just want to hug my body and tell it what a good job it has done and how proud I am of it.

I have likely put my body through more then it will ever again go through in it's life, and I am soo proud of it.

I am so grateful for this lesson, and to be learning it at a young age. For this revelation, for this new found kindness to my extra curves and dimples and yes even some stretchmarks (which I have taken to fondly calling my stretchies).  I am grateful that cancer has made my mind strong and deeply engrained the lesson that I am more then my weight, appearance and hair.

I am happy that cancer has allowed me to look at a picture and instead of pick out flaws, see how happy I am to be with friends and family, or how much fun I am having. To understand how hard it was to get to the point where I am able to celebrate life again.

In the words of one of my favorite ladies (J.K. Rowling)...

"Is fat really the worst thing a human can be? If fat worse then vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring or cruel? Not to me." 

Now the struggle becomes real... what to write about now? Life after cancer... stay tuned.


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