Just stopping by to say “Hey”. It’s been awhile. Most of 2019 as a matter of fact.
This year has been a year of re-tooling for me. In August, I celebrated 4 years of being NED (“no evidence of disease”). Coming into 2019, I had a full slate of doctors who were thrilled with my progress. They pronounced me “healthy”. But I didn’t feel like I was. So I made the resolution for 2019 to address what I still perceived to be wrong with me.
I started off in February with a full hysterectomy. This combats my risk of ovarian and uterine cancer, and gives me more options with my long-term anti-hormone treatment. And the results have been amazing. I feel so much better physically. I’m still struggling with my physical fitness (more on that to come), but I have less overall pain, so it was clearly something that I needed.
Mentally, I have struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, memory issues, and overall cognitive frustration. I decided it was finally time to address these problems. This was a three-pronged attack. First, I visited a neurologist who put me through a full battery of tests. Overall, the results were positive. The only serious nerve damage is in my left arm up to my neck. Based on my pain level, that was not a surprise. I saw the most amazing physical therapist, and have had some relief. Clearly, this will be a lifelong challenge, but at least I have identified some means to cope. While the neurologist acknowledged the neuropathy in my feet, he said the damage is pretty localized. As part of his testing barrage, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea completely out of left field. While unpleasant, I hope that treating this will help with my overall fatigure. Perhaps more importantly, the neurologist did not identify any major damage in my brain.
This leads me to the next phase in my attack, seeing a neuropsychologist. I went through a full day of cognitive testing, focused on memory retention, decision making, and ability to follow directions. The results were basically positive. I scored relatively well on most of the tests. In all honesty this was frustrating. But the doctor acknowledged that I may not be functioning as efficiently as I have in the past, even though I still do well. (This was actually was what I was afraid they would say). It was a relief, however. There were some takeaways that I found useful though. One result that stood out to me is that I don’t process information the way that I would have prior to treatment. My memory doesn’t work the same. Instead of looking at information and finding it easy to memorize, I have to forcibly and repetitiously commit things to memory. My haphazard habits don’t work for me anymore. I have to make a gazillion lists and plan things out carefully. I have to focus on one thing at a time, rather than multitasking. I can only listen to one person at a time, and can either watch tv or talk to someone, never both. This information helped me to accept that I have changed, and that it’s ok. I just have to work at creating new habits. It was the wake-up call that I needed.
At the same time, I began seeing a therapist. It was quite eye-opening. I would feel like I had nothing to say, and would ramble on, then suddenly I would hear what I was saying. It was always an epiphany. I had no idea how I was blocking things out, or practicing avoidance of thoughts and situations. It gave me a lot of courage and empowerment to begin overcoming the anxiety it caused. And the acceptance to realize that it is ok to sometimes want to wallow, as long as I get up the next day, or next week, and keep moving forward. I’ve learned coping mechanisms, and have begun to embrace the life that I have now. I have changed, whether I wanted to or not. Instead of fighting it, I can accept the person I am now and work to craft her in a way that makes me happy.
Part of my healing was pulling away from social media, and unfortunately my mission to reach out to women with cancer. It was a hard choice, but I realized that I had to face what was in my head, instead of hiding behind everyone else. I focused on activities to improve myself. I re-engaged with those around me. I re-set my priorities and ensured that I am doing things for the right reasons. And I realize that I have to put myself first. That is setting me free.
So now I find myself back in December again. The year 2019 is tied up in a big red bow. This was a year about healing and moving forward. I’m done with the doctors and testing. I have completed physical therapy and counseling. My plans for next year include re-booting my website and working on plain ol’ physical fitness (aka exercise). I still have a long way to go. I still have panic attacks, I still struggle with pain, I still worry about recurrence. But 2020 feels like a calm oasis compared to the last five years. There is always a chance for recurrence, but for now, I get to live. And I now realize that is all that matters.
For more information on navigating breast cancer, please see our website www.driventosurvive.org