Sunday, April 7, 2013

Two Years Post Leukemia Diagnosis


Two years ago, Dr. S. informed Rob and me that I had leukemia.

Having been involved in the young adult cancer survivor / fighter community for the past two years, I've had the opportunity to hear the stories of many new friends. The moment of diagnosis, and the days immediately preceding and following, are almost always the focal point of their cancer experience. Because that's when life irrevocably changed; it's the event they wish they could undo. And because it was traumatic: it's hard to forget trauma. When I hear my friends' recount their experiences, I recognize their emotions, because they're the same as mine.

Two years post Lily's death and my near-death, I'm still trying to process it. Perhaps the constant fatigue and all the drugs prevented me from facing it head on. Perhaps it's a touch of post traumatic stress syndrome. I wash my hands in an airport bathroom, and the smell of the soap reminds me of the soap in my hospital room, and it takes me back to that time. I see a baby girl, and think of Lily. But it's not just physical reminders; I'll have a moment of panic while walking to the subway or folding laundry.


Last week, I passed an advertisement on a phone booth (It's amazing those still exist). It showed a toddler girl holding a phonetics card that stated, "Ss is for shell," with a picture of a seashell. Admittedly, noticing it is egocentric, but I think humans are wired to recognize their names. When I saw it, I thought to myself, "That is me." I have so much fear, anxiety, and pain hidden with the inner whorls of my shell. A year ago, I became fixated on one of the possible long-term side effects I could develop, and barely ate for a week. I still have trouble with it.

I always try to be so positive on this blog. I believe it's helpful to my health, and I want to be encouraging to others. Also, I don't want my parents to hurt any more than they have, and when I'm in pain or scared or upset, they hurt. So why, today, of all days, am I admitting that this ordeal remains hard for me to deal with? I've realized these feelings are okay. They're part of the healing process, and I'm healing. My anxiety is less than a year ago. My life is closer to returning to what it had been before that pivotal day of diagnosis. If I was strong enough to deal with all the physical pain and stress that came while the cancer cells were ravaging my body, I'm strong enough to get through this too.

Yesterday, I played a pick-up game of water polo. The other nine players in the water were all men, all of whom could bench press me. For anyone who doesn't know: water polo is an extremely physical, aggressive game. I held my own, and scored several goals. To be able to compete like this is a victory, both in terms of my body, as well as not letting fear prevent me from having fun. (Men with tattoos on their large muscles, who want to rip a ball away from you or drag you underwater, is something to fear.)

As I write this, Katelyn is lying with her head on my lap, watching The Brave Little Toaster. I am so, so lucky to have her, and Ryan, and my parents, and the rest of our family. And all our friends. Though I have my rough patches, the wonderful times with all of them over the past two years cause me to thank God over and over again for them, as well as for the medical advancements that saved my life.

I'm trying to be like the Brave Little Toaster, as much as I can. It's getting easier, and will continue to do so. My next remission test will be at the of the month. Every three months that pass cancer-free increase the likelihood that I will achieve "cured" status. I'm working toward fear-free too.