“It’s cancer. I’m sorry.”
I remember things immediately going silent. My brain and everything around me suddenly went dark. Hearing the words “rare and aggressive” and “I’m sorry” are a few things that I do remember. You truly never think it’ll be you. How does one begin the process of going through cancer? I decided to get a journal to document my journey. Perhaps it could be something to leave behind? To look back on? It has kept me busy over the last few months of treatment as a distraction of sorts.
Because I’m “so young” and because of “rare and aggressive,” so was my treatment plan. Six rounds of chemotherapy, 42 sessions of external radiation, three sessions of internal radiation. It was brutal but necessary and not an option (I’ll spare y’all the nasty side effect details). Although the treatments have finished, they are still actively working (chemo and radiation continue to work for weeks to months). In the next two weeks, I will have another scan to see if the cancer has spread again or further, blood work, a port flush and doctor appointments.
Cancer involves A LOT of waiting. Waiting for good news or bad news. Cancer is very much a lonely diagnosis. You can have all the family, all the friends and love and support, but at the end of the day, it’s just you and cancer. Why do I feel sick? I’m so tired. I can’t remember? Lay down. Chemo brain. Why won’t my body let me do what my mind is telling me? Zero immune system. Will I have to do treatment AGAIN? Can I? Am I safe? Is the cancer gone? Has it spread? What about your percentages? There is about a 50% chance it can come back at any time!? These are questions with no answers. It’s exhausting. Nobody said it would be easy….
2021 has been the most trying year of my life. It has robbed me of so many happy moments and memories, and my mind tries to remember happy times. Cancer has left me tired and broken. Scans every three months for five years ensures “scan anxiety” and the fear of return at any given moment. Cancer took who I was. I am not the girl I was before cancer, not the girl who was going through cancer, but I am now left to find out who the “new” Leah is.
I have so much work to do and so far to go, and my life goals have now changed, my perspective has changed, my temperament has changed. There is so much we worry about as a society that just really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. People come and go, some show up and some don’t, and that’s okay. Life is too short and fragile to be annoyed or worried by things that really don’t deserve a second thought.
So this year, if you see me dancing in the rain in the middle of the storm, I’m not crazy, I’m free. If you see me in mixed-matched clothes or a new style, I’m not crazy, I’m being me. If you see me and I seem “different,” I am glad to introduce myself. I’ve fought hard to become her.
So I remind you of the one fact that we all know is guaranteed: that we can’t be here forever. Just live. Live your authentic self every single day, without fear of judgment or persecution from others. Be proud of who you are and the journey it took to become you, whatever the circumstances may be. I’m going to enjoy my new prioritized life so that no matter what happens, I will try and be the best version of myself, as long as I’m blessed to do so.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, my hope for you is this: throw yourself headfirst into the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trust your care team. Sleep when you need rest, and don’t ever feel guilty for it. Always drink water. Your care team becomes your family. Surround yourself with a circle of friends and family who have your heart and have the best intentions on seeing you well. Journaling is a beautiful way to keep your mind preoccupied and give you something to have to perhaps look back on. Allow yourself to have bad days, as they are inevitable, but also remember to pick yourself back up, even if it’s just mentally. And don’t forget to live. As best you can. Even if it’s been allotted.
So there it is. Now you know what I learned this year. I am nowhere near who I am supposed to be yet, but I sure as hell can’t wait to find out.
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” — Oscar Wilde