Some days it feels like it’s been ten years, other days it feels like it has been just hours. January 10, 2012. The day I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The “good cancer.” The “best one to choose.” The “highest success rate” cancer. Well, some days it freaking doesn’t feel like it. Like last night, when I barely had the strength to climb the stairs into my house and collapsed onto the couch for hours. Or this afternoon, when I literally put my head onto my desk, just to give myself a moment of reprieve.
Stage four sucks. On my bad days, I start spiraling. My body hurts, be it the change in weather, a tiring workday, or just a bad Type 1 diabetic day. But the hurting body worms its way into my mental state. And I’m reminded my body is so much more battered than most other 28 year olds, and that’s the direct result of cancer. Then I get even grumpier, and we keep on spiraling down. I think about my diagnosis week often. All the positivity and “you can kick this” attitude surrounding me. The speed at which decisions had to be made and treatments moved forward with. I skipped out on any fertility preservation. A choice that my parents had an influence on, but not a choice that they have to think about every time I see a guy I might like or hear a friend is pregnant again.
I remember halfway through treatments when my body wasn’t doing well and some well-meaning medical professional commented how if they had caught the cancer earlier, I wouldn’t have had to go through all six rounds of chemo. I cried as I drank copious amounts of various liquids to flush the Red Devil through me as fast as possible. Life wasn’t fair.
Life wasn’t fair 112 days later when one of the most curable cancers came back. I remember standing stunned in the basement of my University Honors college, unwilling to believe that cancer was coming back for me so quickly. Stage 4 is so helpless. I took the pills daily, I went to the hospital for the infusions, transfusions, and other intrusive things. But you have no control. I guess this isn’t specific to Stage 4, but for me it’s easy to imagine an easier life if my cancer had been caught way earlier. I literally couldn’t affect the outcome of my cancer, or relapse, or subsequent transplant.
I wonder often about my life with a lower stage cancer. Ideally, I’d imagine my life without cancer at all, but my brain can’t process that yet. But I imagine if I’d had only Stage 2: would I have the stretch marks all over my arms and stomach? Perhaps I wouldn’t be a Type 1 diabetic. Maybe I wouldn’t have relapsed and needed a transplant. Maybe my chemo brain and neuropathy would be better by now. Maybe my ovaries wouldn’t have failed completely.
Insecurities are a bitch. And cancer has only amplified them. Steroids made me gain weight, not have the typical skinny cancer look. I’m terrified to dramatically cut my hair. It’s taken me nine years to grow it out this long, and what if it doesn’t grow back? And all the internal troubles worm their way into my dating life. Maybe the super cute guy I met at work and seemed to hit it off with read my LinkedIn post and looked up Elephants and Tea and that’s why he isn’t continuing a text conversation. Maybe if I didn’t have to have the infertility conversation, I’d be dating the man who gave me his heart. Maybe if I didn’t have cancer, I’d feel bold enough to face rejection over and over again.
So many what ifs. It’s hard to accept the present sometimes and to wish the past was different. But the reality is I’m here. Now. Unlike a lot of other Stage 4 peeps. Some days it is a struggle to be upright, and that’s ok. Some days it’s a struggle to complete my work, or exercise, or even to hide the pain from my coworkers and students. But I’m allowed to have bad days. I’m free to wish my cancer path had been easier. Stage four no more.