After completing my treatment in April of 2021, I had a mixture of emotions. I was happy that the treatments were over, but I was terrified at the same time. You see, being a cancer patient, treatments and checkups became a security blanket. I knew that the treatment was keeping the cancer away and I knew the checkups would catch anything if it did happen to show its ugly face again. Everyone prepares you for cancer and the treatments you know what to expect and the possibilities of side effects and losing your hair and all of that but what they don’t prepare you for is all the many emotions and challenges you face after surviving cancer. The last almost two years have been a constant battle—the cancer’s gone, but so is my life as I knew it. Before cancer I was strong and fearless. I had muscles and a nice body. I lived my life the way I wanted. I went into cages with wolves (I worked at a sanctuary), and I loved the outdoors. Since cancer, I lost my muscle mass and have struggled to get my strength back, and I am always fatigued. For the last year and a half, I have lived in constant fear about if it comes back, or what if I have a reaction, or what if treatment has changed me so much that I’m suddenly allergic to everything.
I lost my sense of freedom; I lost being carefree. I lost me. My body is not the same I had to get used to the new way I look; I had to get used to the loose skin from losing 90 pounds so fast. I had to get used to the short hair and the scars, the lack of boobs and butt that used to be there. I had to get used to the tears that I thought I was done crying but seem to slip past me sometimes when I’m thinking about my old life. See, no one ever tells you that you will never get your life back—granted you have a life, but you will never have that life back. You will truly have to learn to live again. You will have to learn the foods you like again because sometimes chemo changes your taste. You will have to learn how to trust again because you will push people away. You will have to learn how to love again, how to be intimate, because oh yes, that changes too!! You will have to learn who you are after cancer because I promise you will not be the same as before. You will always have a fear in the back of your mind about what if it comes back. Going to doctor appointments is nerve-racking, and for any kind of scan or test you can count on your old friend anxiety to be there.
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Myka, thank you for your essay.
At age 32, I was diagnosed with Stage IV, metastatic stomach cancer, against all odds. I had none of the risk factors. I went through 13 rounds of chemo, then a full gastrectomy and another 12 rounds of chemo. I have been in remission since February 2021. Although I am no longer under treatment, I still consider myself in recovery and trying to find my – or any kind – of balance. Its been way harder to “get back to normal life” than I have expected.
I still dont trust my body, I feel weak and tired most of the time.
And the survivor’s guilt is very real.
The obligation to be grateful all the time is exhausting.
I wish you all the best.