This post is hard for me, it hits close to home.The topic, today, affects everyone in some way:
This is my story.
The Cancer That Saved My Life
Disclaimer: If the topic might be too much for you, check out my other posts which may be lighter in content, though I assure you my views are overall positive. Cancer saved my life. I am lucky and want to share my story.
I remember when I got my diagnosis.
It was June 24, 2016.
Yes, I remember the exact date that I heard the words: “You have cancer”. It’s not something you forget.
Until then, I felt relatively healthy. The keyword here is “felt” healthy.
The secret was… I really wasn’t. I ate whatever I wanted (though my preference was thankfully healthier foods to begin with), took my vitamins, exercised, etc. BUT I also drank and smoked. A considerable amount.
I was also a busy body, always moving – doing this, that or the other thing, and mostly drank coffee for a greater part of the day – it was likely that I did not eat my first meal of the day til 5 p.m. I was never much of a “sit there and chill” kind of person, more of the “what do we do next” type, with a life full of hobbies, hanging with or doing for family and friends, working, walking the dog, go, go, go, go. In reality, what I did then was that I never stopped to breath; this was not a healthy lifestyle. I was living a great life, but I wasn’t actually breathing, slowing down…
(Note: While I wish I could enjoy a drink or a smoke without going overboard, I cannot. This is something personal to me, and something I’ll discuss in other blog posts. But know that I do not judge anyone else’s choices – I enjoyed the years that I chose to do both, but now I’m making other choices. I do me, you do you. It’s all good!!! :))
Overall, I wasn’t treating my body well.
I was trusting that my body would always be there for me, no matter what I did to it.
I wasn’t very good to myself at all, the result of which made that I was also very anxious. I’m an anxious person by nature, but at the height of my drinking, I was wound tighter than a 2 dollar watch. It wasn’t great haha!!
My body was not healthy – I was not treating it properly for many reasons including family illness, divorce, moving a few times, etc. My life, brain and house were cluttered. I was, in reality, a mess.
I had already decided to make better life choices when this all came about. I knew that I had to change some habits if only to help me battle my anxiety issues. Never did I think I would find THAT…
Oh great, ummmm, what’s that. It was on my neck, under my chin.
Usually, when I get a cold in the winter, my glands get really swollen and I always check them so I knew what felt normal there – this time, the bump was an inch over from it’s usual spot. What. Is. Thaaaaaaat???
That wasn’t normal. Something was up.
I waited a week to see if the size would change – it didn’t disappear. I knew it was time to call the ol’ doc. A few appointments later, there was a biopsy that showed “concerning cells” . Ummm that’s very vague, Doc.
” We’ll only know more after removing the gland and sending it out for tests”.
That’s when the roller coaster started.
All I knew was this: My body may or may not have cancer. Now I need surgery. That’s the next step.
Part of me knew, at this point. I had a feeling in my gut. I just… knew. Of course, I was always one for optimism so I thought I would say I was okay. Of course, I was okay. Why wouldn’t I be?!I was totally okay… right?
I had the surgery.
They removed one of my 6 salivary glands.
(Sidenote: Did YOU know we have 6 salivary glands? I learned a lot about human biology in a short time, as I didn’t know that. Now, I live with 5 of them and that’s just fine. But I didn’t know we had 6! Did you know that?)
The surgery went flawlessly, really. It wasn’t a huge deal.
I’ve never been scared of medical procedures, having had a few in my years. All I knew now is that I had a rad new scar and a new stuffie. You are never too old for stuffies. He’s a dog named Flipper and he’s awesome!!!!
I wasn’t worried about the surgery – I wanted to know the test results…. let’s wait a few weeks. Aaaah! They had the results in less than 2 weeks, I knew something was up. I just wanted to hear the words. Is it cancer?
Just tell me, doc.
This brings us back to June 24, 2016.
When the words came out of the doctor’s mouth, I wasn’t surprised.
I mean, I had very much lived my life like I was invincible, but it had to come to a head somewhere. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I found the bump. Eventually, something had to give. I was that driver that always speeds without getting caught, and then after years of speeding, unstopped, the cop finally catches you.
Oops. Ya got me.
” You’ve been speeding… “
” Yes, yes I have. “
Still, it’s a little surreal when all of this becomes an actual fact.
The moment the words came out of his mouth, I was stunned – it was like I was in someone else’s body. This wasn’t real, was it? Did I really do this to myself? Did I stress/eat/drink /smoke myself into a cancer?
At first, the doctor served me the news in a whole bunch of medical terms. Honestly, it all sounded like German in slow-motion, though it was in fact all in English, but what I caught was:
“Stage 3 Epidermoid Carcinoma of the left Submandibular Salivary Gland.”
I just stared at him.
I didn’t understand what he just said, but “carcinoma” I understood. That meant I was right: can-cer.
What a word that is.
Suddenly, I felt like I was in someone else’s life.
I was one of the characters on Grey’s Aatomy, receiving the news of illness. You watch those shows and think “it would be terrible to get that news” or “I wonder how that would feel” … until it ACTUALLY happens. Weird.
He reiterated: “You have cancer.”
In that moment, I felt all of my feelings at once — happy, sad, angry, curious, confused, surprised and simultaneously not surprised, overwhelmed yet relieved. It was a Tsunami of feelings. Whooooooosh!
I could feel, almost palpably, that I was experiencing a moment that would change the rest of my life.
Yet I was weirdly calm about it all.
I had already known that this would be the verdict, I had a feeling that this was the case, but kept thinking it was my anxiety making shit up. It was weird to suddenly be right.
For once (hahah!), I wanted to be wrong.
I was a 36 year old, relatively healthy, working woman with terrible social habits and an overwhelming dose of regular stress and anxiety. I knew better, with every decision I made, I knew better but did it anyway…
… I stressed myself into a cancer, both physically and mentally.
I repeatedly asked the universe for “a break”, a restart.
Then came cancer: 6 months off for treatment. That’s a break… Not what I meant, but it’s what I asked for…
For my recovery from cancer, and to “avoid that cancerous cells travel to your lungs”, I needed 33 treatments of radiation. I was very lucky that I didn’t need chemo. Radiation was no picnic, but chemo is far worse, by far.
For me, the gland that they removed was a clean cut, so the radiation was preventative more than anything else. To make sure that none of the cells were left behind in surgery. They told me that after radiation, all should be back to normal and I should be able to be “cancer free” in a few months. I had come to see them RIGHT on time. Had I left the bump there without concern, the cancer could have spread. I was already stage 3 … so yeah, I’d be dead. Oops.
In that moment, I felt so happy that I got it checked out when I did.
I also felt guilty that I would eventually be okay.
So many people I know are fighting for their lives right now, or have a loved one that is, so why would *I* be okay?
Was this just the Universe saying “wake the hell up and stop ruining your own life, silly girl”. I felt that it probably was. It was up to me to listen and really take in the chance to redirect my life properly. I was spared once, but I may not be spared next time. This was more than a cancer diagnosis, this was a chance for me to save my own life.
That, folks, is the story of how I found out I had cancer.
I will probably make future posts about this topic – the radiation, the aftermath, etc. By no means was treatment easy, it was hard on my body and my mind and I had to work very hard to get better but I am lucky that I had the chance to get better. Fast forward 2 years, and I’m cancer free and able to make new decisions in my life. I am alive and I am VERY lucky to be, but since then, it’s up to me to make the right decisions that are for my best health.
I wanted to share this story to remind you, and mostly myself, that we are not invincible.
The human body, while awesomely strong and resilient to many outside factors, may not always be able to fight against carcinogens, or worse, a very high dose of stress. While you may never get cancer, don’t tell yourself that it’s impossible. Treat your body and your mind as you should, because I can tell you that we are not invincible.
That’s the lesson I learned.
Today, I stand here with nothing but gratitude that I am okay.
But it’s up to me to make sure I stay that way. It’s up to me to save my own life now.
Food for thought.