In August 2005, as I was about to start college at Loyola University in New Orleans, a little thunderstorm made its way through the city and wreaked havoc on my life. You may have heard of it – Hurricane Katrina. For years after Katrina, I looked at many things in my life as pre-K and post-K, pre-Katrina and post-Katrina. While my family didn’t flood or lose our house, Katrina certainly upended things for me. I bounced between Loyola and LSU for a year and a half before I finally gave up and settled in at LSU.
I’ve looked back at times and wondered how differently my life may have turned out had it not been for Katrina. After all, I would have stayed in New Orleans for at least four years, maybe longer. I never would have met my husband and become a wife and mom. I never would have pledged Sigma Alpha Iota. I never would have made many of the friends I did. I most likely never would have moved to Las Vegas. Funny how one storm can change everything.
Since I was diagnosed two years ago, I no longer measure my life by Katrina though, but by a different hurricane, one that tried its damndest to kill me, the cancer hurricane. My
best friend nonbiological sister asked me recently how my life has changed post-diagnosis – a day in the life, if you will. It made me think about that divide in my life – pre-cancer and post-cancer.
So many of the things I do now or think about now are so normal to me that I don’t really think about how it’s different from before…..
Like making mental note of where the bathroom is in every situation so I can make a quick exit if/when I get sick. (It’s been more “when” than “if” lately.)
Like carrying around a slew of pill bottles and being prepared at any time.
Like having to write everything down so I don’t forget.
Like sometimes cancelling plans at the last minute, because I sometimes go from feeling fine to feeling crappy in a quick span of time.
I start each morning now taking my thyroid medication, waiting 30 minutes and then taking my other morning medications. I end each night with taking my Cabo and moisturizing my nephrectomy scars in vain.
I was already pale before I got sick, but now I am super pale. Ghost white, actually. Cabo interferes with my skin pigmentation, so I hate looking at myself in pictures. Go figure – I lost over 50 pounds and still can’t stand to see myself in a photograph.
(I no longer have to dye my hair though, so thanks for the dirty blonde for free, Cabo!)
I have a never-ending slew of doctors’ visits – oncologist, nephrologist, OBGYN, specimen lab, psychologist, primary care, podiatrist, the list goes on and on. With the obvious exception of my oncologist, I spend a lot of time educating my own doctors about my disease.
Speaking of doctors’ visits, a few weeks ago I was waiting in the exam room for my OBGYN, who notoriously runs behind, and it was time for a conference call I needed to be on for work. So, I jumped on, figuring correctly that I’d have enough time to take the call and still not have her in the room. Yes, I took a conference call while in a hospital gown on an exam bed in a doctor’s office.
Welcome to working life with cancer!
Those are probably the most notable ways my life has changed on a day to day basis, minus the existential crisis moments, the times where I wake myself up from a nightmare about my cancer then realize, “Oh yeah, not really a nightmare is it?!”, or the times where I let myself think too far into the future. It’s hard to let your mind wander like that anymore. I finally let myself think a few years ahead now, and even that seems dangerous sometimes.
Cancer has certainly introduced me to people and situations I never would have even thought about before now, though. My wonderful Dr. V and his nurses, my research nurse, the nurse who took care of me through home health, my fellow patients and their caregivers. I never would have gotten to know any of them without this, and that makes me sad to think about because they all seem so naturally a part of my life now, but I wish there had been a less traumatic way for me to get here.
Cancer without trauma. LOL, OK.
It’s weird. The tumors are gone, but cancer is inexplicably part of my life now. It dictates my schedule, my mood, my capacity.
Oh cancer. I wish I knew how to quit you.