What were you doing 10 years ago? Getting married? Were you in college? Were you in high/middle school? This December will be the mark of my 10th year in my battle with cancer. After 10 years of this, I am one of the proudest women in the world to call myself a survivor. I am 23 years old. I was not 23 when I was diagnosed, I was 13 years old and in 8th grade.
In the past 10 years I have walked in the shoes of a patient, a nurse, a caregiver, an onlooker, a volunteer, a speaker, a donor, a research intern, and a survivor.
It’s almost hard to remember now… the venomous word ‘cancer’ dripping out of a doctors’ mouth. I remember the different things. The immediacy of when I went to go see the “special blood doctor” as my parents put it. My first IV and how scared I was of the needle. I did not understand why I needed these things called platelets and why they were an icky yellow color. The doctors were nice enough to begin treatment after Christmas in 2002 so my family could have one last Christmas celebration with the whole family, just in case… I was able to attend my 8th grade graduation and the doctors were thrilled with my progress. Over the next 5 years I would go in for check-ups with my oncologist, and everything seemed to be going great!
I relapsed badly the summer of 2008 after my first year in college. My second round of treatment was a lot more difficult for me to go through. I developed something called serum sickness during my treatment. The doctors still don’t know why it happened. The only thing the serum sickness did was cause me extreme pain. I blacked out from being in so much pain in my house, and my parents had to wheel me to the car in a computer chair because my legs had locked and I couldn’t walk. I attempted to break my hands so I could defer the pain somewhere else besides my legs. I was on the painkiller oxycodone all day and dilaudid and acetaminophen with codeine for breakthrough pain. I still have flashback pain and I fear every night that when I wake up in the morning that pain will come back. I have chronic shoulder problems because the treatment cause so much nerve damage that my joints are dying and I am going to need a replacement shoulder when I get older. I suffer from hypertension, avascular necrosis in my joints, hemoglobinuria, and something I call “chemo brain” (memory loss from medicine affecting my brain). Daily pain and fear are direct side effects from my cancer treatment that still affect me to this day 3 years after my chemotherapy is over.
I have participated in Relay for Life, Colleges Against Cancer, I am an advocate in Illinois for the American Cancer Society Chicago division, I have done the Susan G. Komen 3-day Breast Cancer walk, and I have participated, organized, and donated to many local charities and events in my neighborhood. I am always moved when I see so many people who care. Even the smallest gestures, such as seeing a survivor handed a carnation, has the power to stay in your heart and memory forever.
Thank you to TheTheologiansCafe and every person who loves Boobies!
About the picture:
The two main scars on my chest are from surgeries for devices called port-a-caths. 2 months into my treatment, my body was unable to fight infections and heal so the port on the right side of my chest became infected and had to be removed. I had a hole in my chest the size of your fist because a blood clot had formed inside my chest and was restricting my movement, airflow, and it hurt all the time. Once the clot was removed, this would have to be packed daily with iodine soaked gauze. I was able to look down into the cavity while I would be having the dressing changed and see my pectoral muscle (they’re purple). I call it my champion scar because when I look down at my chest it forms a ‘C’. The straight scar on my neck is from complications during the surgery for the implantation of the port. My veins leading to my heart were criss-crossed so they had to access them from above. The straight scar on the left side of my chest is where my current port-a-cath is. It’s almost unnoticeable now. Stretch marks all over my body from huge weight fluctuations from steroids, appetite problems, not being able to hold food down, and being sedentary. The steriods they put you on during treatment made me crave salt like a crack addict, so I would hold water weight when my period was coming up and I would blow up like a balloon.