During and after her cancer diagnosis, Tamika experienced a roller coaster of emotions while she tried to figure out what life was all about. Read more to find out how she learned to embrace her new normal.
My name is Tamika and I had cancer - cervical cancer to be exact.
When diagnosed at age 25, I thought I was going to die. It's true. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Before cancer, the worst I'd been through was a mole removal.
To save my life, my doctor performed a radical hysterectomy, then prescribed followup chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill any cancer cells that stayed lurking behind. It wasn't easy. I cried almost daily, and was living in a "fog"-not knowing if I was doing better or worse. I didn't have any clarity, and there was no simple way out. Each option came with some major life-changing decision. A decision only I could make.
My first inclination was to do nothing. Seriously. To simply do-over with a clean slate. I couldn't even think about making such decisions. I was tired. My body was failing me at such a young age. I wanted to give up. Maybe this was a dream, a terrible dream. But no, it really happened. My life was turned upside down and inside out, and I felt a constant heaviness. The "fog" had clouded and consumed my judgement. How was I going to make it? I experienced daily uncertainty, with nothing left to do but to take one step at a time. Sounds cliché, right? Maybe so, but I didn't have any control over it. If I did, I would have willed myself to act more proactive over my diagnosis.
Fourteen years later, I no longer have cancer. Life's not quite the same, but should it be? I'm not 25 anymore, and even if I’d never had cancer, surely my life would be different now from what it was then.
There are many things I could complain about in terms of my life with cancer – like cancer stealing half of my 20's, nearly all of my 30's and the biggest: stealing my fertility - but the reality is that I am still here. I used to have to tell myself that often, when feeling apathetic. "You're still here."
I made it. Sure, the neuropathy in my feet, lymphedema in my lower extremities, and painful issues related to bone loss are cumbersome. And don't even get me started on the emotional and physical scars of not being able to have a baby.
But I'm still here.
I could let all of those things get me down and keep me from living, but I don't. I refuse to. Yes, some days are harder than others, but that's when I dig deep and remember all that I went through.
It wasn't easy after the cancer left either. It took time for me not to be held back by my diagnosis. There was always something hanging over me, with every ache, pain, and fever convincing me the cancer had returned. I was stuck. My diagnosis consumed my life and kept me from living....until one day it didn't.
So I had cancer. Now what? I live my life, I enjoy it. For whatever time I have left on this earth I want to live in a truly epic way. I don't waste time on things or people that make me unhappy, and I've learned to say "no" to people. And let me tell you, a firm NO (none of this timid stuff!) is empowering and feels so darn good.
Cancer is now and will always be a part of my story that I have made peace with and accepted. At first I thought that cancer made me stronger, but the truth is that I was strong all along. Cancer was a cataclysmic hurdle, but I never let it be a priority in my life.The cancer that invaded my body doesn't have me. It doesn't own me nor limit me. "I am still here."
And that is what you should tell yourself too.
Can you relate to Tamika's experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.