A year has gone by since finishing my gruelling treatment for acute myeloid leukemia and honestly, I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I feel like I have lived several lives in the past year; so many changes and new experiences packed into just twelve months. It seems very apt that #BloodCancerAwareness month has coincided with this anniversary.
I was thrown into this cancer world and I've done my best to embrace it. Sometimes I take a step back to breathe and other times I run headfirst into it. I find myself using the phrase 'double edged sword' more and more. Before cancer, I winged it -- like we all do-- telling myself, "It won't happen to me
." I often had conversations with my husband after hearing of someone's diagnosis, saying "You never know who is next," never dreaming it would be me.
But it was. And yes, cancer does change you. It would be impossible to have been brought back from the brink of death without it having any effect on you. This is a world I was so naive about and I totally underestimated the ripple effect it would have on my life.
On the other hand, I see things a lot clearer. Now I know what I want to achieve and what I want to eliminate in my life after cancer.
1. Make New Friends
This part has been absolutely wonderful. I have some exceptional, brave, caring and like-minded people in my life as a direct result of my cancer diagnosis. There are some amazing people out there and going through the worst time in my life has definitely restored my faith in humanity. I have experienced acts of kindness that have really touched me. Some were able to be generous with money, time and gifts, which has helped support me and they will never know how much it has meant to me at a time which was so dark. I am forever thankful.
2. Eliminate Fear.
Something I heard a lot from other survivors was that their disease was a blessing. I wanted to relate to that, but my heart just wouldn't accept it. Then it hit me: I was afraid of it coming back. Leukemia still seemed to be lurking in the shadows. It made me feel mad, unhinged, crazy-- but it was a real fear I had. With a little bit of time and a lot of patience, I've come to accept my fear of recurrence. And as a result of that, I've been reminded of my passion for discovering things and through research I've found empowerment.
3. Accept My New Life.
Don't get me wrong, I had some heart-stopping moments in my research, like reading the words "Palliative Care," and finding out that AML is a "rapidly fatal" disease, which means I supposedly only had days to live if I didn't get treatment. I learned what remission really is and what my survival statistics are. Understanding and knowing absolutely everything about my disease helps me feel more in control. I’m fully aware of what might happen to me in the future.
When I was first diagnosed with Leukemia it took me off guard and completely rattled me, but now there is nothing that can happen that I’m not aware of. I'm prepared for whatever happens next.
During the many hours in the hospital I fantasized about getting back to normal, assuming this would be the case. Well, that never happened. I am now coming to terms with the fact that I have to build a 'new normal.' While I was away from my loved ones-- not even able to hug them at times due to my compromised immunity-- I cut myself off emotionally.
I struggled to open myself up to affection again and deep down I know I do it to protect them in case I relapse and have to leave them again...possibly forever. Even a year on, I don't know if I will ever be able to fully open up again. I haven't really cried that much, always stopping myself from really letting the emotional me back in. But every day I'm working toward reconnecting with my emotions and accepting the new life I'm living.
By the time I left the hospital all I could think about was getting home. I was still caught in a whirlwind of denial and anxiety. I didn't want to know anything else about AML, read any blogs or face up to the whole thing but oh, how things have changed!
Maybe it was fate that this happened to me as I always dreamed of being a writer and now I am finding myself writing more than ever before, which means using lots of stationery. Plus, while I was in hospital my mum would call me 'Butterfly' and I've always been obsessed with them. It is so fitting as I was a caterpillar while going through treatment and now I've flourished into a butterfly. Not only am I writing my personal blog, but cancer it has given me the confidence to write original quotes about my feelings and life after my diagnosis that I otherwise may never have discovered about myself.
If I can bring some comfort to another person going through cancer treatment and make them feel more positive and reassured, then it lets me feel as if I've accomplished something great. I've always had this desire to help others, to live a worthy life, and now I have a skill that I can really use to do that. I won’t say I was destined to have cancer, but maybe it’s opened up a door I was always supposed to open.
What milestones have you achieved (or are working toward) in your life after cancer? Share in the comments below or sign up here.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Ness.