A new, sunny era

I recently went to a cancer retreat full of women who have been impacted by the disease. We were all at different stages of our journeys and it was a pretty eye opening experience. There were people who were able to say that cancer is now in their rear view, and others who were in late stages of cancer.

One woman had recently been put on hospice. She was probably the most positive and at peace with her journey out of all of us. She told me how she had been planning her funeral and she was excited about a list of songs that she came up with for her family to play in honor of her life. For example, she said (in a joking but stern voice), her family better play that song by P!nk. You know, the one that goes, “I’m coming up so you better get this party started!” I couldn’t help but laugh when she said that and as sad as I had been at the start of my conversation with her, I ended the conversation with a different outlook. She was content with the life she lived and it was such a touching conversation that really put things into perspective.

Back to the retreat- It was at a really cute spot right by the ocean in New Jersey called “Mary’s Place by the Sea.” I wanted to share a little more about it because it was a great program for women who have been or currently are going through cancer and by the way, it was totally free! (Click HERE to check out their website. I can’t recommend this program enough so if you’re a woman going through cancer I encourage you to look into it or share with someone who this may benefit. Let me know if you have any questions and I’m happy to share more about my experience!)

I actually went with my mom who, as many of you know, is fighting thyroid cancer. There were two other people who came together as well, but most people came without knowing anyone. We all became like family by the end and I just can’t recommend it enough! Volunteers cooked us breakfast and lunch each day and provided a few activities which, again, were free of charge. Some things that guests could choose from included an oncologic massage, reiki sessions, guided imagery, or counseling.

One of the workshops I attended was called “expressive writing” and I loved it. I left feeling a renewed desire to get back to blogging, but also frustration with where to start. During the class I told the instructor how much I had loved writing while I was undergoing chemotherapy and how therapeutic it had been, but that I really struggle with writing now.

She talked about writer’s block and said that many times it’s not a result of us lacking information to write about, but it’s our mind’s way of blocking us from thinking about anything that may be a bit traumatic. BINGO! Cancer was traumatic and just reading my old blog posts will bring me to tears sometimes. No wonder I’ve been keeping my distance from my keyboard. She also told us how important it is to work through that block instead of giving into it She gave us some writing exercises to help work through those blocks and I feel like it was an invaluable session.

I wanted to just put this out there for everyone who takes the time to read my blog because I appreciate each of you so much. I’ve decided that this is something I need to get back to for my own mental wellness, but mostly because I want to keep sharing things that may be helpful to others, whether you’re going through cancer or not. I plan to jump back in full force and get this blog up and running again. I have to start somewhere, so here it is; My new (and sunny) era!

Stay tuned for more consistent posts, but in the meantime, you can subscribe using the prompt below and you’ll get an email whenever I post a new blog. No spam or annoying newsletter, I promise!

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Facing your fears

You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do but just keep putting off? You should go do that thing. It’s worth it, I promise!

Sometimes “later” turns into “some day” which turns into “I wish I had.” I don’t know about you, but my biggest fear in life is having regrets. My second biggest fear in life? Skydiving.

That’s always been the thing that I was going to do some day. I can’t say I ever really wanted to go, but it’s something I felt like I should do at least once in my life, but my fear caused me to keep putting it off until later.

My view on doing things later changed drastically after my cancer diagnosis. That diagnosis ended up being a scary realization that not everyone gets the luxury of later.

With that said, I promised myself I’d finally go this year. It was actually one of my New Year’s resolutions! I got two friends to join me and although I was terrified, I’m so glad I did it. It was a crazy experience and unlike anything I have ever done before!

Heads up: expect a long wait if you ever go. We waited about 3 hours before getting in our plane and the anticipation just kept building. The hardest part for me though was the plane ride, but I’m not gonna lie, the jump out of the plane was terrifying too. I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to make the leap without an instructor. I didn’t realize that as a first time skydiver, you really just kind of hang from your instructor and they do all the work. I didn’t even have time to think about it or second guess my decision. He walked me up to the ledge and next thing I know the wind is hitting my face. It literally takes your breath away for a few seconds.

The scariest thing about skydiving was letting go of all control and allowing a total stranger to be in charge of my life for those few minutes. Sounds kind of like a cancer diagnosis, doesn’t it? My life was in my oncologist’s hands during cancer treatment and I had no control over the outcome. For someone who’s a bit of a control freak, that’s a pretty tough concept to grasp. So why willingly let go of control again? I guess this was just my reminder to myself to continue to live life to the fullest and never take a single day for granted. I mean, there’s nothing I can think of that would make you feel more alive than falling 2 miles from a plane!

Will I ever do it again? Probably not… I feel like this was a once in a lifetime thing. I can mark it off the ol’ bucket list and move on to the next thing. The two people I went with said they would absolutely go again and again though, so I guess I’m in the minority with that one.

Now back to you and your goals- my biggest piece of advice is to set a deadline. Instead of saying, “I’d love to go skydiving (or insert less crazy goal here) someday!” say, “I will go skydiving by the end of the year.” You have to be specific with the things you want and keep yourself accountable or it’ll never happen.

Also, before I’m about to do anything that scares me, I always remind myself that if I can survive what I’ve already been through, there’s nothing in this world that I can’t do and I truly believe that. Maybe you’ve never been diagnosed with cancer, but I’m willing to bet you have been through a difficult time and overcame it. Use that negative experience and help it fuel something positive.

Lastly, as promised, here’s the video of my skydive! And before you go, drop a comment below to let me know what your “scary goal” is and tell me when you plan to accomplish it! I’d love to read through them!

When there are a million reasons to quit

Since the moment I said “yes” to half marathon training, I’ve had more than my share of setbacks. Despite that, the thought of quitting never crossed my mind. When I set a goal, nothing can stop me from achieving it. Maybe it’s my stubbornness with a little bit of motivation mixed in, but either way, I’m here to say that when there are a million reasons to give up, you just have to hang on to that one reason why you started.

When I decided that I was going to run a half marathon, I began training for the Norfolk Harbor Half which is at the end of November and would give me plenty of time to work up to the intimidating 13.1 miles. I had already been training for a few weeks when I found out that I wouldn’t be able to take the day off from work to run. This meant I wouldn’t be able to run with the group of people I had been training with and I was crushed. I called my running coach on the brink of tears because it felt like my goal had just gotten ripped away from me. I explained my dilemma and we tried to come up with a back up plan but the only other local option was the Crawlin Crab on October 7.

My coach gave me his honest opinion and said he was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to properly train for this race. However, we realized it was my only option and I convinced him to crank up my training plan to help me get ready. All of a sudden I had a lot more miles to run in a much shorter amount of time. I lost about 5 weeks of valuable training time by switching races, but I was just happy to have a new plan in place. Nothing was going to hold me back from doing this.

Well, nothing except for another unapproved vacation day for the new race date. I couldn’t believe it. Once again, I was devastated. I didn’t even have the heart to tell my running coach right away after he had just spent time creating a new training plan for me. I begged my boss to let me have the morning off and told him I would do anything to be able to run this race. The only way he was able to work this into the schedule was if I worked a double shift the day before my race which would mean running 13.1 miles on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep. SOLD! I told him I would do it.

When I finally had a race in mind and the time off from work, I thought my luck had finally turned around. Of course, life doesn’t always make things easy for us and I ended up facing another obstacle. All the running I had been doing resulted in an injury, a runner’s worst nightmare. It wasn’t a major injury luckily, but it was bad enough that I was ordered to stop running for at least 2 weeks while I worked with a physical therapist. The injury was also partially a result of some chemotherapy side effects which was so frustrating to me. Taking an additional 2 weeks off from running would now put me 7 weeks behind in my initial training plan, but because this setback was partially a result of cancer, it only made me more motivated than ever to continue working toward my goal.

Since being cleared to run again, I’ve ran in the heat, rain, at night (safely of course), and on a treadmill to get my miles in. I’ve ran when I’m exhausted and just wanted to sleep. I’ve ran when I’m incredibly busy and didn’t think I had the time. You name it, I’ve worked through it and now I’m finally just hours away from the race I have been looking forward to for about 2 months now. Of course the situation is far from ideal, but when you have enough motivation, nothing is impossible. If you want it bad enough, you WILL find a way.  

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Running away from cancer

If you would’ve told me just a few months ago that I’d be running a half marathon this year, I would have laughed at you. And then if you would’ve told me I’d be doing it as a way to celebrate my birthday? For fun? Yeah, forget about it.

Since we’re on the topic of birthdays, I want to backtrack to my 25th birthday for a minute. It wasn’t exactly exciting because I spent the entire day in my car travelling from Wyoming to Virginia, but I didn’t care because it was supposed to be the best year ever. I had just accepted a new job that I couldn’t be more excited about, I was going to be living much closer to family, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy my summers at the beach. I felt like I was on top of the world. 

A cancer diagnosis about 6 months later quickly turned what was supposed to be my best year yet into the worst.

My following birthday wasn’t any better. I rang in my 26th year on this planet with my 9th chemotherapy treatment. With that said, I’m long overdue for a good birthday and I have a feeling 27 may finally be my year. My upcoming birthday, October 7, also just so happens to be the same day as my first half marathon, the Crawlin Crab in Hampton, VA. 

Running 13.1 miles wasn’t something that I had ever wanted to do. In fact, the morning before I committed to running a half marathon I actually told a friend of mine that I would NEVER do something like that and I didn’t understand what the appeal was. I thought people who run distances like that were nuts! Fast forward just a few hours to that afternoon when I was meeting a different friend for coffee. This friend just so happens to be a running coach. With that said, we were not meeting to talk about running at all. I actually just needed some life advice and we ended up having a great conversation. Right before we were about to head out, the topic of running came up. He told me about a training team he coaches and invited me to join. The catch? I had to pick a race to train for. The available options were a 5k race, a half marathon, or a full marathon. This friend of mine is incredibly motivating and at that instant, I let go of all my opinions on running that I had expressed just that morning. Without hesitation, I decided that I was going to start training for a half marathon.

Since then, I’ve been strictly following my half marathon training plan and getting myself ready for this race. I’ve faced more than my share of setbacks, but I never let that stop me. You WILL see me crossing that finish line this weekend and it’s going to be the best feeling ever. Not only is it a great way to ring in my 27th year on this planet, I also can’t think of a better way to prove that cancer didn’t win.

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Being a cancer survivor is hard

Let me start by saying I feel a little bit guilty about the title of this post. I realize there are so many people out there fighting hard for their lives and they would do anything to be cancer free. I also understand my cancer diagnosis could’ve turned out much worse and I don’t take that for granted. At the same time, it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for a title I never wanted in the first place. Who actually wants to be a cancer survivor? Only people who were unlucky enough to be diagnosed in the first place, I guess. I went through this terrible experience that forced me to think about death at 25 years old and now that it’s over, I find myself still searching for those “sunny skies ahead.”

It’s been tough for me to go back to “normal” life, especially since I don’t even know what that means anymore. People constantly tell me how happy I must be and, at times, it feels other people have set this impossible standard for me to live up to. That’s why, even on my bad days, I’d force a smile and agree cheerfully that life is great. It felt wrong for me to have a bad day because how could I possibly be sad now that I’m cancer free? I didn’t think anyone would ever understand because I didn’t understand it myself. I made it my goal to get through everyday with a smile, but the second I’d walk into my apartment after work, all the emotions I had suppressed all day would come flooding out. Many times I wouldn’t even make it to my apartment before tears would be rushing down my face. This entire year has been such an unexpected emotional roller coaster. I’m sure these emotions were partly due to the effects that cancer had on just about every aspect of my life- mentally, physically, emotionally, financially… and partly due to the fact that I don’t think I ever fully processed what I went through.

How exactly is someone supposed to process a huge, life-altering event like fighting cancer? It’s still hard for me to believe that any of it even happened. I continually push it to the back of my mind and even forget about it sometimes. That is, until the neuropathy starts to bother me, or I see any one of my scars glaring back at me in the mirror, or a past-due medical bill shows up in the mail. Then it magically feels all too real again.

The one thing I found motivation in was helping others. It sounds cheesy and probably made up, but honestly, it’s what has gotten me through these past 6 months. I made it my mission to turn this awful thing that happened to me into something positive. It all started with my Warrior Bag project where I’d send out tote bags full of goodies to other cancer patients. I put my heart and soul into those bags and it took every bit of my energy… and I loved every second of it. I also helped my young friend, David, raise about $5,000 for pediatric cancer research in memory of his friend, Hunter. I even offered to shave my newly growing hair if we met our goal of $10k. That’s how badly I wanted to help. Directly after that, I got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised over $25,000 in 10 weeks. When I say I worked tirelessly on this fundraising campaign, I absolutely mean it. I spent every minute of free time I had planning events and soliciting donations. My days off were not at all “days off.”

I don’t bring any of this up to brag about what I’ve done or to get recognition. That was never my intention. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. I’m finally throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. Even though I’m so proud of each of my fundraising/charity ventures, I can’t continue helping others until I take care of myself. It’s like when you get on an airplane and the flight attendants remind you that if the pressure drops, you must secure your own oxygen mask before you help others. Well, my oxygen mask is still hanging from the ceiling and the more masks I secure on those around me, the more I find myself gasping for air.

This past week has been my very first week all year without any kind of fundraising or charity event to work on and I’ve spent most of it sick in bed. I started feeling sick just two days after my last fundraiser ended. I know it’s my body’s way of telling me I need to take a step back and reevaluate my priorities. I think my body has been trying to tell me this for a while, but I’m apparently stubborn and even a cancer diagnosis didn’t immediately send the message. I’m ready to listen now and I know what I need to do.

First and foremost, I need to start being a little more selfish with my spare time. I need to figure out how to pay off my own medical bills and get back on my feet financially instead of raising tens of thousands of dollars for other charities. I need to take time to hang out with my friends who have been so patient with me and my busy schedule. I need to find out what truly makes me happy and start focussing on those things instead of trying so hard to make other people happy. I need to get rid of the stress in my life because being as stressed out as I have been is only going to cause me to get sick. Again.

Too often, we are pressured into pretending our lives are perfect, forcing that smile, and keeping our issues quiet. When I originally wrote the first draft of this a few weeks ago, I had no intention of actually posting it. There are a lot of things I write about that I prefer to keep private and this was one of them. When I first started this cancer journey (for lack of a better term), I promised to be real and honest and after thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided I need to share this post in order to keep that promise. Maybe I’m the only one who is struggling with life after cancer, but maybe there is someone else out there who can relate and needs to know they’re not alone.

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WOW

“WOW” written upside down spells “MOM.” Coincidence? I think not…

Aren’t moms amazing? All moms are, but I’m convinced that moms who also become caregivers are superheroes in disguise. My pre-cancer self had no idea what it took to be a caregiver, but my post-cancer self knows that at times, my caregivers had it worse than me.

While there are so many people that have helped me through the crazy, awful, and emotional past several months, I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten through it all without my mom.

She was there through all of it, the good, the bad, the worse, and everything in between. I wanted to take some time to share some of the things that she has been through with me that I’m sure many other caregivers can relate to.

She’s the one who was there for almost all of my appointments. She had to hear the shocking news with me and the had to deal with me reacting to finding out I had cancer. She waited for hours in waiting rooms with me which many times would last a full day. She sat there while I had my infusions, went to all of the tough appointments, and was also there for the happy appointments.

She’s the one who kept me focused when I was feeling overwhelmed. This was especially true in the beginning when so much information was constantly being thrown my way. I remember she would make little to-do lists for me and keep a notebook full of my never ending list of doctors including their phone numbers and addresses. I remember that being such a big help.

She’s the one who kept my mind off the bad things when possible. On the day of my first chemo treatment, you would probably guess I was a nervous wreck. The truth is, I was actually having the best day that I had in a while! My mom and I made silly videos on my phone, took selfies, and got green juices which we both loved. We were more worried about making sure we had the right angles and lighting in our pictures than we were about my upcoming treatment. I don’t even remember thinking about chemo until I got called in to my chemo room. Somehow, she made that day fun and kept me distracted.

She was the one who had to deal with my emotional meltdowns at almost every single appointment. I wish I was exaggerating, but this happened more often than I led anyone to believe. I’ve never been a big crier but during treatment especially, it seemed like everything made me cry. The stress, anticipatory nausea, worry, and every other emotion would all come out the minute I stepped foot in the cancer center. Every time, even if I wasn’t there for chemo. I think she’s seen me cry more times this year than I’ve ever cried in my entire life.

She’s seen me at my absolute worst. She even held my hair back for me while I was sick during treatment when she could’ve taken the easy way out and just took my wig off LOL 😉 I’m not making that up!

She was the one who had to shave my hair off when it was falling out. We tried to make it fun, but I imagine it’s not really a fun thing for any mom to have to do.

She’s the one that would call my doctor late at night when I was dealing with unusual side effects from chemo. This happened after just about every treatment. At first, the staff at my oncologist’s office made me get on the phone to verify that my mom had permission to talk on my behalf, but she would call so often that they actually stopped asking lol! The funniest story was from early in my treatment. A day or two after chemo, I got the hiccups and they lasted for 2 days! My mom was so nervous that she actually called the oncology office and told them that I had hiccups and said she was worried lol! I wish I could’ve seen the nurses reaction to that phone call. I’m sure they had a good laugh over it, but that story shows how attentive she was.

She’s the one that brought me food when I couldn’t get out of bed. After chemo, I’d be in bed for at least 3-5 days. After that, I would slowly start to get up for an hour one day, a few more the next, and possibly even stay out of bed for half a day after that. When I would eventually feel well enough to eat, she would make me all kinds of weird meals based on what I thought I could get down. Usually it was either jello or some form of potatoes.

She’s the one that took care of Chloe (my dog) when I couldn’t. On that stretch of 4-5 days when I couldn’t seem to get out of bed, Chloe was always right there with me. Chloe deserves her own little caregiver day because she wouldn’t leave my side when I was sick.  She would hardly eat anything and only got out of bed in the morning when I actually had to push her off the bed so my mom could let her go to the bathroom.

On top of all this, she is also battling cancer herself. My mom is living with stage 4 metastatic thyroid cancer (completely unrelated to my lymphoma). When we first found out about her diagnosis, I convinced her to start a blog. I’m not really sure why I did that because I knew nothing about blogging at the time, I just thought it may help to get some of her thoughts out and could possibly help someone else. I never knew that one day I’d be taking my own advice. This isn’t something she talks about often and if you were to meet her, you’d never know the battle she’s fighting. In her blog, she talks about how she’s living with this disease and how she has changed her lifestyle as a result. If you’re interested, you can check out her blog here or you can visit her Facebook page here. Feel free to send her a message and say hi! I get so many thoughtful and encouraging messages and I’d love for my mom to receive some love as well. She deserves it more than I do.

Thank you all for reading and if you’re lucky enough to have your mom in your life, give her a big hug and remind her of how much you love her! Also, make sure you let all of the caregivers out there know how much they are appreciated. They deserve to be celebrated every day of the year.

BTW-My dad and the rest of my family have all been amazing through everything also and I don’t want to downplay everything he’s done for me. Together they make a pretty good caregiving team and I’m so lucky to have them both.

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Life after cancer

This picture was taken shortly after I returned to work. At this point, my life felt amazing. I had a coworker take this photo because I couldn’t believe I finally had my own desk. Who gets excited over that? Someone who just beat cancer, I guess. Everything was amazing during those first few weeks of my new “normal” but eventually that feeling wore off and I realized there’s a lot more to this new life of mine. Since May 2017, I couldn’t wait to get to this point, yet here I am feeling so lost and confused.

Life after cancer is so much harder than I ever imagined it to be.

Everything about cancer is awful from before the diagnosis, throughout treatment, and apparently even after it’s all over. Life after cancer was supposed to be amazing. I had a new appreciation for everything and a boost of confidence that would get me through whatever was thrown my way. Although I am so thankful to be here and finished with my treatments, it turns out none of this is actually that easy.

Physical effects from chemo: I’m still dealing with some intense fatigue, even months after my last treatment. I’ve been trying to stay busy because once I sit still, it takes every bit of effort to not fall asleep. Working out regularly has helped a little bit with my energy levels though. Once I got back to work, I was determined to also get back in the gym. I wanted to prove that cancer couldn’t hold me back forever. Not only was it really hard to see how much strength I’ve lost since my cancer journey started, but I’m also still dealing with some pretty bad neuropathy. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I recently started jogging again. During what was supposed to be an easy jog, both of my calves swelled up in so much pain and my feet went numb. I couldn’t feel my toes. I’ve been trying to continue jogging since then, but it has become an ongoing problem that severely limits how far I can go. I eagerly signed up for a few 5k races before I realized how much the neuropathy was still affecting me and it’s so disappointing that the cancer side effects continue to have this much control over what I am able to do. I plan to follow through with those 5ks though, even if it means walking a good portion of them.

Emotional effects from cancer: Cancer is traumatic. Somehow, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what I went through, but there are still many things that are really tough to think about. There are a lot of emotions I’m dealing with that I can’t even describe. I don’t understand it because I should be ecstatic, right? I just beat cancer! Unfortunately, life after cancer doesn’t come with a manual to explain these things, although I wish it did. It’s such a roller coaster from day to day. There are days that I feel on top of the world followed by days that are incredibly tough to get through. That’s about as much detail as I wish to go into on this topic right now, but I think it’s important to note that the emotional stress after cancer is almost as bad as during treatment in my opinion.

Financial stress– Another thing people don’t talk about is that cancer is really, really expensive. Many times, cancer will force a person to stop working and even if you’re lucky enough to get some compensation for being out of work, it’s going to be a huge cut from what you’re used to. Then, you have to worry about all of the medical bills, countless prescriptions, fertility preservation fees (which is an ongoing monthly cost), travel to and from the cancer center, moving costs… I could fill up a whole page with this list. These expenses don’t just go away when the cancer does. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn’t have insurance because even with insurance, the cost of having cancer has been overwhelming and stressful.

Anxiety- Since my last PET scan, I’ve been living in a constant state of fear that this may not be over. I hear so many stories about people, who I know personally, having relapses or suspicious scans even after they’ve been told they’re clear. I over-analyze every little thing and worry that it may be the cancer coming back. It’s a stress that I’m not sure will ever go away. My next scan is coming up in just a few weeks and I’m sure that has been the cause of a lot of the anxiety in my life recently. It’s one of those things that I’m dreading going through, but at the same time I can’t wait for that day to get here and hopefully clear up some of the “scanxiety” that I’m dealing with.

I want to end this by saying that I have so much to be grateful for and I don’t want this post to take away from that at all. I knew I wanted to write about life after cancer from the moment I beat it, but I never imagined it would go like this. Every day is a work in progress to try to get back to a new normal, a new happy, and a new healthy and I’m realizing now that it’s going to take some time. With that said, I, of course, am very thankful to be given the opportunity to find those new realities and will continue working on myself until that day comes.

 

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It’s not “just hair”

I had just dug my Navy uniform out of a storage box last night in anticipation of my first day back today. This baby hadn’t seen daylight in about 10 months and I was ready to dust off my boots (isn’t that a country song?) and get back to my part-time military life. After some much needled snuggles with Chloe and Cassie this morning, I put my uniform on and immediately went to the mirror to check it out. It had been so long since I last wore it I forgot what it looked like, but it all quickly came back to me. Yup, this uniform was just as unflattering as I had remembered and I was loving it. It was a nice change from the dresses and thick makeup that I typically wear to work. Just as I was in the middle of admiring my uniform in the mirror, a devastating realization hit me out of nowhere.

I can’t wear my wig.

The hair on my wig is too long to wear down in uniform and it’s too short to fit into a bun. I tried on some old wigs that I hadn’t worn in months and quickly remembered why I hadn’t worn them. Seriously, what was I thinking when I bought these?

I stared in the mirror for a good ten minutes, trying to figure out what to do. I spent way too long trying to tame the tiny pieces of hair that each seemed to have a mind of their own. You see, I have this permanent bedhead look going on right now and I can never get all of my little hairs to flow in the same direction. I tried hard to make it look a little less like I had just rolled out of bed, even though I technically had, but to no avail. I was not ready for this. Sure, I post pictures and show you all updates of my hair growing back, but somehow this felt different. You all know what I’ve been through and there’s a level of comfort there that I don’t have when I’m in public. Plus, let’s be real, in photos I can control the lighting and the filters I use and believe me when I say that most of my pictures have filters on them. If Instagram didn’t want us to use them they wouldn’t be available, right? At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

I also have to say that I even skip the wig at the gym most of the time, but honestly there are maybe 3 other people in the gym whenever I’m there. Maybe it’s not very logical to most, but to me it was dreadful. To be completely honest, I felt like someone would end up calling me “sir” before the day was over. Navy uniforms aren’t exactly feminine and combined with short hair, it would be an easy mistake for someone to make.

I fluffed up my hair as much as I could without having any hair products because, well, who needs hair products when you don’t have hair? I used water and lotion (I was desperate) to try to make it look like I have more hair than I do. I walked out the door, made my way to the base, and got to work.

Today ended up being awful. It was one of those days that nothing seemed to go right. I got very little work done because of problems that were beyond my control and it felt like a complete waste of a day. Feeling defeated and tired, I found a Dunkin Donuts on my GPS and made a quick detour before heading home for the day. I needed a pick-me-up and although the Starbucks right outside base looked appealing, I’m definitely more of a Dunkin girl. I pulled up and realized that there was no drive thru at that particular location. I didn’t even realize they made Dunkin Donuts without drive thrus! I wasn’t being lazy, instead I was dreading going inside and showing off my half inch hairs to even more people. I looked for other nearby coffee shops and didn’t find any that weren’t completely out of the way. The caffeine addict in me won and I eventually worked up the courage to walk inside.

I ordered my medium coffee with almond milk in a paper cup (I avoid styrofoam like the plague) and awkwardly waited in the corner, staring at my phone and avoiding any potential eye contact in hopes that nobody would notice me and my lack of hair. As I was walking outside, a woman in front of me held the door open and then continued walking to her car. All of a sudden she stopped, turned around and said, “you are so beautiful.” I don’t even remember what I said back because I was so caught off guard. All day I had been feeling uncomfortable and insecure and this total stranger has no clue how much those four little words meant to me. I got in my car and my eyes swelled up with tears. Maybe it was partially from the stress of my day or from all of the insecurities I had held in since this morning, but I know it was mostly from the sweet compliment by a total stranger and I just completely lost it.

I wanted to share this story for a couple reasons. The first is to show that I’m still struggling. Every. Single. Day. I’m constantly trying to find my “new normal” and it’s been so much harder than I have ever admitted to. Nobody tells you how hard life after cancer is so here I am, letting you know that it is not nearly the cake walk that I had been dreaming about since my diagnosis. Please go easy on the cancer survivors in your life because even when it’s over, it’s not really over. The second reason is to remind everyone that a simple kind gesture will go so far. You never know what the person next to you is truly going through and a small compliment, or any other act of kindness may mean the difference between a total failure of a day for someone or a happy ending.

 

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