I am a cancer survivor. At age 31 I was diagnosed with cancer but now I am healthy and on the other side of that chapter in my life. There were definitely a few tough years but I’ve finally figured out true happiness, self-love, and I can unequivocally say I am living my best life.
Let’s take it back for a moment: It was June 2015 and I just finished a half marathon and was in the best shape I’d been in for probably the last 10 years. I was working out 5+ days a week and living what I thought was my best life. It was luck that I noticed some swelling in my neck/collarbone area and went in to the doctor. This appointment rapidly led to a bunch of tests, a biopsy, and consultations. On Tuesday June 30, 2015, I got the call that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had cancer.
There are few other things that halt your life like being told you have cancer. Everything comes to a standstill. Any and all plans you have are put on hold or cancelled. You have to break the news to your family and friends that your life is in jeopardy, that you’re going to have to go through chemo and radiation. You have to listen to each person over and over trying to be strong for you when you know that they are breaking down on the other end of the line. You feel like you have to carry a strong front even if you’re losing it on the inside, because you don’t want to worry your loved ones. There’s a lot that a cancer patient carries in their fight to get better. Thankfully, I was able to get through chemo relatively easily. I figured out how to keep the nausea in check and I was still able to work and do a lot of things I wanted to. I found an escape through a “sip and paint” studio near me and did a couple of SUP yoga classes that let me get away from being “Cancer Katie” for a couple of hours. I had chemo every 2 weeks for 6 months, for 12 treatments total.
Towards the end of chemo, the days were hard. The fatigue was almost a constant thing. It was harder to get up and get moving and I cried a lot. The last couple of months I think there were more tears than smiles. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Before my diagnosis, I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel any of the symptoms that I was “supposed to” feel for having Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I mean I just did a freaking half marathon a month before! So, it angered me that I had to feel so crappy, when I didn’t before. There was one moment probably in the 5th month of treatment where I remember laying on the couch, tired and just over it. That was the moment when I first understood suicide. I never had suicidal thoughts, but I could now understand how someone would. The never-ending appointments, the not feeling like yourself, always feeling tired with little energy to do anything…you just want to give up. If people feel alone and don’t have a strong supportive group around them, I could easily see how someone would come to this decision. And then I cried again thinking about it.
I am grateful that I have loving and supportive family and friends. It was my best friend and my uncle who early on had more faith in me than I had in myself. They convinced me that I was going to be okay, that I’m a “tough broad” and would have no trouble beating cancer. I have an amazing husband and 2 incredibly adorable dogs who I had to live for. My sister was right by my side for some of the toughest appointments. Because of these people, and many others, I had to get better. I had so much life in front of me I still needed to live, that not beating cancer was never an option for me. I wanted to live.
Once my treatment was completed, I felt lost. I thought once I was done with chemo and radiation, that with a snap of my fingers, I would be back to the old me and pick right back up from where I left off. A lot happened in the 8 months of chemo and radiation. Some relationships changed. My weight changed. I froze my gym membership because with a weakened immune system, the last place I needed to be was at the gym. My mental capacity and mental health changed (because chemo brain is a real thing ya’ll!). I didn’t know who I was. I was beyond frustrated I couldn’t get back to the original Katie and I didn’t want to acknowledge Katie 2.0. Once I finally did, things started clicking back in to place.
My last day of radiation was February 25, 2016 and it took over two years for me to genuinely feel like I had found my way again. It took that long to truly feel like I embraced who I am now and accept myself. It took that long to learn to love myself, and I can’t even say to love myself again because I’m not so sure I truly loved myself prior to cancer.
I acknowledged that I was a different person after cancer and stopped caring what other people thought of me. I embraced the good and the not so good parts of me; I acknowledged and honored my strengths and my weaknesses. I figured out what areas I wanted to work on in my life. Once I did all that, I found myself again. Life became easier and I began living a more honest life. I started making myself a priority and started investing more time in me. I don’t skip my workout because something more enticing comes along. I figure out how to make it all fit my schedule. I’m not afraid to try new things and challenge myself and my comfort zone. I recognize I’m not perfect and when I have a day where I mess up, I show myself some grace and acknowledge that tomorrow is a new day to be amazing again. In fact, each hour, each day, is a new opportunity to do great things and feed your mind, body, and soul. These days, feeding my mind, body, and soul in part looks like reading a good book, spending time with people I really care about, showing up to 6am gym class, or going to a spin class with my sis.
I still struggle with things post-cancer like survivor’s guilt and the fear that it will come back, but I don’t let it run my life. I obviously don’t enjoy the fact that I had to go through all of that, but I’m grateful I did. It gave me the chance to know the real me and to also share my story. I’ve seen dark days and know how tough it is to pull yourself out of it, but it is possible. Focus on your purpose and never ever take your eyes off of it. Even when you don’t think you can see it, hold on tight, have faith, and don’t ever doubt your abilities. You’ve got this!
Looking to connect? I'd love to hear from you @kaydeeann07