Monday, March 6, 2017

CC15: Everything is Normal?

October 26th: I was told I most likely had cancer
November 2nd: the cancer was confirmed
November 7th: I was told the cancer was stage II
November 28th: I began chemo
January 30th: chemo was completed

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
(Blonde up top, beard is dark)
These are perhaps the five most significant dates in my cancer journey. This past week, another date I won’t ever forget joined the above:

March 2nd: the day I was told I was in remission

Mallory and I met with Dr. Maurer in the afternoon to go over the results of my most recent CT scan. He began by pulling up my scans from November and comparing them to the scan from this past Saturday, February 25th. I am not a doctor, but even I could see that things had vastly improved. “Robin’s egg sized” tumors that lined my spine in November were now small specks. (These specks are normal sized lymph nodes.) My scans were clear - I was officially on the road to being cancer free. (No word on when I get my official monogrammed “Cancer Survivor” letterman’s jacket. That’s a thing, right?)

Hearing the words “you are in remission” was surreal. I wasn’t sure how to feel right then. Mallory was beaming from ear to ear, and my mom (via FaceTime) welled up with tears of joy. At that moment, I just wanted more details.

Dr. Maurer said that I would be tracked closely for the next two years, as this was the timeframe for the greatest risk of recurrence. I would have another CT scan in early June to confirm that there were no changes. Those scans would be compared to my “new baseline” scans from February. Changes would be tracked and closely monitored. If those scans were good, my port could be removed shortly thereafter. He wanted to make sure that my port was out well before the honeymoon in July, so I wouldn’t need to have limits on what I could do. A simple gesture, but it meant a lot to me. (We have plans to ride ATVs where they filmed Jurassic Park. I am not going to miss out on that.)

I'll pretend I know what any of this means
We discussed various other details. My hair (which is now a rich fuzz) will continue to regrow and should be back to its normal length by the wedding. (However, it’s coming in blonde. As my mom puts it, I guess I’ll find out if blondes really have more fun.) I would need my port flushed in April to make sure it didn’t get clogged up and cause difficulties for me. I need to be proactive in monitoring my health for any changes.

One thing that really resonated with me was that he advised me to seek counseling to help process everything and recommended a specific therapist. He said that oftentimes, cancer patients are more or less emotionally fine during treatment but face struggles in the aftermath.

I agree with this. While I was receiving chemo, my nurses and doctors told me what to do to be healed, and Mallory and my mom helped support me. My grandfather’s mantra, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it” became my own. I had little time to react and process anything - I just had to act.

But now, I’m back at work. My hair and beard are regrowing. My cancer is gone for now. My energy levels and appetite are recovering. We’ve resumed wedding planning. From the outside, things look pretty normal.

Remission is a good thing, and I am happy about that. People tell me congratulations (although I don’t feel like I did anything worthy of receiving this) and that I must be relieved. I am, but it’s a weird mix of happiness, anxiety about the possibility of recurrence, and built up stress from everything that has happened.

My life had changed drastically since October. Things should be getting back to normal, but life has now just slowed down enough for me to begin processing everything that has happened.

From initial discovery to being in remission, it’s been less than five months. It’s a lot for anyone to process and handle in an incredibly short time frame, let alone a 25-year-old whose biggest concern before this was if he could stay up late enough to watch a Marvel midnight showing.

I’ve really had no time to process what has happened to me. Emotionally, I do not feel quite normal. Yes, I had three months off of work, but that was no vacation. It was spent allowing my body to recover and dealing with side effects. I don’t really feel like my body betrayed me or wonder why this had to happen to me, but I’ve also not allowed myself time to reflect and process this whole ordeal. It’s really hard to put into words, and it’s the type of thing you can’t quite understand until you experience it for yourself (which I sincerely hope you never have to do).

I am looking into getting counseling now and feel no shame in admitting that. I’ve been completely transparent with ABSOT and want to continue to do so. I will most likely not share exact details about what I discuss in counseling, but will share what I’ve found has worked for me in hopes of helping future patients.

I always try to mask my emotions and appear to be strong, but I know that this is not a time to do that. That might work when I am upset about the dishes not being done that evening, but it’s not a good way to handle a post-cancer transition back to normal life. As I mentioned before, I was in counseling in high school and it helped get me out of a bad place. I want to be proactive and not let myself get to that place again.

But despite everything, I still see a positive.. Cancer really put things in perspective for me. I can more clearly see what is important to me, like my personal relationships, and what really isn’t worthy of my time, thoughts, or energy.

Even though my body may be healed, my emotions are not recovering quite as quickly. The real work with that is only beginning, but I’m confident that with the support of those closest to me, I will truly be able to embrace the joy of being in remission.

I’ve completed undergoing chemotherapy to cure my cancer. Each Monday, I’ll post my thoughts on this experience. These may be reflections on my prior week’s treatments, musings about my newly-altered life, or anything else that comes into my “chemo brain.” Follow along with all of my posts here.

3 comments:

  1. This is great news, Justin! Man, I'm relieved. This blog, and all you've shared, has been an encouragement to me over these past few months. I'm glad you are going to continue it.

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  2. So happy to hear you're in remission. I know your story will continue to make an impact on othes; thanks for being so willing to share it.

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  3. So great to read about your success at kicking cancer's sorry a**. Continue to be a role model of perseverance and hope.

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