Saturday, 14 May 2016.
Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending the Midpoint Dinner for the Man & Woman of the Year campaign for LLS. The ice-breaker activity was ‘Person Bingo’. Each bingo square had a piece of information about someone at the dinner and each person could only sign your board once. It was a great way to be able to walk up to people you don’t know and introduce yourself and learn something new about them. Of course I can be super awkward and shy in situations like this, but even I thought it was a pretty cool little game to get the room mingling.
Grown up lady 😉
On Wednesday evening, my friend, Kim, who is very much involved with MWOY asked if I would be willing to speak along with her and five other survivors at the dinner. I didn’t hesitate to agree. Our topic was: What was something that happened during or after our treatment that we didn’t expect? The more I thought about it the more I realized there was one major part of my experience that I never would have guessed I would have to deal with.
Here are some amazing photos taken by Matt Blasing of the event:
When I started gathering my thoughts for what I would discuss, I began to tear up. It’s funny how this can happen when I least expect it. Sometimes my diagnosis feels so far away that I can talk about it in an almost clinical fashion with very little emotion. That was clearly not going to be the case for me at this dinner. I don’t mind showing my emotions in public as long as I’m able to reign it in a little and I think I was able to do that fairly well.
Looking back at this ‘cancer journey’ I remember in the beginning struggling so much watching the pain and suffering that my illness was already causing the people I love most. At the time that was far more difficult than going through the treatment itself. I was still in shock in so many ways, so it hadn’t sunk in how much my life would change and how ruthless cancer is when it injects itself into every activity, relationship, and aspect of a patient’s life.
I felt like I was living in a vacuum and that was a good thing for me at that time. I couldn’t comprehend much of anything that was going on outside of that hospital room. The things I expected from treatment were many; the doctors prepared me for a lot of what I would be facing over the next days, weeks, and months. I expected hair loss, weight loss, weight gain, nausea and vomiting, weakness, extreme fatigue, muscle atrophy, nerve damage, immune deficiency, and of course depression.
As a 26 year old woman at that point It didn’t occur to me that anything would need to be done with my reproductive system. I have been thinking about this post for quite some time and how to best explain this. The MWOY midpoint dinner gave me the perfect opportunity to organize my thoughts and share something so personal. Now that I have been a member of the cancer community for a couple years, I have read a lot about fertility and steps that can be taken to maintain the opportunity for a family following chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Because my treatment had to start immediately (48 hours) following my diagnosis, there was no time to do anything to preserve my fertility. What was done was the next best thing. If the doctors weren’t able to preserve my fertility they would shut down the system entirely and hope that they could at least protect it. I was given an injection of Lupron which put me into a medically induced menopause.
Every 90 days I received one of these injections. My last one was in October of 2015, so I would have been due in January 2016 to receive another, but my physician and I decided that we would forgo that dose since I was so close to the end of treatment. It took my body just a few months to finally be back to functioning like a normal 29 year old’s body again. It’s difficult to express what a relief that is. But there are still many unanswered questions.
One question that constantly nagged at me was will my body snap out of this? Will the hot flashes disappear or will they linger? On a day-to-day basis, the hot flashes were by far my worst complaint. They simply made me miserable. It was not at all unusual for me to have to leave a store that I had just walked into because I was suddenly in the midst of an unbearable hot flash. Some nights I wouldn’t sleep a wink because I would be so busy throwing the covers off and then pulling them back on. Even trying to pick out pajamas that I could stay in all night was a struggle. I had officially boarded the struggle bus and I didn’t know when I was going to be able to get off.
I tried unsuccessfully to connect with other females going through this same experience. I just wanted to know if it would get better. During the months when I was getting heavy doses of chemo I could be very nauseas and might even vomit on a daily basis. But it always passed, it didn’t stay with me for days at a time like the hot flashes did.
I am happy to say that the hot flashes are completely gone now. I go to bed at night without worrying about waking up and changing my pajamas or waking up drenched and changing the sheets. Part of the reason I’m sharing this is selfish because it’s cathartic for me but I also want anyone out there going through the same thing to know that it went away for me and it may go away for you as well.
I don’t know what the future holds as far as starting a family. As an only child I’ve always wanted a big family but I’m so very thankful to be where I am and to finally be feeling like a healthy 30 year old woman again.
If you are a cancer survivor, what is something about your experience that you didn’t expect?