In an effort to connect more over here on She is Dallas I want to start sharing with you all my battle with cancer. It was over 7 years ago at this point in time, but the scars are real.
So, it’s time.
Time for me to start talking about my cancer. My year long fight with cancer is a MAJOR part of who I am today. I think it’s time to start opening that door to the past.
I used to talk about it all the time but as the years have passed I rarely bring it up. There are actually days, sometimes even weeks that go by where I don’t even remember that I had cancer.
I was diagnosed on August 4, 2003. Twenty days before my 21st birthday.
My dad was the one who had to tell me I had cancer. A week earlier I went to the ER for excessive pain in my chest and stabby pain in my arm. I thought I was imagining it, the stress of that Spanish III summer school class was getting to me. Boy was I wrong. They found the tumor that day, put a giant needle in my chest to get a sample piece of tissue and sent me on my way to sit around and wonder for a WEEK if I had cancer.
It was large B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The tumor in my chest was the size of a grapefruit (about 9 cm in diameter). It was Stage 1, which was fantastic, but it was an aggressive cancer. They guessed that it had only been growing for about 2-3 months and had already gotten that large.
There are so many stories to tell from that time. I had to quit school for a semester (it was actually the semester I was supposed to graduate… ain’t that a bitch?). I had both chemotherapy and radiation. I lost my hair. I wore fun wigs. I had a busted catheter that landed me in the hospital for a week with a dangerous staph infection in my chest.
I have scars on my chest and tiny little needle point tattoos on my stomach from where they would line me up underneath the radiation machine. I got called out on a city bus in Austin for how “inappropriate” my Cancer Sucks shirt was- Oh how I considered taking off my wig to show him that actually, the shirt couldn’t be more appropriate.
For now, I will share with you a speech I gave about a year and a half after my cancer diagnosis. I got really involved in the American Cancer Society post treatment. I ended up being the chair of the Survivor Committee for my local Relay for Life. For those of you who have never participated in a a Relay for Life, I HIGHLY recommend it. It is an amazing experience. I had the pleasure of being asked to speak at the beginning of this Relay about my experience with cancer.
I’d like to share that speech with you. And just in case you are wondering… I cried through the entire thing. So did my friends and family. It was hard to talk about it in front of so many people but it was one of the most invigorating and uplifiting moments in my life.
Survivor Speech – Written April 2005:
I remember the day I walked into my house, the place that had been familiar to me for so many years suddenly seemed so foreign. I remember knowing, but still holding onto that fragment of hope that keeps us all sane. The hope that every doctor was wrong and I was right.
I remember seeing my dad pace through the den and then watching my mom and sisters walk out the backdoor to our patio. My dad looked at me with no color in his face and asked me to sit down next to him.
I couldn't sit. I placed my bag on the floor and just asked him to tell me. The asking turned to begging and then he finally said those words that changed my life forever.
It's lymphoma. At that moment, I wasn't even for certain what lymphoma meant, but I knew it was cancer and that was enough to make my knees buckle. I sat down next to him and just let him hold me while I cried. He kept squeezing harder and saying I was going to be okay. I was young, I was healthy and I was going to beat it.
All I could say was No and Why.
Why me? I was young, I was healthy. And most importantly- was I going to beat it?
I looked up and saw my dad, a man who rarely cries, with tears streaming down his face. I told him I didn't want to die.
He just held me tighter.
I remember walking outside to see my mom and sisters, all were misty-eyed and all were silent. They came up to hug me at the same time. I found myself assuring them. Saying that everything was going to be okay and we were going to fight it.
From that moment on I was a survivor. I consider cancer to be the best thing that ever happened to me wrapped in the worst package.
I got to find out what I meant to friends and family. I got to feel in my soul how precious life is and how every moment counts.
There were mornings that I woke up wishing it was a dream and nights I went to sleep just hoping I ™d wake up.
There was the day I first started to notice my hair fall out. And the day it got so thin that I finally asked my dad to shave it. We sat in his bathroom while I watched him shave my head with a beard trimmer (the only resource we had). Tears streamed down my face, it felt too real ¦ but once again my family pulled through as my dad told me, You're head is the perfect shape to be bald, I have a feeling mine would be bumpy- I would look like an egg, but you look beautiful.
I remember the day we coined the cancer card or C card for short. We had been playing scrabble and I had the letter ˜q ™ with no ˜u ™ and we all know that's a curse in scrabble. I looked at my dad with batty eyes and asked for his ˜u. ™ He gave it to me and quipped how I wouldn't be able to play the c card forever. We all laughed and from then on anytime I got a little cranky or asked for something I really didn't need we would joke about playing the c card. We ™d all smile and laugh and in those moments we felt safe from the reality of it all.
There were good days and bad days, but my family was there for all of it. Every doctor's appointment…every chemo ¦every hospitalization. I was never alone.
Suddenly life became celebrating the small victories: a day without pain, walking up the stairs without fatigue, enjoying a good laugh, noticing that my hair was finally coming back and finding out that I was in remission.
Not a day goes by when I don't think about having cancer. Some days it's being amazed by the fact that it's been a year and a half since my diagnosis. Others it's just remembering a hard time. And it's always worrying that it will come back.
That fear never goes away, but it weakens with each day and it's okay because I have the spirit of a survivor.
Cancer is a part of who I am, it is not all of who I am ¦ and for that I ™m eternally grateful. We're all survivors standing here, some of us are farther on the path of victory then others- but we're all fighting the good fight.
Remember to love every moment of everyday and look inside yourself for that inner strength. Rely on it when you need it and never lose sight of it. Use laughter and smiles to get through the dark times and keep them around for the good times.
And just know, that no matter what happens, you will always be a survivor.