Three years ago I had my first day of chemotherapy and external radiation. The first day of a five and a half week schedule that consisted of five rounds of Cisplatin, a platinum based chemotherapy, and twenty-eight rounds of external radiation to my pelvic area. It wasn’t expected that I’d have to have additional treatment after my radical hysterectomy to treat cervical cancer. But unfortunately, after pathology showed microscopic traces of cancer in two out of nineteen of the lymph nodes they removed from my pelvis, it was important to undergo further treatment to destroy any remaining cells that could be lurking in my body.
I remember people telling me to “be strong” and that I’d “be fine”. But at the time, I didn’t know if I’d be fine. But it’s hard to figure out what to say to someone whose going through cancer treatment. It’s hard to find the words or figure out the actions that will truly help them be strong or be fine. In my case, mentally I wasn’t strong and I wasn’t fine and I knew it.
The first day of treatment I remember crying. I cried because it hadn’t been the original plan. I cried because going through surgery was hard, but going through chemo and radiation somehow gave me a stronger understanding of the fact that I had cancer. The weeks that followed seemed to move slowly. Each day was different and each day I grew weaker, not just due to the treatment, but because I was depressed more than I’d ever been. I wasn’t strong or fine, I was scared and anxious, angry and tired.
I cried almost every single day, especially the days I had chemo. And when I completed treatment five and a half weeks later, I looked like a shell of my former self. From the day I was told I had cancer to the final day of treatment I had lost about twenty pounds from an already thin body. Treatment made me nauseous and gave me daily bouts of diarrhea. There were days I could stomach eating, but there were very few things I actually wanted to eat. On the days I had radiation (Monday through Friday), I’d go for my treatment in the morning, which only took fifteen minutes or so, and then I’d be back at home on the couch or in bed, tired and not wanting to move, constantly feeling anxious about my health and worried I would not get through it.
But I did. In a few weeks, the anniversary of my completion of treatment, I will consider myself three years NED (no evidence of disease). I am not the person I once was, though most people think I’m that same woman. I am not stronger or wiser than I was before being diagnosed with cervical cancer, but I am more grateful and more understanding of my own mortality. I’m grateful I’ve been given more time to watch my daughter grow up, more time to spend with my loved ones, and more time to experience this Earth.
When I completed treatment I promised I’d get stronger and do the things I had kept putting off. But I didn’t do all I promised myself. I didn’t complete the rewrite of my first novel. I didn’t get my body in better shape. I didn’t read 50 books in a year.
Today, when the notification came up on Facebook that I had memories to look back on, a photo of my first day of chemo came up. I had a smile on my face, strength in my eyes. I looked at the woman I was and got angry with myself for not doing the things I promised I’d do. I reiterated that list to myself multiple times and remembered that feeling of knowing I’m not promised forever and that we only have now. So today I started working my novel again, and tonight I will continue reading the book I started on my Kindle, and tomorrow I’ll do some crunches and some push-ups. And every morning I’ll try to remind myself of that moment I had this morning when I remembered that life can be short and that I need to stop putting things off just because it’s easier that way. Today is today, and tomorrow is not promised.