Is This What “Surviving” Feels Like?

It’s been a year and 10 months since I finished what I like to refer to as the “intense” phase of my chemotherapy regiment. Intense meaning being pumped so full of poison that you can’t find one hair on your entire body, spending days on days on days driving an hour (there and back) to the outpatient clinic, and all of those wonderful hospital stays for silly things like the common cold or a blister on your foot.

It was a blessing and a curse to be done with it. But I wasn’t really finished. As part of my treatment plan I had something called “maintenance therapy.” Small doses of mostly oral chemo to be administered over the next year and a half as a way of regulating the restart of my newly healthy immune system. It was during this time that I was able to start recovering both physically and mentally. My hair began to grow back, I regularly met with a  physical therapist to regain my strength and I reveled in the blessing of remission.

I was a bubble of positivity, I felt like I’d been to the end of the earth and back. I was a completely new and better person than I’d been 8 months before. My illness gave me fresh perspective and the ability to appreciate every moment. I was so excited to live. And so thankful to be alive.

Fast forward.

It is now November of 2015. I can’t remember the last time I went an entire day without considering relapse. It’s been three months since I finished my maintenance therapy and lately having no poison in me feels like the biggest poison of all.

It has been suggested to me that I am suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Stress. I feel constantly on the edge of a breakdown. I feel anxious. I feel isolated. I feel scared. More so than I ever felt when I was actually sick. It was different then, I was already sick then. All I could do was sit back and let it all play out. I was either going to be cured or I was going to die. Besides getting to my appointments and taking my medicine the only thing I could do was choose to be happy or miserable. It was easy to be happy then.

Now I worry. It has occurred to me that there is nothing keeping me from relapse. No more little maintenance pills regulating the production of my cells. I know that it is illogical. I know that it is unhealthy. I know that I should not, but every ache, pain, lump, bump, bruise, funny feeling, bout of tiredness, sends me spiraling out of control.

I have dealt with anxiety my whole life but never to this extreme. My arsenal of coping mechanisms developed over the years is no match for this level of paranoia. It kills me that I can’t seem to fix it myself. I beat cancer, shouldn’t I be able to keep these poisonous thoughts from my mind?

And because I can’t I feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty for surviving, I feel guilty for surviving and not enjoying it. I am painfully aware of the fact that I am finally free from all chemotherapy, my energy level is at its peak of the past three years, yet I can’t seem to find a way to make the most of it. I am struggling to be happy, something that should come so easily to someone so blessed. And it feels horrible.

At first, I thought cancer made me special. I felt strong and inspired. I survived. I wanted to share my experience and be an inspiration or at least a friend. But lately I’ve shied away from all things cancer. This blog, the people that I’ve connected to through it, I can’t even listen to the ads on the radio. I don’t want it to be a part of me anymore. I’m no longer proud of my experience, I wish it never happened.

And I am tired. I’m so tired of carrying this burden.

But I’m strong. And I know that for damn sure. And I am confident in the fact that this is a phase in my recovery. Maybe its the worst phase. Is it over yet?

xoxo Kathy

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I took this picture one day after chemo. I was sitting on the counter in the bathroom looking at my reflection but not seeing myself. That girl is not me, but I see her today, just like I did then. Who is that sad girl? How can I help her?

Post Port Removal Portlessness

***Warning, the second image is of the procedure site, therefore a little bloody***hospitalgownswagger

One year and one week later and I am now port free! The surgery went well and after a day of recovery spent sleeping off anesthesia and pain medication, I am feeling like my normal self again. The pain was much less than getting the port put in, in fact today I see no need for meds and only feel a bit of discomfort around the area.

If you watched the video I posted the other day (click here), then you know that I was feeling a little apprehensive about the whole procedure. There were two reasons for this, one being that I did not have the best team of doctors/nurses when I got the port put in, and the other being more based on superstition.

Fortunately for this procedure I had an amazing medical support team. Everyone was so kind and comforting. If I’ve learned anything through this experience, its that you have to trust your medical team. Having faith in the people who are taking care of you just makes the whole experience more tolerable. Sometimes the only thing that gets you through the pokes, prods and constant hospital visits is knowing that your going to get to see your favorite nurse/doctor, etc. Most of my nerves subsided after I met the anesthesiologists and nurses who would be with me during the surgery.

stabwound

They were definitely nothing like the surgery team I’d had the previous year who seemed grumpy and upset with me, the patient, throughout the whole process. I specifically remember feeling anxious when I entered the OR, anxiety which only increased as I could hear my heart rate steadily increasing on the monitor. Instead of some kind words from the people around me, the anesthesiologist told me to “stop freaking out.” This was the last thing I heard before I fell asleep. Things were no better when I woke up several hours later to the same man berating me for gagging as they pulled the intubation tube out of my throat. These things might not have upset me so much had this not been my first procedure after being diagnosed with cancer a few days earlier.

Having had this happen, I am so thankful that the rest of my experiences, including my removal process, have been with some of the most amazing, kind and loving medical staff on the planet.

My other fears for getting my port removed where quite silly. I was beginning to tie my port and it’s placement in my chest to my remission status. Any apprehensions that I had for getting the port taken out which stemmed from these thoughts and fears was illogical, and I knew that. This is why I went ahead and removed the port. I knew that I couldn’t make this decision out of fear. My cancer will not come back because my port is gone. If it comes back it will be because that is what is meant to be. Keeping/removing my port will not change that.

All in all, I am glad that I did not feed these fears by cancelling the procedure. I feel the same without it as I did with it, happy and healthy!

Hope you all are having a lovely start to your week!

xoxo Kathy

Monday

Tonight, I am tired. Tired because I just kicked my own butt at the gym! It has been a challenge to get myself back in to a workout routine after lying in bed for so long, but I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. And it feels amazing!

I’ve made a goal for myself this week to post something every day. I hope to be able to address real topics in my posts in the future, but for this week I am focusing on getting in the habit of posting.

I spent the better parts of my day today with Val. We went on our favorite long walk and I came up with some great ideas for TKD content. Being that it was actually nice outside today, I decided to take Val over to the dog park. There’s a really great one in our area that has a pretty big area designated to small and shy dogs, both of which are my dog. On the short walk over to the dog area from the parking lot, I ran into a nice woman who wondered about Val’s breed. She asked me specifically if Val was very good at being alone during the day. This just so happens to be the only thing that Val is absolutely horrible at. I had to explain to her that Val wasn’t a very good example of the breed because I got her to help me through chemo, so we have always been together all day, resulting in separation anxiety (for both of us).

I always love these little conversations that I have with complete strangers, where I’m forced to reveal that I am battling cancer. Everyone reacts differently to hearing it, but the best is when people react like this woman today. It’s like they immediately drop the stranger pretenses and join your army of supporters. They usually ask how things are going and I reassure them that I am doing great, and then they finish off by saying something encouraging like, “stay strong” or “keep up the fight” or something like that. Today, the woman said, “I hope that you have a great present and future.”

This reminds me of another sort of similar story. Sometime amidst all of my intense chemo I felt well enough to go shopping with my Godmother, Beckie. We were in one of Beckie’s favorite stores, chatting with one of the managers who knew Beckie, while she checked out. Somehow we got onto the topic of my cancer. Meanwhile this grumpy looking woman came to stand in line behind us. Beckie’s purchase was taking a while and we were being sort of leisurely since we knew the woman helping us. I figured this would only make the grumpy lady more angry. Finally, a second cashier came to help the grumpy lady. Grumpy finished getting checked out before us, and then she did something that shocked me. She grabbed my arm and said “stay strong” and then she turned and walked away. It was AWESOME. I will never forget that.

It’s so cool that people can relate to me, and to my struggle, like that. I feel so blessed to be able to experience these little moments of connection with people and I hope that they know how much of an impact that there words have.

Hope you all enjoyed these little stories, hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to come up with something a little more organized!

xoxo Kathy

One Year Later

A year ago today, I was trapped in the hospital in Seattle, occupying my time with Pinterest which I was using to inspire the redesign of my childhood bedroom. I remember sending an image of a window seat to a family friend who doubles as a woodworker in the hopes that he might be able to construct one for my sanctuary. I’d always wanted a window seat in my room. There’s this perfect nook for one that I was always trying to fill with other furniture when I was growing up. But nothing ever fit like this window box, the one I’m sitting on now, writing this post.

I’ve finally finished the bedroom remodel that I began as soon as I got out of the hospital last year. Looking at the finished product now, it’s pretty remarkable how closely it resembles the inspiration images, even with the extra dressers needed to contain the vast amount of unnecessary clothing I own. And I am absolutely in love with it. Even as a visual designer, I have never noticeably experienced the impact of my surroundings as strongly as I have since creating this environment for myself. It hurts me that I will have to leave it so soon!

Continuing down my list of “Projects I Thought I Could Handle While Going Through Chemo,” I come to this blog, The Kathy Diaries, a domain that I purchased the rights to shortly after getting out of the hospital. Originally, I wanted to document my cancer experience in real time and share with everyone my life, thoughts and perspectives. I quickly realized that this was not something that I was capable of doing. It takes a lot of  work to establish yourself as a blogger, especially the caliber of blogger which I intended to be. No one going through chemo needs such high expectations to be placed on them as what I was trying to place on myself, so I let it go. Along with pretty much all of my other outlets (besides television, there was a lot of television).

As I’ve been recovering (on maintenance) these past few months, I’ve been able to start replacing some of the pressures that I relieved during intense treatment. Especially the good pressures, like exercise, design, work, running errands, participating in family activities, living life and travelling! This is what allowed me to finally complete my room, which involved finally unpacking boxes of my stuff from LA that had literally been in the garage for almost a year. And it is allowing me now, to begin dedicating the time, energy and passion to this blog that I have wanted to all along. I can’t document chemo in real time, but I can document the process of getting back on your feet and restarting your life. I can demonstrate how a positive attitude and thinking about things from the right perspective can create a happy and fulfilled life during and after cancer. I can strive to inspire those who are struggling and spread awareness for our cause to those who are too afraid to pay attention.

So stay tuned everyone, because I’ve been sitting idly for too long, and I’ve got a lot of exciting things coming your way in the near future!

xoxo Kathy

PS Here’s a pic of my lovely window seat! And I’ll throw in one of Val, and one of me holding a baby for smiles!

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Photoshoot with Kate E. Photography

Hi Everyone,

I recently did a photo shoot with an old family friend and aspiring photographer Kate E. Photography! Check out her work here and be sure to like her Facebook page here! Kate has avidly supported me with encouraging messages throughout my entire cancer experience. She approached me a few months ago about doing a photo shoot but I was too sick until recently to actually do it! I really wanted us to be able to capture what was left of my cancer experience before too much of my hair grew back. We also did some more edgy, fashionable type photos for fun! And a few with Val! Overall it was a lovely day with a great friend and photographer! Special thanks to Daniel Ross Salon for styling my makeup and hair!

Here are a few of my favorite shots :)

*Please keep in mind that I am not a model and suffer from chronic bitch face*

2923BW363234BW133311152038BW Thanks for looking guys! Hope you like them!

xoxo Kathy