Life after chemo

My last bad chemo was Wednesday (taxotere and carboplatin), and I find myself reflecting and wondering, What does this all mean? Where am I going next? It would be easy to disappear back down the path into “normal” life, but I choose not to.

It’s common for cancer patients to get depressed and disillusioned when their chemotherapy regimen has ended, and it makes sense when you think about it. For the last 18 weeks I’ve had continuous contact with nurses and doctors who monitored my health. In some ways getting chemo is sickly comforting – it’s supposed to be destroying cells that want to destroy my body. And now I’m not getting it anymore. The security net of chemo has been taken away. Now I get to free fall and figure out recovery on my own.

You can see the chemo on my fingernails like growth rings on a tree, except it’s not growth, it’s destruction. If you look closely you can see six ridges on my thumb nails from the six chemo treatments. Interruptions in my cell growth. My anti-growth rings. One by one the ridges will disappear over time as my healthy cells take back my body.

With chemo out of the picture I am getting a glimpse of where I’m headed, but I’m also looking in the rear view mirror. Everything has happened so quickly and I really haven’t had time to grieve the loss of my breast and five months of my life. Chaotic doesn’t even begin to describe how the last five months have been. When I take a hard look, the chaos has been around a lot longer than that; it’s been more like two years. Cancer shoved that chaos over the edge adding in a big dose of terror and mortality.

It feels like I’m going backwards, something I don’t really ever do, but I have to if I’m going to process all of this in a healthy way. I have to back up to my mastectomy and take on those feelings. I have to figure out what this all means for me and where I am going next. Backwards is the new forward.

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6 responses

  1. Wow Leah. Love you cousin. A close friend and another one of Ralph’s friends both have undergone double mastectomies recently and are in chemo. We, Ralph and I, talk about them. We talk about you. We cry mostly but the tears always come to really good conversations about love and loss and pain and what living is . Its all so terrible and hard and we feel guilty even feeling bad about it because we can’t imagine what you and Amelia are going through- or rather we can imagine it but we are terrified it could be us and happy its not and that brings on more guilt and tears. One of these ladies I just mentioned has two children 6 and 9 and just lost her husband two years ago to brain cancer. She is fighting for her life like you. For her sanity. For her loved ones. Again I can’t imagine your strength. Her strength. We all just want to be strong for you for them but we don’t know how. So we will continue to send our love in your direction Leah and Amelia and hope that it gets felt somehow someway. Thank you for sharing with us. You are so wise. Truly an old soul here to teach and lead others by example and this is part of that. You are loved. You are.

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  2. Every word rings true for me too – down to the nail ridges and the sense of loss and bewilderment when all the treatment ends . I feel now completely adrift and lost not knowing how to get back to where I was 10 months ago . Surely I didn’t go through all that to not reclaim great and meaningful new experiences.

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  3. Thanks so much for this. I am two years out from chemo this month or another way I look at it is two years in remission. I so remember how I missed going to chemo…not for the drugs but for the people. Rather than attempting to “go back” to the way life was…which seemed impossible, I stepped forward learning how to live with uncertainty.

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  4. Don’t look back unless you’re going that way. You haven’t LOST those months to cancer. You’ve gained perspective that likely never would have surfaced otherwise. You’ve managed well what no one should ever have to endure… the horrific reality of a truly nasty disease. But, if you truly must look back, I hope you do it NOT with a sense of loss, but instead with a tremendous sense of strength. Celebrate life. Live in the here and now and be ever thankful that each new sunrise is a brand new day. We’re all stronger than we realize and when life throws that proverbial curve ball, we have no choice but to re-position the mitt. Not that you asked for my two cents, but there you have it. I love how your voice has gained strength with each post you write. Sending all good wishes for renewed health and a truly happy re-balance on life.

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