[vc_row type=”in_container” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″][image_with_animation image_url=”902″ alignment=”center” animation=”Fade In”][divider line_type=”No Line” custom_height=”50″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]Since my cancer diagnosis I’ve always felt like I’m on the verge of capsizing; most days barely holding on. Things look great from the outside. My Instagram account is full of adventurous shots of me jumping off cliffs into the ocean, traveling to exotic places, and hanging out with beautiful people. However, there is something that it’s missing… the realities of cancer’s aftermath on my body.
The physical aftermath isn’t something we survivors normally talk about. It lives quietly. It doesn’t scream demanding to be heard. It lives alone, but it’s always there waiting to disrupt life again. The aftermath and side effects we live with are personal.
You quickly learn people are down right uncomfortable talking about cancer, much less talking about the harsh realities of cancer’s aftermath on our physical bodies. It quietly carries on even after there is no evidence of disease.
When my doctor told me that I was cancer free, I went into the changing room and felt the enormity of the moment. I let myself slid down the wall and cradling my knees. I let out a wail. It came from somewhere I had never known before. Somewhere so deep within me and primal I didn’t recognize it. I had barely let myself cry the entire time and now emotion flooded in. It was dramatic like a scene from a bad lifetime movie. I remember thinking… it’s over. It’s over. The nightmare is done.
Soon I realized it’s never done. We are all left with silent scars, emotionally and physically waiting to return at any given moment. Survivors often secretly live with the side effects of our treatment. It comes from a multitude of places; embarrassment in something so private as defects in our body, the gratefulness of being alive when so many haven’t survived, and the awkward experience of telling friends about the intensely personal nature of the physical aftermath..
I had one of those moments this week. Passerby’s shoveled hurriedly passed me as I lay confused and terrified on a busy sidewalk. I was having a seizure from a medication change because of my bone density lost due to chemotherapy and my seizure medication.
My body was ridge, hands curled in, and I was absolutely terrified.
EMS, “Do you know where you are?”
Me: Crying hysterically, “ I don’t know how I got here.”
EMS, “Where are you?”
Me: I don’t know. Walnut Street, maybe Samson Street, 13th Street….I’m not sure.”
Life is interrupted and not just during active treatment. My life was interrupted again and again this week. I had five seizures, each leaving me confused, unable to talk, and terrified. Another day this week I found myself lying face down on the cold, hard floor in Ikea having another seizure. Person after person passed me by… not wanting to get involved.
Aftermath. It makes us uncomfortable. People who have never endured the hell of cancer don’t understand the long-term realties that a diagnosis brings. We suffer silently and that silence is deafening. It’s lonely, even when friends and family surround us. I often feel lost in a world where few people understand this aftermath.
Cancer brings long-term consequences and they aren’t dinner table conversations. A friend of mine who had anal cancer told me she feels desperately lonely in the aftermath of her cancer. Scar tissue keeps her sphincter from working properly. It causes pain and bleeding. Her aftermath is silent.
Gynecological cancers narrows and shorten the vagina, which leads to vaginal stenosis. Sex can become uncomfortable and in some cases not possible.
Did you know that the penis can be shortened and erectile dysfunction is frequent in Prostate cancer?
Even with our societies collective knowledge about breast cancer few of us understand Lymphedema. Swelling of the arm, hand or breast area caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the surface tissues of the body continues to be an issue long after the initial diagnosis.
For many of us chemotherapy puts us into early menopause leaving us wondering if our infertility is temporary or permanent. The unknown can is devastating, much less the pain of actually knowing the reality.
These “aftermaths” are devastating… amputations, vision loss, colostomy bags, tooth loss, catheterization, memory changes, and these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Aftermath is silent. It feels like a dirty little secret that is too awkward to talk about. We teeter between being happy to be alive, devastated about the changes to our bodies and minds, and worrying about our long-term survival.
After five seizures this week I’m just leaning in, telling myself that it’s about taking it one day at a time. However, the truth is I’m lost, adrift, and I’m wildly fighting to keep my head above the water that aftermath brings.