“Hey! How are you?”
Do they just mean in general or, like, cancer-wise? How deep are they looking to go? How long has it been since I’ve seen or talked to this person? Have they heard the latest update that I’m fine? Am I fine? I think I’m fine…
“Fine! How are you?”
This often leaves someone looking a little bewildered that I hadn’t answered them fully.
Crap. They wanted to know more…ok where are we at here….
“Yup, scans have been good so I can’t complain!”
“But how are you feeling?”
Now this is the question that really gets me. How am I feeling? I realize people ask because they care just like that’s why I ask them the same question. I just quite never know how deep to go.
Technically, I’m ok! I’m still here and comparatively, way better than I was a few years ago. But I’ve got some issues.
I get asked about the things that still affect me pretty often so I’ll try to give a full answer here. It’s not complaining or trying to garner sympathy, I think it’s just interesting to see where cancer is still affecting day to day life. These are all things I can adjust to, it’s just that this is life now.
Although cancer is not an immediate looming threat on my life at this moment, that’s not to say I can really ever get away from it. All throughout the day every single day I’m reminded, one way or another, that my life and my body are just different than they were 5 years ago.
So here’s the breakdown:
Brain. My brain just does not work the way it used to. Surely part of it is aging and part of it is having kids (….because they age you…), but most of it is due to my brain tumor, the radiation I had to my tumor, the radiation I had on the right side of my head that hit the lower side of my brain, and part of it is residual effects of oxygen loss during grand mal seizures. These side effects are mostly memory loss, difficulty thinking of the right words for things (very common things, like “cup”), and in general a slower processing time.
Sinuses. I never had sinus issues before all of this, but my oncologist seems to think my chemo amped up my immune system in my sinuses so that any bug I get ends up turning into a sinus infection. I don’t quite understand how that all works but I’ll believe him because I’ve seen the PET scans that always always show my sinuses lit up like a Christmas tree but it’s not cancer. Strange things are afoot…
Hearing. Radiation is not over once it’s over. It continues to degrade the area that was radiated more and more over time. Since I had radiation on the right side of my face and neck, this has affected my hearing on the right side to the point where I have lost probably 80% of the hearing on that side so far (the expectation is complete loss on that side eventually).
Hearing loss has actually affected me way more than I thought it would. It’s extremely disorienting and I cannot make out where sounds are coming from. If I’m in a crowded area, I cannot hold a conversation because I can’t make anything out. It just sounds like a swarm of bees or something. Beyond the hearing, my right ear is always uncomfortable and feels “full”. All the time. I can’t get water in it or I’ll get an ear infection and those aren’t all that fun.
My face. Ohhhh, my face. I know it’s a vast improvement from where it was, but it’s still hard for me to look in the mirror for any longer than absolutely necessary. I despise doing my hair or makeup because I have to look at myself for longer and the huge scar and transplant site in my face are just not what I want to see. So I usually just don’t. I may give off a “low maintenance” vibe, and that’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s really just because I can’t stand to look at myself. It is what it is.
Thyroid. Since radiation went down into my neck, I’ve began to lose thyroid function. This comes with a whole list of not awesome side effects. Weight gain and fatigue mostly. Fuunnnn….
Voice. I love singing, I always have. I used to be able to rock a Mariah song but because of, you guessed it, radiation, I’ve lost my high range.
Port. I still have my port in my chest and as I’ve tried in recent months to get back into great shape, this thing is a pain in the butt. It doesn’t hurt it just is sorta weird feeling and can be uncomfortable especially during physical exercise.
Thigh. In case you didn’t know, I had a large transplant of muscle placed into my face and neck and that muscle came from my left thigh. I have a huge scar down the front of it and it has a huge indent down the middle from where the muscle was taken. This has become really uncomfortable since I’ve started running again and trying to get stronger physically. It really aches as I’m building muscle there and the muscles are trying to figure out how to work properly. There are still some leg exercises that my leg just won’t do.
Emotional. This one is definitely the most sneaky but the hardest to deal with. I struggle now with anxiety which I never had before. It’s unmedicated and undiagnosed but ohhh, it’s there. It’s mostly separation anxiety with the kids and it’s a real struggle most days.
I don’t like to give off the impression that life is back to complete normal after cancer. I can’t imagine that to be true for anyone who has had to deal with it. We just have a new normal and we adjust the sails and move forward regardless.
So, seriously, I’m fine! 🤗