The first time I had chemo, it didn’t go quite as planned. I didn’t really know what to expect mind you, so when I could feel burning at the entry point in my arm, I wasn’t sure if it was normal or not. It wasn’t. As a self-described over achiever, I was disappointed that I had a “bum vein.” The nurse quickly extracted the needle and tried another spot with success. There were never any problems with the following infusions but the mark remains on my arm from that first time. It looks like a bruise to anyone else, but to me it’s a reminder of my first day in the chemo chair.
That small mark on my arm is not the most obvious reminder of the year I just had but it’s one that is visible almost daily. I can shove this whole cancer business far back into the recesses of my mind but all it takes is one inadvertent glance at my forearm and it’s back. I tend not to look at my reflection as much as I used to and am not as happy with photos of myself. This doesn’t bode well for someone on television. I tell myself that these are superficial things and I am lucky to be alive.
My short dark hair isn’t all that bad, and it made for an easier Audrey Hepburn costume on Halloween. My clothes fit better now too and my fake breasts never sag, so there’s that. While I’m on the topic of the benefits of breast cancer, I no longer have to use deodorant. For some weird reason, (I suspect chemo or radiation) I almost never need to shave under my arms and there is zero body odour. Look at the time and money I’m saving. I’m trying to make lemonade here as you can probably tell.
December 1st marks the one year anniversary of my diagnosis and I’ve been thinking way too much about it. It is remarkable how far I’ve come since those early days of treatment. I really had no idea how I was supposed to tackle rounds of chemotherapy, losing my hair, losing my breasts, daily radiation etc. And yet, I did. Somehow days passed, treatment ended, and I got better. Now I look back and the memories are less like the scars across my chest and more like the small bruise on my forearm. Confession; the first couple of months post-radiation were far more difficult for me than I thought they would be. I entered the sadness phase that I had heard other women speak of. I felt that tears were just below the surface at all times. It also felt like I couldn’t really talk about it (or write about it) because everyone was so happy that I had survived. It also didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I would get angry with myself because I knew that other people would do anything to get the results I did, and yet here I was feeling down. Thankfully, I feel like I’ve left that dark place and returned to a much more peaceful one. Sure, I still can’t sleep at night without medical intervention, but I hear that gets better too.
There are a couple of things that prompted me to grab my coat and leave the pity party. The first was joining a gym at the end of August. I know that my body has been forever changed thanks to the bi-lateral mastectomy, but it doesn’t mean I have to give up on the rest of it. I started weight training with my coach, Mark Koivula three days a week. We all know that exercise and results are great for the body and the mind. We also know that it can be hard to get motivated, especially when you feel weak and tired. Believe me, I was told by other cancer survivors about the benefits of exercise but I couldn’t bring myself to do it while I was being treated. It seemed enough some days to just walk around the neighbourhood with my dog. Like so many things, we need to come to this conclusion on our own. Frankly, I was sick of being sick. Now, I’m not saying that I can run a marathon or enter a bodybuilding contest, but I can lift a big bag of dog food into my car and open a jar of spaghetti sauce without the help of my husband. That is progress my friends! My views toward my body change daily, but for the most part I’m pretty happy with how it managed to fight off the cancer invaders. I’m ten pounds lighter thanks to the treatment and surgery, so none of my clothes look too tight. Ironically, I probably look more fit than I have in years. Side note, I would not recommend this weight loss program. The working out has brought back so much of the confidence that had eroded over the past year. It’s nice to feel physically and mentally strong again. I’m not completely without pain or discomfort but I’m ok with that. Do what you want, but I’m still going to recommend exercise as a way of speeding up the healing process. It really does offset the negative changes to my body.
The other thing that has brought me farther from the sadness and anxiety is returning to work. I thought it might do the opposite to tell you the truth. I love my job on The Weather Network and was excited to get back to it.
At the same time I was kind of terrified. What if I got too fatigued? What if my new short hair looked strange? What if I couldn’t remember anything? My brain has been less than stellar since chemotherapy. My fantasies of being a contestant on Jeopardy were dashed months ago. I’m not sure if you realize it or not, but almost everything we say on The Weather Network is ad-libbed. That means if I can’t think of a word halfway through a sentence, I’m in trouble. I don’t have a script to fall back on. I can say, with great relief, that my brain cells are noticeably repairing themselves, much like the hair, nails and eyelashes growing back. We all age and change over time and none of us are going to reach 80 looking and feeling like a 20 year old. However, I felt like I got ripped off and a lot of this happened far too soon. I’m never going to go back to exactly how I was before the diagnosis but I do feel like I’m doing everything in my power to be the best new version of myself that I can. I’m sure most of us wish we could take ourselves to a place in time where we were happiest. What I’m trying to get at, is the return to work was not nearly as scary as I had envisioned. I’ve been put on a gradual return to full-time so that I don’t overdo it and lose all my confidence right out of the gate. Nothing has made me feel more normal than getting up in front of the camera and telling weather stories. I may look a lot different than I did a year ago but I feel like my world has been put upright again. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how incredible my co-workers, managers and viewers have been. I am doing none of this alone. My family has been supporting me throughout all of this craziness and there are so many others who have lifted me up and pushed me forward. I am nothing without those who have surrounded me.
Returning to the gym and returning to work have brought me to a much better place. I still have a way to go but at least this road is heading in the right direction. I am no more brave, strong, inspirational or motivational than anyone else. I just have a whole lot of wonderful people in my corner and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them, so thank-you.
This blog is dedicated to my Dad, David MacDonald,
who died from cancer on November 30, 2013.