The Fifty-Second Tuesday A.C.: We Talk About One Year Later

A.C. stands for “after chemo.” How do I know how many Tuesdays it’s been since chemo ended? I know because tomorrow marks one year from the last time I had to go get a life-saving yet poisonous cocktail injected into my body.One year since the last time I had to wake up early to sit in commuter traffic. One year since I sat in the waiting room as a patient receiving chemotherapy. One year since the last time a giant needle was stuck into my chest to access my port. One year since the last time I sat in a chemo chair. One year since the smell of saline made me want to vomit. One year since a guy yelled at me to be quiet in the chemo room. One year since the nausea and the uncomfortableness and the sleepiness that chemo caused.There is not a day I forget about what I endured from the day of my biopsy to the day I got my first clear scan results. Some days I think to myself “did that really happen?” because it feels like a blur. It feels like a dream. How could I have gone through all of that and be here, doing what I’m doing. Other days, I feel like I lost a chunk of time in my life. A time when people were starting new careers and starting their lives. But I shortly realize that I got my own time to do that.I remember how during chemo, I craved a salad, hot dogs and lomein. And how now, one year later, I can say that I ate all three of those things over the span of one week.I think about how much has changed in one year. How I work at a job that I really like. I live in a city that I love. I think about how lucky I am that I get to be living the life that I do. And I remind myself of that, each and every day.When I went for my scan about three weeks ago, I had an overwhelming experience as I waited in the waiting room, the same one where I waited to get chemo. I sat, looked around the room, and was reminded that I was here 365 days ago waiting for my name to be called. Nervous, scared and exhausted. Tired of being a patient and yearning to be one of the nurses that called their patients names to take them back to their spot. I was reminded how quickly life can change. One day you’re just hanging out by the pool, enjoying the end of the summer. The next, you’re in the doctor’s office hearing the words “you have cancer.” I sat in the waiting room I had been in so many times before, and I began to cry.It was shocking. I am not a crier. But this tsunami of emotion came over me. And when I was called back to get my blood drawn, the phlebotomist asked if I was OK, probably thinking I was nervous to have my blood drawn, which is funny because I draw blood on patients pretty much every day I’m at work and blood has never given me a problem before. I calmed myself down, and another patient was seated across from me. He was wearing a Jets leather jacket, which comforted me for some reason, so I struck up a conversation. We talked about the god-awful Jets and I said “hopefully next year we’ll have a better season.” And he said to me “Hope is the key word there. All we can do is hope that these treatments will get us to next year.” The flood gates opened.From then on, I cried all the way home. I cried on the elevator. I cried in the back of a taxi. I cried waiting for my falafel gyro to be prepared at a greek restaurant around the corner from me. I had tears streaming down my face as I stuffed said gyro into my mouth. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I felt guilty and stupid about crying. I was there for a check-up while others were waiting for their poison chemo cocktails. Was it survivor’s guilt? Was it just the memories of chemotherapy? Was it a sleep deprivation after working three days in a row? Was it indigestion from the gyro? I don’t know. But it happened. And I felt weird about the whole thing.Four days later and I was back in the same waiting room. This time with my mom beside me. And I didn’t cry. We waited all of thirty seconds before I was called back to the doctors office. We got to see Dr. Roth and pictures of her new baby boy. Stephanie the PA was in labor with her first baby, so she couldn’t make it to the party. My scan was clear. Ten months cancer free. Boom.Now I am one year from my last chemo treatment. My hair is in full on mullet mode (business in the front, party in the back). Every time I finally find a way to style my hair, it grows a tiny bit longer and throws off my hair-do. But I cannot, and should not, complain. Thick, puffy, curly hair is better than no hair (even though I did say to my mom that I liked when my hair was like a crew cut and I had a little faux-hawk going on). I am healthy. I feel healthy. There is a different between being and feeling. When I got my diagnosis, I was sick, but I did not feel sick. And then after I finished chemo, I was healthybut I felt exhausted and groggy. Now, I feel the best I ever had. I am happy. There’s not really a day that passes where I don’t think about my battle with cancer. I am reminded when I am at work, when I can see myself in my patients. Even though the diagnoses are different, the feelings are there. I am reminded when I look in the mirror at my crazy hair. I am reminded when I see my scar where my port was, wearing it proudly on my chest. I am reminded when I think about my friends, who supported me every single day and I wonder how I will ever repay them. I am reminded when I talk with people who have also had their battles with cancer because no one really gets chemo-brain and hair loss like they do. The reminders are usually welcomed. But other days, like the day of blood work, they are almost too much to handle.I think that as time goes on, it will get easier. Or maybe it won’t. I have given some thought on what I want to do in the future, do I want to go back to school, what patients do I want to work with, and often I think that when it’s time, I would like to work with cancer patients. But who knows. If someone offered me a job with cancer patients one year ago and I would’ve said “uuuuhhhhhh nahhhhhh I’m good,” so maybe one year from now, I’ll say the same. But I really don’t think so.So while I hated those four little drugs that were mixed together to create my chemo cocktail, I have to thank whoever the bartender (scientist) was who figured out that they mix well. It was no margarita on the way down, but honestly, the side effects were almost the same as having one too many shots of tequila on a night out. Except hair loss. Even though I have had some tequila that definitely feels like it could knock the hair right off your head. And you right onto your ass.So thank you, ABVD for allowing me to continue my journey. To spend a summer at the beach. To take my first trip to Europe with people I love. To go to a music festival. To try paddle boarding for the first time. To have fun. To go see John Mayer. To do yoga. To eat hot dogs and salad again. To spend time with my friends. To try new things. To move into the city. To take care of others. To whoop it up. To dance. To shop too much. To live my freakin’ life.

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