There are so many reasons in my life for me to be grateful, particularly regarding my health. I am coming up on a three-year no evidence of disease anniversary, which is a big deal, especially since recurrence is high in metastatic disease the first three years after treatment.
I am still working on some emotional stuff, though it does not have to do with my mortality. The silver lining is that I don't constantly think about the cancer coming back. I know it is a possibility, but it no longer occupies my thoughts. Instead, what is really annoying is that lately, I am stuck in the superficial stuff.
When I look in the mirror, I see that I am the byproduct of what I’m are left with after multiple surgeries – I’m left to live, but I feel like shark bait. Trust me, most days I know this is ridiculous. I mean, when I look at myself figuratively, I am amazed that I am cancer free. I looked the beast in the eye, gave it the finger and am moving on. But there are still some tough days.
These summer months are my nemesis because I am reminded of cancer every time I am out in shorts or a bathing suit. When it's hot and humid, by the end of the day my ankle looks like an elephant's leg. It’s small price to pay for my life, I know. But some days, I just wish I could go back, for so many reasons.
I was the girl with major body dysmorphia during college. It took me a long time to get over those years and to look at myself and appreciate my body for what it was: a source of physical strength that let me accomplish many athletic goals. I feel like cancer undid all that work.
When I was going through all my surgeries and treatment, I didn't worry about how I would end up looking. All I wanted was to live and to be able to run after. What cancer had stolen from me at the time was my security with my place here in life (nobody is really guaranteed this, but when you are diagnosed with cancer, whether it was caught early or advanced like in my case, you still feel as if you've had something stolen from you).
What I am beginning to uncover as I write this is that I still have some unfinished business to work on. I don't want to feel like the girl with all the scars on the outside. I don't want to explain why my ankle is all taped up during the summer months and why I have to wear a compression sleeve during the cooler months. I don't like having to sit down and put my leg up to drain the fluid that accumulates in my ankle when I'm on my feet too long. I hate wearing the same bathing suit bottoms I have had since before cancer because they are the only ones I feel will cover most of the scars. I hate that on some days, I can feel the stiffness in my hip, and on other days, I can barely feel the top of my thigh at all.
I know there are survivors out there who feel the same way as I do, and I know it is OK to feel this way. I must not be the only one who feels guilty for feeling this way. It does mean that I obviously still have some work to be done on the inside, so that when I look in the mirror I don't see a girl who was left like shark bait on the outside.
It is my hope that by taking this step towards talking (or writing) about these feelings, I will stop seeing all that cancer left behind and will instead see what it has given me: the chance to be that survivor who has not only walked out of the fire alive, but is also passing buckets of water to help the others still consumed by it.