As anyone can imagine, my life has changed with being diagnosed with cancer. Not only has my life changed once, its been changed twice. Every time someone gets diagnosed with a life-altering disease, their way of life goes out the window. We end up finding a new “normal” every time. Now, this might sound weird for those who are looking in on the life of a cancer thriver, but this is our reality. As much as all of us would love it if our lives were not touched by the disease, we do not have much of a choice but to grow to meet the challenges of change.
I guess I will start out with the changes on the outside. With certain chemotherapy drugs, hair loss is a side effect. Once you feel like an alien and are judged based on your appearance for something that you cannot control, this changes your outlook on life. When you do not have hair to hide behind, you figure out how amazing your other features are. Whether it be bright, blue eyes, a button nose, a shining smile- you find out how truly beautiful you are even without hair. At the same time, without the hair we feel vulnerable and can feel the stares of those unaware of anything outside of their lives, and it hurts. Whenever I have talked about my problems being a baldy, people are always astounded by my tales of the looks I get and the reactions I would get. “How dare they!” They remark. “How insensitive,” Others would say. And I totally agree. As much as childhood cancer is not really thought about- I could never imagine that it would affect me personally- I believe it is not anyone’s business if someone is bald by choice or health. I guess this is another reason why I want to get the awareness of childhood cancer across- it affects us in ways that others cannot imagine.
We come up with many defense-mechanisms to get through our daily lives. Everyone does and everyone has their own reasons to do so. With cancer, I guess our defenses are up higher than the average person’s. We have to put on such a shell that we are strong and are doing okay, that it often transforms into barriers. Barriers meant to keep people away from us, to keep them away from the agonizing truth about how hard being diagnosed with cancer is. Sometimes, we feel awful and have to put a smile on to make others not feel uncomfortable. Or we just laugh about our problems, make a joke out of things to not feel sad about them. A great example of the joking around to hide the pain is when I was bald and would openly talk about it. I would say things like, “Well, my hair never tangles and it takes me no time to get ready in the morning, as well as never having bad-hair days. I just have no-hair days.” I guess it was to make people think I was comfortable being bald. Which, I guess in a sense was true. I got extremely used to being bald and would be okay in small groups of people. In crowds, I would feel more alienated. But in small groups, I feel like they could understand what I was going through.
I guess another way that I have changed in a bad way (I promise the next one will be a positive change!) is that I have become kind of cold. I get a little too annoyed when people complain about their little problems. Such as in swim, when people constantly complain about shoulder problems or that they cannot do a workout, it deeply upsets me. In my opinion, if I am able to complete a workout with all of my problems and not complain about being tired, then ANYONE can. When you have cancer (or any other sort of debilitating disease) you do not have a choice on whether to quit or not. You just have to put on a brave face and endure the pain. I feel like if everyone were to be able to just put up with a little more pain of a hard workout, they would accomplish more in life. I guess that is expecting the world from some people, but that is just my opinion. So beware- people who complain about PHYSICAL problems will more often than not get no sympathy from me. I do get certain physical problems and understand that people have the right to complain every once in a while. It is warranted to happen after an extremely hard workout without quitting or giving in. If someone sits out every other lap in swim and then complains, that will make me upset. But I guess that is why I don’t hang around people who complain about everything. I am more than happy to listen to personal problems, though. Pain is just another part of living with cancer. It is something that only those who have seen cancer up close and personal, or have had it themselves, can understand. I can imagine it is sort of like fibromyalgia, you cannot exactly understand the pain unless you or someone else goes through the pain. I also feel like the pain of someone having their immune system being attacked, such as those with AIDS, would understand it as well. Those who suffer the most end up the strongest. I have heard that those who get the hardest cards dealt to them (or worst cards, if you are a little bit cynical) are the strongest people. I truly believe that now.
Okay, now onto the ways that I have changed for the better. I truly have a positive outlook on life. It may not seem like it based on what I have posted, but I always manage to find the positive of every situation. When I lost my hair, I truly WAS glad that it took me no time to get ready and that my eyes and smile shone through my hairless appearance. I believe with my relapse, the people who have gotten to know me realize that life can always be worse and to appreciate every moment. I now appreciate the little things in life, such as finding a new food that I love, waking up to my cat every morning, the cute little texts that my friends send me. Since things have been extremely hard for me lately, I realize that I am a stronger person and can handle a lot- I have the ability to touch many people’s lives. I feel the need to spread my positive attitude to everyone. Everyone should try waking up and deciding to have a good day, because honestly, it is mostly a mental thing. If you want to have a good day, just start to look at the good things in life. When I was first diagnosed in 2011 and went through arguably the hardest chemo drugs, I learned that there are good things in the bad. The chemo may have made me lose all of my hair, but I had baby soft skin. My immune system may have been compromised and my healing processes slowed, but I got to spend a lot more quality time with my family. I have gotten to meet amazing people. It is a blessing and a curse to have cancer. Although you have been dealt some less than pleasant cards in life- you just need to appreciate the little things. Appreciate that you have family, friends, people who truly care about you. I have gained family and many friends throughout all of this. Maybe my life has been put on hold for 1 1/2 years, and more time may be taken away from me, but it is never put to waste. When you spend a lot of time on the couch or in the hospital, you get a nice dose of putting things in perspective. Suddenly, friend problems or accidentally dropping $10 on the ground and losing it is no big deal. Not doing so well on a test is not as big of a deal either. I mean getting good grades is important to me, but you learn that other things are more important and that one bad grade will not end your life.
With my whole change of perspectives, I have been given the gift of realizing what is worth putting my time and effort into. I refuse to waste my time worrying about how fantastic I look or if I do something embarrassing. No biggie. So what if I walk around and have a big ketchup stain on my shirt? So what if I have lipstick on my teeth, those things aren’t permanent and do not deserve a second thought other than “Whoops!” and moving on. I also get to see who my real friends are- those are the people who have stuck with me through the thick and the really thin. I mean, everyone has problems, it is just how you deal with them. I am certainly not perfect, and neither are my friends, but I feel like we are perfect for each other. That is what I believe life is all about, spending time with people who you care about and who care about you back- including the flaws. Whether you have 50+ years left of life or a few hours, they need to be spent with the right people. Not those who take advantage of you and not those who you take advantage of. Stick with the friends who are more like family. I can say truthfully that I have the best friends anyone could ever have. I am comfortable around them and can open up with them. They can open up to me, it is all about giving and taking. My friends have taken the time out of their days and have spent money on gas to visit me in the hospital when I felt my worst, just to support me. They have shared in my achievements and disappointments. In return, I love them without judgment and am there for them when they need it. I will in turn go out of my way to rescue them or to be with them. All about give and take.
Now for a little update with how I have been doing. I have been getting out of the house pretty much every day- it is a good feeling. I feel like I can accomplish more things and have more fun if I just get out of the house. Now all I need to do is muster up the energy to spend a week or so in the bay area and go visit Susette in Santa Cruz. I also need to get together and go to a party or just hang out with my crew, I miss them. I need to Skype with DeAngela. I need to Skype with Egor and Aiyanna. I need to get over my social anxiety and hang out with my swim buds, because I miss them so much and I never get to see them anymore (although that will so change in the spring and I am excited for that).
On Saturday was the funeral for Andrew Rundle. I have to say, it was a wonderful ceremony. It represented him as a person and as a man of God. It showed a little bit about how giving he was. I got to catch up with many of my nurses and my chemo buddies. I also got to meet some people who have been reading my blogs and looking out for me. I felt so much love from everyone there- we all cared so much for Andrew and he was such a nice guy. I will admit it, I was pretty darn emotional for once in my life and I cried quite a bit while Eden held my hand, while Eden’s younger brother Mason held my thumb, while Kevin rubbed my back, and while my mom held onto my leg. I got to feel some closure from the service and was so glad that I got to see the Rundle family. We have spent a lot of time together during the worst of times, so you could say we all got really close and comfortable with each other. We shared chemo tips and the agony of getting bad scans, but we took everything in strive together. They are a part of my family now, my Kaiser family. My nurses, caretakers, chemo buddies, doctors, and all those who touch me through cancer are my Kaiser family. We all consider each other family, which is a bond that will not be broken by death. That is one thing I am sure about, Andrew’s legacy will live on through me, the Kaiser family, his family, his friends, his church buddies, as well as random others who have shared part of their lives with him- not to mention those who follow him religiously to eat up his kind words of wisdom. I am so glad that I got to meet Andrew- I believe anyone who has ever come into contact with him is a better person because of it. I know I am. I will continue to see his family as they are my family now as well, like I said before death will never change that.
Please share these videos with anyone you come into contact with, we would all appreciate it! You will see how fantastic of a guy Andrew was.
I got back into the pool on Monday and did maybe 30-40 laps I would say. I have to admit, backstroke is still my best friend. I get to breath much easier while on my back and am more comfortable with it. Sure, the flip turns aren’t the most fun, but it is doable. Being in the pool felt great, but it was still frustrating at the same time. I know what level I would and could be at if I did not have all these obstacles and health problems. I need to give myself a little bit of credit, but I will always pressure myself. I guess the pressure is good for me to keep getting better and moving forward. Yes, I am clearly at a disadvantage for swimming. I am overly aware of this. However, I have never let my disadvantages get the best of me before my health problems, so they certainly are not going to take over now. To begin with, I will never reach my full potential for other reasons. One of them is completely in my control. That is the fact that I need a social life in order to swim. I cannot dedicate my whole life to swim. I can accept that because I would not be a happy person if all I ever did was swim. I need balance in my life. Another disadvantage is my need for sleep. I take after my dad, so you could say that I need 10-12 hours a day of sleep to fully function. This means no 5 a.m. practices. It is hard enough to get me to morning practices that are at 7! I wish I did not need all of that sleep, but I do. Then again, I love sleep! I am not 6 feet tall, so my height is a problem with being a fantastic swimmer. But it makes beating people who have the height to be a great swimmer all the better. I may not have the height, but everyone will agree that I have the shoulders to be a swimmer. That is one of the first things anyone notices about me. I like them because they really do propel me through my water. Now I have what I call my janky leg. It is much tighter than the other one due to radiation, and it gives every once in a while. I can deal with that, it is just slightly weaker and not as flexible as the other one. I also have my bad lung now, but I plan on strengthening it as much as possible and I will be given prescription steroids to help my left lung to be stronger. I need as many things as possible to try to get myself on a level playing field as the other athletes. I may have to work harder than the average person, but this will make me stronger in the end.
I think I need to put myself out there more and make contacts with people who are known in the world of cancer to spread the awareness. Also, I have been asked by someone who spreads awareness about the prevention of mesothelioma to help get the word out, and I will do just that. I believe we all need to help each other in the end, whether we are on the giving or receiving end. Emily Walsh, from Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance wanted me to share this for my followers.
Oh, and I went to a Diablo Valley College girl’s water polo team game with Kevin, which was against Sacramento City College. We won. Yay! So, go DVC Water Polo!