The doctor told me I had cancer. I was in a state of absolute shock. Initially the only thing that showed up on the biopsy was a non-invasive cancer and dense breast tissue. The diagnosis was scary, but I was told there would be a big surgery but no chemotherapy or radiation afterwards. So I thought I’d have a big surgery and then be back to my normal life.
After surgery I spent four days in the hospital recovering. A week after that I came back to the hospital for my first check-up. My doctor was on vacation so another doctor reviewed my case. He kept looking at the report and saying things that didn’t make any sense. He told me that when they opened me up they discovered additional tumors. But there weren’t supposed to be additional tumors since I had a non-invasive form of cancer. He also told me several lymph nodes had tested positive for cancer. At first I thought he’d literally gotten the wrong report since he wasn’t my regular doctor, but when he confirmed it was my diagnosis I knew I was in bad shape.
Afterwards I spoke with my oncologist who told me that if I elected to get chemotherapy I would get the harsher of the possible drugs at the maximum dosage. He reaffirmed I was in a very serious situation.
On the ride home I just thought to myself, “I'm not strong enough to do this. I could deal with neck surgery, but this stuff is beyond me. I can’t do it.”
But I went forward anyway. I went through five months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. A month later I went in for three more months of chemotherapy.
During the treatment I knew I wanted to stay engaged in things that made me happy. Sometime after graduate school I discovered the woods and hiking. That started my love of the outdoors – facing fears of getting lost, confronting bears, etcetera. After I was hit by the cab, I fought so hard to get my physical tools back and I didn’t want to give up those gains. I had accepted the fact that I could lose my life, but I didn’t want to give up the gains I had made. So I worked hard during the cancer treatment to stay active.
I asked my oncologist if it was okay to keep exercising.
“Just so you’re clear – I work out hard.” I said. “I climb mountains, just so you understand.”
“Well do me a favor, no rock climbing while your immune system is compromised…but besides that go ahead. You may find your stamina goes down and you may not feel like doing as much.”
So I kept hiking and climbing and going to the pool. I discovered that physical activity was good for my symptoms. Nothing made them go away, but it helped a little bit. It made me feel good to stay engaged with my body in a positive way. It gave me a sense of control. I knew I couldn’t control what happened in my body on a cellular level, but I could control if I walked to the mailbox or lifted something. It seems silly but I liked to know I still controlled certain aspects of my body.
Because all the tumors and affected lymph nodes had been removed from my body, there was no measurable cancer to measure progress – it was all theoretical. Before I started chemo they did a full body scan and based on the number of positive lymph nodes they figured the cancer would spread to other organs – lungs…liver…bones…
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