Archive for January, 2012

Topic of Cancer

I’m late in the game, but in my searchings for literary non-fiction, I came across this piece by Christopher Hitchens: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/09/hitchens-201009


I’m intrigued when a writer takes an overdone or common trope (like the cliches of cancer) and enlivens it with a new metaphor or simile, a fresh attitude or appreciation.  His writing is elegantly grim with hints of irreverence and flippancy that jar your brain into pensive reflection.


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New blog?

I’ve been toying around with the idea of a new blog, one that doesn’t have to do with cancer and one that I feel comfortable sharing with family and friends.   A few problems with this idea: 1) everything in my life, tangentially at least, is affected by my survivorship. 2) this blog is public, so anyone can see it already.  I originally designed it that way so that any survivors wouldn’t have trouble reading.  I also made my blog searchable so that survivors could find it.  I’ve gotten a few hits this week for bald Barbie, which is cool to know that people care about this issue now.

I was having these thoughts on my own, but today, I found out I got over 50 hits in the last 24 hours by someone that googled my name and cancer.  Turns out this blog is on the first page of search results!  Which makes me curious… if I know who you are, please comment and tell me!  I’m wondering what you thought of the blog.

I’m off to the gym soon… today, I’ll have exercised 9 out of the 14 days this year!  And a few I had to purposefully rest because of my PET scan.  I’m hoping to keep up this trend for as long as possible!



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Reasons to be Cheerful

My doctors appointments this week were the smoothest yet: finally, injections without pain, drinking contrast like a champ, and things taking less time than they were supposed to… I know, it seems too good to be true.  My scan results were good, which was a a relief: my SUVs on the PET scan, which have hovered between 2.9 and 1.6 since I’ve been in remission, were 2.6 this time around, but supposedly under 3 is never alarming.  Also, my residual mass continued to shrink: it’s now 3.8 by 2.7 cm, about the size of a strawberry. Given that my mass was initially a grapefruit on the fruit-lymphoma scale, this is awesome.  And I don’t have to go back to the doctor’s for SIX months instead of three, God willing. (I never say “God willing” but somehow I just don’t want to jinx these things in writing.)

My last post really shows the psychological battle that’s still going on, the disbelief that everything CAN be fine again.  Hopefully I’ll be able to read that every time I freak out about not being well.  And now it’s my job to soak up every last drop of 2012, make senior year the best it can be, and get rest, exercise, and good nutrition to keep me healthy.

My mom’s being really sentimental today with the whole “one-year” mark.  So when we were driving to dinner in Concord tonight and passed by an ice cream shop called “Reasons to be Cheerful,” she made me take pictures outside of it, and we got dessert there even though we really didn’t need it.  It’s hard for me to be really sentimental about my remission sometimes because of all the attention on me and the worry that something will change for the worse, but when I’m alone in my room, alone with my survivorship and my pride, I have many reasons to be cheerful.

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I really should be sleeping.

But I need to post this as a testament.

In a little over 2 days, I’ll be getting another PET-CT scan to confirm that I’ve been in remission for a year.  Now, given the leaps and bounds in my psychological and physical recovery (I’ve been exercising quite well recently, and don’t have any of the “warning signs”), I should not be worried.  So, God willing, I’ll look back on this post to remind myself that scanxiety is silly.

Today, I worried about my pallor.  Am I too pale? (I was very pale when I had lymphoma.  I might be pale now, but maybe it’s just because I’m cold and have circulation problems.  I feel like I’ve been lookin’ pretty good recently, if I do say so myself.)  Did I feel a node in my chest? (I just spent the last half hour looking up lymph nodes in the chest, even though I can’t always palpably feel nodes.  Also, I used to do this with “lumps” in my neck… which turned out to be normal neck structures, neither lymphatic nor swollen.)  Did I lose too much weight? (I was hormonally bloated last week, so… it makes sense that I lost three to four pounds quickly.)  Am I [too] tired? (Yet my tiredness comes and goes: I’m tired when I don’t do anything, or am reading a boring book, yet I’m energetic when I’m out with friends or exercising.  Go figure.)

When I was sick, the warning signs abounded, with exponential frequency: being unable to climb 4 flights of stairs without being lightheaded, having extremely irregular periods, having extremely labored breathing (which is only now a warning sign if it gets much worse, since I have a residual mass in my chest), night sweats, weight loss, desperation during physical activity, always waking up tired, ophthalmic migraines, itching, needing desperately to sit down (especially when it was late out), coughing uncontrollably, and the pallor.  I looked rough and I felt rougher.  Every day was an exasperation.

And when I put it like that, things seem okay.  Yes, some of the warning signs I mentioned are “B symptoms” that don’t show up in many people, but in talking to other survivors and reflecting on my own experiences, sometimes you just know something’s off with your body.  And as much as I worry, and as much as I don’t want to jinx my fate, I sense that I’m panicking, that my reaction’s not normal, which suggests that I might actually, deep down inside, feel okay.  Healthy.  Maybe the unhealthiest part of me is my mind.  My boyfriend likes to say, “You always have something to worry about, Liz.” But he means that I make these worries, trivialities that I ruminate about.  And scanxiety for a hypochondriac/worrywort is to be expected.

As much as I became embittered by my health psychology class (more on that later), my professor had a great lesson.  It was about remission versus cure.  She said, if you don’t have cancer for a year, two years, three or four years, and then you “relapse”, is it really “the same cancer” that won?  Or did you just get a “new” cancer just as everyone gets colds every so often?  Imagine the thought that you could never be cured of colds in your life!  And imagine the worry of “remission”: you’re not considered cured until five years down the line. She taught that a cure is a cure: when treatment is successful, congratulate yourself.  Live in a mentality of wellness, not of uncertainty.  If your cancer was undetectable for a year and your body appeared to be healing (as mine has, with my residual mass continually shrinking), would “relapse” really be the same cancer cells lurking invisibly? Or should a cancer survivor live the rest of their life thinking of cancer along the same statistical line: yes, a certain percentage of people get cancer, and some get it more than once, but that is the weight and the power that people should give cancer in their minds.  Cancer is always an option, but just because you had cancer before doesn’t mean it’s forever living inside you waiting to attack.

On a rough scientific level (based on my instinct and cursory knowledge), it makes sense.  Refractory cancer and relapses do tend to escalate quickly, so could cancer really be undetectable for years?  Yes, maybe the cancer would mutate, accrue more oncogenes that drive cell immortality and reproduction, and yes, cellular division is exponential, but somehow five years seems like a long time for cancer to be lurking.  Maybe that’s why the one-year mark is so important–statistics do show that after the first year, chances of “relapse” significantly decrease.  Maybe “relapses” after the one-year mark are new cancers, in the sense that similar oncogenes were tripped and caused the same disease (given that the person clearly had some genetic mutational predisposition to oncogenes), rather than a lingering cancer cell continuing to grow.

I think, ultimately, I’m worried about the one-year mark.  That’s supposed to be the first big milestone of survivorship, and I’m at that critical juncture.  I want it so bad, and I’m fearing the worst, yet at the same time not allowing myself to completely fear it and consume my current happiness.

I should get some rest now, but I hope I can look back on this post and learn a lot about myself, or use it as a reminder to stay positive.  Good night, and have the sweetest of dreams!

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Bald is Beautiful

Mattel’s been receiving a lot of pressure to make a bald Barbie, for girls (and boys!) with hair loss from cancer and other conditions.  Supposedly they’ve made one (only one!) once as a favor for a top executive.  I wonder why they’re not receptive to the suggestion, which could be really lucrative: are they that concerned about Barbie’s “beauty” and “perfection”?  The fact that they’re dragging their feet suggests a really messed-up view of human worth.

(In other news, I’m having a splendid day in Cambridge’s 50-degree January weather.  But I just thought Bald Barbie deserved mention on this blog.)

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As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I have a Positivity Journal that tracks all of my day’s accomplishments (as well as inspirational quotes and a “list of positives”… anything that makes me smile or makes life good).

If you’re more of the online type, this website [iDoneThis] seems like it’s a good way to hold yourself accountable to goals and accomplishments and track your growth.

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Get Busy Living!

Listen to this inspirational survivorship playlist.  I’m in such a fantastic mood because I just successfully exercised for over an hour, burned 400 calories, and feel so relaxed!  So you should be too 🙂

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