Four Years Cancer Free
This is the time of year that always creeps up on me. Even though the weather is starting to warm, I would be lying if I said March was my favorite. March 12th is a weird day for me because it brings so many mixed emotions. This year marks FOUR YEARS CANCER FREE! Four years since I said goodbye to sarcoma and became an amputee. This is a big milestone for me because when my cancer came back the last time, it was at the three-year mark. Making it to four years brings new hope that this battle is truly over. But is the battle ever truly over?
This time of year is always hard for me. At the end of February, I can feel it coming. My mood changes. I become quieter. I feel more irritable. I keep to myself more. I just don’t feel like myself. To be honest, it is almost as if March 1st knocks at the door, and the PTSD kicks in at full force. March 12th should be a day to celebrate being cancer free! On one hand it is, and on the other, this day brings up feelings of trauma, grief, and sadness.
My life changed forever on March 12th, 2018. I walked into the hospital on two feet and “walker-ed” out with one. It was one of the most terrifying days of my entire life. I vividly remember walking through the parking deck to go inside to check in for surgery and thinking, maybe I should just turn around and get back in the car. Thankfully, I somehow mustered up the courage to keep walking inside. I would be lying if I didn’t share that I was on the max dose of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications allowed by my doctor just to get through that morning.
At the end of the day, I was brave. I survived. I took on a major sacrifice to be here today. But even on the hardest days, the ones very few people saw - the ones of me curled in a ball crying in my closet so my kids didn’t see me. The ones where my phantom pain was so bad for the first six months that I woke up crying in my sleep. The ones where I felt like I had completely lost my self-identity. Even though it was a rough start, I am proud to say that I never gave up on myself. I fought really, really hard to get myself back. Not the old version. The new version. The one I had not recognized for a really long time. As hard as this recovery was emotionally, physically and mentally, I never regretted giving up my leg in order to save my life.
This time of year makes me sad, and I think that is normal with trauma. Triggers can take you back to times and emotions that you never want to feel again. March has that effect on me. The amount of hopelessness, fear, and pure emptiness I felt leading up to my surgery was more than any one person should have to process. As hard as that was, I find comfort in remembering that I never gave up. I was determined to make the best of the hand I had been dealt.
I think regardless of your trauma, PTSD is hard. I hate how I feel this time of year, but I know in the end when this anniversary date is over, I will feel relieved and grateful to be here. I am lucky to be here, and I know that. There are so many people who I have met on this journey, and through my nonprofit, who found their sarcomas and it was too late. Sadly, some of these individuals are no longer with us. That is hard for me. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. I remember a woman I helped early on before her amputation, and I remember talking about how I personally chose this to ensure my battle with cancer was over. She told me her amputation was only going to buy her time. I couldn’t process that concept and did not believe her. I couldn’t comprehend how you could amputate a limb to remove the cancer in your body and still not survive. I remember wanting so badly for her to be wrong. Sadly, she was right. Her cancer came back and she did not survive.
As each year goes by, I am grateful for another year on earth. Most people complain about getting older, but I believe that aging is a privilege that not everyone has the opportunity to experience. I don't know why I am here and why some of the other people I have met on this journey aren’t, but because of them, I have chosen to live each day of my post-amputation life with purpose and gratitude.
Sometimes I miss the old me, but then I reflect on the last four years and I honestly think I like the new version of me better. The one who is kinder to herself. The one who gives herself more grace. The one who pushes herself more and puts herself out there, not afraid to fail. The one who feels bold enough to pull up her own chair at the table and not hesitate to speak up. The one who worked hard to earn her life back, while also building a new one.
So, while this month is a mix of emotions for me, I will give myself the grace to know it is ok to still feel a little sad. It is ok to re-feel emotions that I loathe to feel. But it is also a month to celebrate being cancer free and that I still have the privilege to be here.
Today, on this anniversary we ask that you make a donation to help us keep creating change in the sarcoma community. Whether you donate $4, $40, $400 or $4,000, every dollar makes a difference.