Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

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Paying Off Medical Bills

Out of Network Medical Expenses

Paying off medical bills was practically the last thing on my mind when I was hospitalized prior to my cancer diagnosis last summer. I did what I could to make sure the hospital was getting pre-authorization from the insurance. However, the reality is that I was too sick and weak to really think about much more than the blood transfusions and diagnostic testing I desperately needed. The doctor who arranged the hospital admission assured me that no insurance company would deny the medical necessity of my hospitalization, but he didn’t warn me attending physicians and other medical providers were essentially independent contractors, rather than hospital employees, who may or may not be part of my Preferred Provider Network.

Appeals and Discounts

I learned the hard way about this reality. Unbeknownst to me, the group of doctors who served as attending physicians in the hospital were not part of my PPO, which meant that not only was the bill paid at only 60% by the insurance, but there was an additional $250 out of network deductible. These surprising charges forced me into another unknown realm: appeals to the  insurance company and requests for discounts directly from out-of-network medical providers. Although the insurance company rejected my appeal for in-network level coverage, my requests directly to the out of network medical providers proved much more successful. Both of the providers I contacted wrote off part of the total and the billing department for the attending physicians also offered to put me on a monthly payment plan because of the size of the bill. I am pleased to say, I finally paid off that balance last month!

Paying Off Medical Bills: Miraculous Provision

While I was on medical leave for chemotherapy, the San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA) granted me sick leave through their Catastrophic Leave Bank. Essentially, sick leave donated by members of SJTA carried me through all but eight days of my medical leave. Because teachers in California do not pay Social Security Disability benefit Insurance, we cannot receive those benefits. Consequently, the provision of these days from the Catastrophic Leave Bank averted what otherwise could have quickly become financial catastrophe.

Unexpected generosity also came from long-time family friends, who with their personal insight into the overwhelming challenge of paying off medical bills, chose to help me pay off those bills. Their benevolence came just as I was facing the month with those eight days of unpaid leave, which was literally just in the nick of time.  I was completely overwhelmed to be the recipient of their philanthropy.

Thankfully, I can see the end of my medical bills within the next couple of months. I am grateful for those who have helped me financially,  for the medical insurance that covers the majority of my costs, for the job that enables me to continue meeting my financial commitments, and for a summer school teaching job helping me recover financially from the burden of months of medical bills.

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Lingering Effects of Chemo

The lingering effects of Chemo, such as chemo induced peripheral neuropathy and fatigue, continue to play a part in everyday life. Experts tell me both can take up to a year to resolve, and in the case of fatigue, sometimes even longer. However, life goes on and I am finding ways to cope, although not without being sometimes caught off guard.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Neuropathy

Lately, I have noticed the neuropathy I experienced in my fingers and feet has been less and less noticeable. At first, it seemed as though it would improve for a few days and then would seem as uncomfortable as ever. However, most recently I have been feeling it just slightly in my hands, although more pronouncedly in my feet. I am relieved and happy this sensation seems to be dissipating and hope soon it will be completely gone!

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Fatigue

Life is busy. There are many things to do to keep house and work. My list of things to do seems endless. I try to do things in chunks and to make the most of the energy I have, but I still sometimes find myself surprised when I come home from a grocery shopping outing and feel the need for a nap. Fatigue makes  keeping up on household chores a challenge, so I have adjusted my expectation for what I can get done and have tried to organize things so that I have clean clothes for work and food to throw together for meals. But, beyond that, I simply have had to relax and let my best be okay for now. This is not forever, so I trust that before long, it won’t be such a chore to keep up on chores and the upkeep of housework will feel a little less overwhelming.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Stunted Hair Growth

Happily, I have short hair sticking up on the top of my head where some new growth has begun to crop up. Although I have begun to see some hair growth in places, there are other places that remain oddly hairless. I do not know if I can expect this to continue long-term or if it just needs some more time to begin to show up.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Sunburn

Earlier this week, I had the pure joy of taking a nap near the Pacific Ocean. A lovely pair of palm trees provided shade for my afternoon slumber, but since the breeze was somewhat cool, most of my body, including my arms and face, were fully covered, except for my legs and ankles below the capris I was wearing. Time stands still for no one, so upon waking, I found I was in full sun.

Since the breeze was refreshing I did not notice the heat and thought nothing more of it until later that evening when my ankle began to itch. Only then did I realize the bright redness on both of my legs where they had been carelessly exposed to the afternoon sun. My oncologist insisted I take care to avoid the sun while I was on chemotherapy, but after I finished chemo, I began to spend more time out of doors at various times of the day. Although I had only been exposed to the sun for about 20 minutes that afternoon, I suffered for days from the pain of this sunburn.

Hopefully, the chemo effect will soon be completely out of my system, but until then, there will be no more carefree siestas in the afternoon sun without being fully covered to protect myself from the sun.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Relay for Life

When I was finishing up chemo, I decided I wanted to do positive things to establish a healthy lifestyle as a person who had moved past cancer treatment. All through chemo I worked to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise routine. After treatment, I wanted to keep up these positive changLingering Effects of Chemoes, but I also wanted to do something to mark the transition from being a patient to thriving in post treatment life.

One of the ways I found to do this was by signing up for a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser. So, I signed up as a team captain and began recruiting people to be on my team. With just two weeks until Relay for Life of Saratoga, my team remains small. But, I am happy for those who have chosen to join me and to mark my transition back to life as I once knew it. I am grateful for their support and look forward to a fun-filled time.

Just today, I became a Hero of Hope speaker and will share at the Luminaria Ceremony during the Relay event. If you find yourself in the San Jose area and have time to come by St. Andrews Field at 13601 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga, CA on July 23, 2016 between about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., I will be sharing some thoughts on life from a cancer survivor’s perspective.

Other Lingering Effects of Chemo

There are other effects of chemo that remain with me. In addition to peculiar physical side effects, I have a new perspective and a more grateful attitude. While I find myself frustrated that I have not been able to keep up contact with friends as I did while on chemo, I still find myself thinking about them and am grateful for their ongoing support and presence in my life. I feel amazingly blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and are willing to walk along what has been a difficult path this past year. Although I do not know what the future holds, I am expecting wonderful things because I know I will continue to be surrounded by the best group of people who will accompany me no matter what comes my way!

Thanks for being one of those wonderful people!

 

First Anniversaries of the Cancer Detour and Thankful to Be Healthy

Anniversaries

As we head into July, I am mindful of the first anniversaries of the cancer detour and thankful to be healthy. In fact on July 5 last year, I first began to have notable symptoms of the undetected illness within. Although I had slept through the summer into July, it had not occurred to me that I might be ill. But when July dawned, it became more difficult to dismiss the symptoms I was experiencing. However, for about a month I had no suspicion of anything worse than the stress of traveling. Thankfully, a knowledgeable doctor connected the scattershot of dots I described and ordered the right blood work to begin the diagnostic process that revealed the tumor growing within. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thankful

In fact, I am thankful for so many things. Every day as I maneuver my way through commute to traffic on the drive to summer school, I thank God for this job. Although I have to get up before 5:30 on these summer mornings, I am grateful to be working for such a great district and to be meeting different teachers, with varied experience and background, from whom I can learn. I am thankful for the students in my class who are eager to learn and easy to teach. During these few weeks, I am implementing teaching strategies I was trained in two years ago, but haven’t had the need to try out yet. Realizing that I can use these techniques successfully to impact student learning gives me another reason to be grateful.

Along with teaching summer school, I am thankful for the Living Strong, Living Well program. Up until now, I have not loved going to the gym. I always felt out of place because I didn’t know what to do and have a terrible time trying to follow the complicated choreography of some exercise classes. Although I may enjoy that kind of exercise, I often find myself zigging when the rest of the class is zagging. It makes for a highly stressful experience that counteracts the positive feelings generated by the endorphins released through the exercise. So, I am thankful for Ron and Trish, the YMCA trainers, who partner with Stanford to offer Living Strong, Living Well that are teaching me to use machines for cardio exercise and also for weightlifting. Their kindness and patience encourage me to do my best and to use the machines correctly, while not overdoing the weight. These trainers and the other participants in the program give me yet another reason to be thankful.

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine has been the whole of my life in the past few days.

Summer School and Struggle for a Post Chemo Routine

This week summer school started and so began the struggle to re-establish a healthy routine with balanced time between work and the rest of my life. It has been a great challenge for me. So far, I have managed to spend an enormous amount of time at work and been consistent at the gym, but keeping up on household chores has been somewhat disastrous. Just to keep things interesting, I am having trouble getting to bed at a reasonable time and then having to roll out early the next morning because the school where I am teaching places me squarely in the middle of commute traffic. Consequently, it has seemed like the longest week! And actually, it is only the second full week I have worked since being released back to “normal” life.

But, I am enjoying teaching a new group of first grade or almost second grade students and working with a new staff. I consider this my time to work with training wheels on as I prepare to ride solo at another new school this fall. So far, things have been going well. Using training and experience from the past few years, I am having fun developing lessons with the needs of this unique group of students in mind. It has been a delightfully intriguing challenge that is yielding plentiful rewards. I am enjoying a deep joy and satisfaction in the job that I am doing and in the response of students to the lessons and activities I plan to engage them in learning.

Similarly, my students have settled into a happy routine and seem to be enjoying learning in my class. They have formed friendships with students from various schools, as this is a districtwide program and many of them had never met one another before. I am glad to see them happily engaged in learning and have once again remembered why I love teaching! I am hoping that this excitement and energy for teaching persists into the coming school year at my new school site and that I will be able to establish healthy boundaries for work that lead to a happy and healthy lifestyle that is conducive to good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

As I continue to struggle to find equilibrium in my life, I could use words of wisdom for what you have found or observed works.

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two months post chemo and still surprised by fatigue and things that trigger emotions.  Even though I have resumed normal activities and am going about life as usual. I have been keeping a pretty steady pace and for the most part have been fine. After going back to work, I had some challenges readjusting to being back in a world that looked the same, but had changed. But, I made it and was glad I had gone back for the end of the year.

Now with school out, I have been filling my days with travel, packing up my classroom to move schools, transporting things to the new school site or to be stored, reconnecting with friends, and exercise. I have been feeling good and enjoying this new phase of life. However, I quickly forget that just over two months ago, I was a chemo patient.

My fatigue doesn’t seem to grip me constantly, so I can keep a pretty full schedule for awhile. Then suddenly, I find myself unable to deal with the emotions that accompany the normal stresses in life and realize I am tired and in need of a nap or a long night of sleep. The good news is that it is exactly that simple, so why can’t I remember this simple fact?

Triggers

A cancer diagnosis comes with an element of fear that takes time to overcome. Occasionally, that fear pops up out of the blue, but more often I find that it is triggered by treatment related issues or circumstances. For example, this week I had to schedule follow up testing for the end of the year. Both of the procedures I had to put on the calendar were tests I had in the hospital when the cancer was diagnosed. Naturally, scheduling those tests triggered feelings similar to those I felt the first time I had them since they caused me to remember and relive, at least on some level, the emotions around my diagnosis. However,  if I had been more rested, I think I would have faced them more quickly and put them to rest without having to weather such a tempest in a teapot.

Anniversaries

And, the anniversaries are looming larger on my calendar. The anniversary of feeling sick, learning I was ill (on my birthday, no less!) yet not knowing the cause, then being told I had cancer one day and having surgery to remove the tumor the next. I anticipate a certain amount of emotion as these dates approach, but I know that they will pass and I will be fine. They are just dates.

Recurrence

Recently I had the chance to share with someone who asked me if I feared a recurrence that I do not expect the cancer to return. I am striving to live my life to the fullest, while doing everything I can to live a healthy, anti-cancer life. But, it could still come back. I couldn’t prevent cancer the first time, so I know I can’t prevent it from coming back, either. What I can do is make the most of my life. Do what is important and let go of the small, insignificant things that pop up that really do not matter, but can quickly steal my joy, time, and attention, if I let them. I am doing my best to not let them! It is easier said than done, but I am finding the effort worthwhile.

Why Am I Surprised?

While I do not know the answer to why I am surprised by fatigue and the impact fatigue has on my emotions, I do know I am planning to make rest a priority and to find ways to remind myself that it will take time, more than I realize, to regain my stamina for the everyday pace of life. Taking a nap or sleeping an unusual number of hours some nights is exactly what I need in order to keep up with my day in and out activities. Hopefully, this will begin to come naturally and I will not reach the point that I am stressed and emotional over insignificant things.

Any suggestions for other ways I can be mindful of pacing myself and getting enough rest?

Finished Chapters and Tales Yet to Be Written

Finished Chapters and Tales Yet to Be Written

I have come to a time of finished chapters and tales yet to be written at the end of this  school year more than almost any other. After a challenging return to teaching for the last eight days of the school year, I settled into the routine and had a special time saying goodbye to current and past students, as well as colleagues, effectively closing a chapter in my life.

Packing and Cleaning Up the Classroom

Beginning after the final bell on the final day of school on Thursday of last week, I began packing up my classroom for the move to a new school site. Once I knew I was going to have chemotherapy, I had packed up most of my personal teaching materials and belongings in the classroom and taken them home to store while I was on medical leave. So, I began packing what remained of my belongings along with the district owned materials I would need to move for the upcoming school year.

Thankfully, packing went fairly quickly and, with help from my niece, I was able to do some cleaning out of outdated materials and supplies that the incoming teacher, who is a friend of mine, decided she wouldn’t need for next year. This process took several days, but it was with great joy and relief that I turned in my sign off sheet and keys at the school. With a shout of “woohoo,” I celebrated the end of a bittersweet chapter in my life. As I remember the good times and all I learned, I move forward to a new school with excitement and anticipation, commemorating finished chapters and tales not yet written.

Preparing for Summer School

With the financial stress of medical bills and a partial month’s pay once my sick leave ran out, I decided that for the first time in years I needed to teach summer school. Since I have rested and decompressed over the course of the last several months, I do not need the summer break desperately as in most other years. And, I thought it might be a good way to ease back into the routine of teaching to teach shorter days in two week increments.

So, yesterday I had my first day of professional development and orientation for the summer school program I will be teaching in a neighboring district. I have been anticipating learning from collaborating with teachers who bring a whole different set of experiences and preparation to teaching. It has been interesting to learn how a district other than the one I teach in during the regular school year operates. I am finding the interaction with teachers from a different perspective refreshing and challenging alike. The freedom I have to develop and implement the curriculum has infused excitement and enthusiasm into the task. And, my grade level teaching colleague is new to the profession, which allows me the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge with her as we jointly plan lessons for our first graders.

Learning a New School Culture

With the move to a new school, I must learn who is who and how things work at the new site. So far, I have met just a handful of people at the new school and have focused on being a positive addition to the staff. As frustrations arise, I find myself seeking advice from a teacher friend who knows the school community and can help me to navigate these yet unknown waters. I hope to quickly learn more about the school dynamics once school starts so that I can fit in with colleagues, students, and parents alike.

Unfortunately, at this point there is some doubt about what grade level I will be teaching and I have not been able to get keys so that I can begin to unpack and settle into the classroom. Hopefully, the issue will be quickly resolved and little by little I can prepare for the upcoming school year instead of having to rush to try to do it right before the new school year begins.

Glancing Back, but Moving Forward

This juncture of finished chapters and tales yet to be written finds me looking back in celebration of the lessons I learned, moments I savored, people I cared about, and challenges I faced. But more than that, I am looking forward with anticipation of the next exciting chapter filled with new challenges and people, as well as unexpected joys and lessons to be learned. It is good to be moving forward in anticipation of even better things ahead!

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a balanced life after chemo has been a challenge since going back to work. While I was on medical leave from work during chemotherapy, I had ample time for exercise and cooking healthy meals when I was well enough.

Cooking

I enjoyed trying new, healthy recipes in the kitchen and had a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I was doing something positive to regain and maintain my health. Even still, I enjoy cooking at home and generally choose to come home and eat, rather than eat out where I do not know what the ingredients are in the dishes. However, now that I am back to work, I find that I have much less time to spend in the kitchen to try out these new dishes. Instead, I opt for simpler fare that I can warm up or cook in a few minutes after coming home from a tiring day in first grade. In fact, I think it was scrambled eggs for dinner twice this week!

As time goes on, I hope to find a better balance of life and work, but since I returned to work for the last two weeks of school the flurry of activity consumed most of my time and energy. Hopefully as I continue to recover more of my strength and stamina over the summer, I will find it easier to return to a more balanced life that includes a little more time in the kitchen when school resumes in August.

Exercise

As often as I could during chemo, I would walk. I tried for at least a half an hour a day, but on some days I simply couldn’t get outside for it. However, as time went on, I found that I really enjoyed the natural mood elevation I got from taking a walk. And, friends would sometimes walk with me, making the outing doubly enjoyable. But now that I have begun the Living Strong, Living Well program and have gone back to work, I no longer have the time and energy for these daily outings. Teaching keeps me on my feet most of the day and the Living Strong, Living Well exercise program provides a different kind of exercise that I quite enjoy. Nevertheless, I find I miss my long walks around the neighborhoods near my house. I miss looking at nature and meeting new people along my customary route. I do not know quite how to find balance in this area, but hope that over time I will adjust to the new forms of exercise and not miss my walks quite so much.

Without a doubt, finding a balanced life after chemo will be a process, but I am anxious to maintain my healthy patterns that have helped me to feel so robust and positive about the future. If you have any suggestions for how I might achieve this, I certainly hope you will share your words of wisdom. Or, if you face a similar struggle, I hope you will share that as well.

As always, thanks for continuing with me on the journey of life!

 

 

Back to Work After Chemo

Back to Work After Chemo

Going back to work after chemo has turned out to be challenging in ways that I had not anticipated. Consequently, this week’s post will be comparatively short.

School

Returning to work was going to be hard physically, I thought. This first week back, I had a commitment every evening after work, so I anticipated being fatigued. Little did I know I was wholly unprepared to deal with the dissonance of reintegrating into teaching at my school, an entity I thought I knew intimately, but which has continued to develop and evolve while I was cocooned for chemo. While I was on leave from work, I thought about how the people at work were not part of the cancer detour, but I failed to realize that I wasn’t part of those months in their lives or the school community, either. I am back seeing familiar things and faces, but I expected everything to be the same and for me to fit right back in. However, since I didn’t live through events with the rest of the staff or experience the ongoing metamorphosis of the school, I have realized that I am out of sync.  Once familiar things have changed and catch me off guard. And, sometimes, my absence has been forgotten about by others and I find I don’t know what is going on for lack of information. For me, this has resulted in an emotional first few days back at work.

Although dealing with the machinery of the school has been a challenge, being back with my students for the last part of the year has been pure joy. The students have adjusted nicely to having me back and are happily requesting to sing songs throughout the day and play games during physical education that I taught them in the few short weeks I worked early in the school year. In spite of my absence, they have had a good year. For this, I am thankful. And, the opportunity to have closure with them is a blessing. In fact, next year I will be assigned to a different school in the same school district, so I am taking advantage of these last few days of school to say goodbye to staff and students alike. I have loved reconnecting with former students and been glad for the chance to tell them goodbye.

Living Strong, Living Well

Twice a week the Living Strong, Living Well program has given me an way to decompress and de-stress after work through physical exercise. And, while I notice my emotions lifting after exercising at the YMCA, I also know that aerobic exercise and strength training  correlate with a lower recurrence of cancer. So, I am pleased to have a dual benefit from my workouts and hope to be able to continue once the program ends.

Furthermore, I have found comfort in working with this group of survivors as we commiserate or laugh about side effects, while focusing on becoming stronger and healthier. Following orientation day, all participants seemed to be looking forward and no longer defined by the disease that gripped us. A sense of anticipation of better things ahead and an easy camaraderie has developed, both of which inspire me to do my best and be a cheerleader for other participants.

Life is Good

Although I have faced unexpected challenges going back to work after chemo, I am happy and grateful for the people, resources, and opportunities that continue to support me in my journey of life as a cancer survivor.  Life is good. Truly, it is good to be alive!

 

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor¹

On Tuesday, life took a major shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor when the oncologist cleared me back to regular, everyday life. With the exception of taking care to not put too much pressure on the mediport site, I can do just about anything I used to do. And, Monday, it is back to work. So, little by little, I am venturing out into the world and resuming some of those normal activities that were restricted until this week.

Grocery Shopping

Naturally, on the way home from the oncologist’s office, I stopped by the supermarket to pick up some fresh fruit that I could enjoy without have to peel to eat. Unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables were restricted from my diet until given the green light after chemo, so I was anxious to get some of my seasonal favorites. Surprisingly, instead of finding going into the grocery store exciting and freeing, I found it a little overwhelming because of the number of people in the store. I bought minimal fixings for salad and quickly exited the store. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed eating lettuce, raw carrots and unpeeled tomato.

However, the following day, I set out at a different time, in a less crowded location, and found delight in selecting berries, grapes, apricots and nectarines–none of which are going to be peeled. Meals have been fruit heavy since then, to the delight of my taste buds! Although I may continue to seek off times to shop, as much as possible, until I overcome my discomfort with the crowds, I am enjoying picking out fresh fruits and vegetables to reincorporate into my diet.

Living Strong, Living Well

This past Monday, I began the Living Strong, Living Well program at a nearby YMCA. The professor from Stanford University who facilitated the orientation session emphasized that the program’s focus was wellness, so we were not obligated to state what kind of cancer we had had or anything to do with our treatment or the disease. Instead, she asked us to share what we hoped to get out of the program and something we valued.

These instructions fit in perfectly with my goal in joining the program, which was to transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor, and to no longer be defined by the disease that gripped me, but by who I am as a person. It was incredibly freeing to introduce myself and to say what I wanted to gain through the program and what I valued. Not to have to tag on anything about the diagnosis, the emotional roller coaster that started after receiving a cancer diagnosis, or the agonizing months of treatment was a redefining moment and one more step in seeing myself as a someone who is healthy and thriving.

Back to School

In preparation for my return to school for the last eight days of instruction before summer break, I needed to touch base with the long-term substitute teacher who has been in charge of my class and my first grade teaching partner before Monday. It was bittersweet heading back to school yesterday to meet up with them, but the anxiety I felt before arriving, and the immediate coughing fit that overcame me upon my arrival, quickly disappeared as I was warmly greeted by colleagues and students.

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

Maybe someday my hair will grow long and thick like it was in 2009

I must confess I still find it difficult not to protest when people comment that I look good and that all the rest I had must be the reason. Because my work colleagues have not accompanied me on the cancer detour, and in fact have not even been told by me what illness I had, they do not know what caused my weight loss, that the reason my hair looks almost exactly the same as before is because what didn’t fall out quit growing, or that the months of chemotherapy could hardly be described as restful. While the inward battle of emotions rages, I try to maintain a benign countenance and politely respond to their well-intentioned comments. Admittedly, I am extremely over-sensitive, but, as with all other things, I hope this too will pass. And one day my hair might grow back long and thick!

As students rushed up to greet me with hugs, I fought the urge to pull back for fear of contracting some illness. For months I have dutifully avoided human contact to prevent infection, so I am still adjusting to the fact that my immune system can now battle disease and I no longer need to take such rigid precautions. I may have to continue to remind myself of this fact over the next few weeks, until it becomes an automatic reaction to enjoy the embrace of others without trying to pull back.

Meeting Up with Friends

While on chemo, I rarely went out for meals because of the risk of infection. If I ventured out, it would normally be to sparsely occupied places where I could maintain a safe space from other diners. Now that I am transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor, I can meet up with friends in public without having to estimate if I am far enough away from any diner who might be coughing or sneezing. While I do not find coughing or sneezing pleasant to be around, I am happy that I am able to meet up with friends over a meal  to reconnect after these months of virtual isolation during chemo.

Although meeting up with friends is a welcome change, my long-term dietary changes remain in place. So, I remain ever mindful of my menu selections in order to promote continued health. I am not finding the dietary shifts difficult or limiting, but instead find something of a rewarding challenge in selecting something appetizing that is also healthful.

More of Daily Life

As time goes on, driving longer distances, sitting on a crowded beach, and other normal activities will also mark the shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor. But for now I am satisfied to gradually resume quotidian normalcy.

Which of these daily activities do you think you would most enjoy resuming?

1 Hewitt M., et al., eds. From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition (National Academies Press, 2006).

Regaining a Sense of Well-Being After Cancer

Since receiving my diagnosis last year and undergoing months of treatment, I am finally regaining a sense of well-being after cancer.

When diagnosed with cancer, life changes in so many ways. A fairly common effect is the loss of a sense of well-being. Gone is the confidence that you are healthy. All of a sudden, a nagging little pain or fleeting discomfort you would have assumed was nothing before cancer becomes a big deal and another thing to talk over with the doctor on the next visit. I imagine the ongoing treatment and risk of side effects or infection contributes to this feeling of needing to keep track of each ache, pain, or anomaly and ask the doctor if it is normal. For months, a doctor wants to know all of those little things, which creates a hyper-focus on how the body is functioning and feeling.

Once treatment ends, that hyper-focus remains, but the ongoing follow up and reassurance of having the knowledgeable doctor regularly tell you your complaints are nothing to worry about is no longer there. Making that shift from being dependent on someone else to tell you that you are okay to analyzing the facts and believing you are healthy is one of the transitions faced at the end of treatment.

Similarly, the possibility of a recurrence can lurk in the mind and cause worry and stress, especially when faced with follow up tests and procedures. Certainly, having faith helps with all of those doubts, but the reality is I was a person of faith when I got cancer. I still had cancer.

So, right now, I find myself in the lull between treatment and the first round of follow up testing to confirm what we believe the chemotherapy accomplished. Almost all the time, I live with a sense of peace and an expectation of a long, healthy life. But, on occasion that lurking thought in the back of my mind rears up and causes a momentary worry that passes quickly. I am grateful for these moments because they are reality checks for me. Yes, the reality is I had cancer and there exists the possibility that it could come back. But also, I have faith in God and in modern medicine and I believe that the treatment I underwent rid me of the disease and will prevent a recurrence.

What does regaining a sense of well-being after cancer and the end of my detour mean for my life? Loads of change for one thing! Life will be different. My body functions differently now. I look at life differently. I have to be more purposeful. For example, a huge focus is what goes in my mouth. Is it good for me and will it help my body function optimally? Another important change has been (nearly) daily exercise that lifts my spirits and gives me time to talk with friends who sometimes accompany me on my walks. I have come to love spending time walking outdoors and the time for reflection that comes with my footfalls on the cement. The elliptical is a nice inclement weather back up, but doesn’t allow for reflection in the same way.

But, most importantly, I have learned to focus on people and not just tasks. Being a goal-oriented person, I have spent years working toward this or that end, and have enjoyed the challenges. However, over the past months, I have enjoyed the time for conversations with old and new friends. Connecting or reconnecting with friends has made me feel more fulfilled than spending long hours at work or trying to meet some goal I had set for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I will still strive to be an exceptional teacher, but I also want to live with balance so that I can also continue to be a good friend.

And regaining a sense of well-being after cancer means the lurking thought in the back of my mind that someday cancer might come back only makes me realize I have a limited number of days allotted to me and I need to make each day count.

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