Milestone posts prove to be hard to write. I’ve never written any during my first anniversary of cancer diagnosis, my first anniversary of completing surgery, my first anniversary of starting chemotherapy and I’m a week after my first anniversary of completing cancer treatment.
It’s hard to write because these milestones are significant in its own way. They each represent a very distinctive life-changing event — super emotional ones in vastly different ways.
Here’s what each of them meant to me…
The first anniversary of cancer diagnosis was 1 year after the date I started counting my cancer survivorship. It represented the date my life was reset. The date I and everyone close to me were associated with cancer. I remember having lots of flashbacks during this first anniversary. I recalled going to the hospital for an unsuspecting check-up, ending up returning for an unexpected daycare admission, and then going back for a report that paralyzed me mentally. Quite traumatizing.
The first anniversary of surgery had its equal share of flashback as well. I remembered preparing for the surgery (crazy busy period), going in for the surgery and the uncomfortable recovery post-surgery. Those painful and scary moments returned as vivid memories. I was quite surprised I could remember it quite well.
The first anniversary of starting chemotherapy — I realized — was when things started to become cloudy. I mean I remembered the start of the process well; the fearful decision to do chemotherapy, the worrisome preparation, the traumatizing chemo port surgery, the active qi gong days and the daycare ward moments. But it was a 6-month process where it felt quite different from start to finish so I couldn’t quite digest the entire process as one.
Now, to the final first-anniversary milestone: one year after completing cancer treatment. This is a big deal. Because this date one year ago, I could go around and tell people it’s done. I made it. I completed 8 months of cancer treatment and survived it.
This anniversary proved to be very raw and real even though there’s less flashback of the cancer ordeal. Instead, I reflect on how I’ve lived my second chance at life. It’s an equally gruesome process, to say the least!
Unlike cancer treatment days, I didn’t have a schedule and plan to follow anymore. I got back control of my life but that’s the last thing that I felt I had.
I felt like I got thrown back into the hustle of life with half of me wanting to move forward and half of me wanting to move backward, without professionals to back me up during this process.
There was a lot of fear and guilt. Fear of cancer returning. The guilt of not living like how a cancer survivor should live. But my question is: how should a cancer survivor live anyway?!
I think a lot of portrayals of cancer survivors tale of how our lifestyle changed to one that is slow and fulfilling. The old ones retire and do things they love. The young ones get married and return to workforce slow, if any at all.
I hate to put it into words. But I believe that this expectation made me struggle with life after cancer. To me, it felt like life resumed to where I left it before cancer; like how I left for a holiday at work and came back to the same (if not more) work to deal with.
I have to say I’m lucky to be able to say this because I know many cancer survivors get discriminated at the workplace.
That aside, my point is that I struggle to adjust myself back to real life again post-cancer. It seemed like nothing around me changed even though I’ve changed so much physically and mentally.
And here’s where I feel there is a gap in the recovery plan for young cancer survivors. There is little resource (if any) on how to tackle life after cancer when life resumes on a fast lane.
Do you know of anyone who faces similar challenge as me post life-changing experience?
Regardless, I am thankful to have reached this milestone. Thank you to every person (strangers included) who have touched my life in positive ways during this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
On a final note, I learned to tie my hair up when it’s messy. Why was my hair so messy in the first few photos? Hahaha.