Treatment involved the full cascade of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that took 11 months to complete. It was a good thing I was not aware of what that meant in terms of the toll it was going to take on me physically, mentally and psychologically, because it was a tough process.
Initially dealing with the side effects was difficult, you wake up in the morning to find a body you do not understand and does not respond to your normal day to day routines. Treatment totally throws you out of your comfort zone.
Luckily I had a support system among family, friends, work colleagues and healthcare providers who were there every step of the way with information, meals, reminders to take my medication and a place to stay when the drugs kept me away from staying at my place and the space needed to process what was going on. This really helped in putting things in perspective and kept me going even on the dark days.
Recovery is also a process and involves not only recovering physically, but also mentally and psychologically.
I had to learn to get used to the new body that I now had. I also had to learn that it’s O.K. not to run around with 1000 things to accomplish in one day, that it’s fine to slow down and take care of oneself…and that asking for help was not a sign of weakness.
It was even harder getting over the chronic fatigue and other side effects like chemo-brain – which affects your short term memory and the tingling on your fingers /toes and darkening of your nails due to the medication. You relearn a lot of things, from what foods your digestive system can handle without causing an upset stomach and nausea.
Another side effect was losing my hair and having to get accustomed to the new look of a bald head. I remember waking up one morning to no eye lashes/eye brows and laughing with my siblings that now I can finally draw them on with an eye pencil. When my hair started growing back, they gifted me with an infant clip to hold the little hair I had in place.
The good thing was that my healthcare providers were very accommodative and always kept me informed so I was never caught unawares when the side effects kicked in and that this was going to be temporary during the treatment phase. They helped in mentally accepting and internalizing that my life was now on a different course in life.
Recovery boiled down to lifestyle adjustments that come with being more keen on nutrition, medication adherence, a positive outlook to life and routine tests to make sure I maintain a state of remission.
To be honest, I still get scared every time I go in for review since I don’t know whether the results will be fine or not. It’s a constant fear and it reminds you of the day of diagnosis.
A cancer diagnosis and the treatment affect everyone close to you, family and friends. The love and support that comes from them is however… priceless. My daughter taught me to live life every single day to the maximum. Children do not regret the past, neither do they worry about the future; they live for the here and now. I also continued to work just to keep my mind engaged throughout even though most of the time I was not too productive. Cancer was a wakeup call for me to take care of myself and stop sweating the small stuff, to live life to the fullest because we have absolutely no guarantees in this life.