If I had a dollar for every time I said “I need to update my blog” in the last several months… well… I’d be rich. But you see, I’ve been very busy living a dream life without cancer. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been a roller coaster of a ride. I’ve had lots of scares, elevated CEA and circulating DNA that would then return to normal and my scans would be clear so I’d get worked up with dread and then relieved. Cancer is tough because even when you’re done with it you’re never really done. No matter how far away you get from it, it’s still a shadow that stays with you that you worry with suddenly take on substance.
I’m trying desperately to live, to make up for lost time, to stop survival mode, expand my energy and attention, and to broaden the scope of my life to its full potential. The way I describe it is that normal life is like a warehouse and in the normal day to day functioning all the machinery is working, all the employees are doing their jobs well, the forklifts are lifting heavy stuff and moving it around, the product is being produced and everything is efficient. But cancer reduces you from normal life to survival mode life. Gradually, the power supply to the warehouse is reduced. The lights go out in seventy-five percent of the warehouse, all non essential operation is restricted, most of the machines are turned off and the employees are laid off. The product is still being made but its taking twice as long to produce half the amount. The season I’ve been in happened when, suddenly, I stopped having cancer. The power was back to normal in the warehouse. Out of the blue, the lights are all on! What a mess! I’ve been turning the machines back on, redirecting the employees, and putting the fork lifts back to work. I’ve discovered a lot of the machines were outdated and I’m not sure why I’d been using them in that condition. There has been a lot of inefficiency in the layout of the warehouse and machine placement and who knows why there are so many boxes in storage. I’ve been putting in work to reorganize and redirect my life. I feel like I’m being stretched like crazy and yet I don’t feel “stretched”, it’s more like I’m being spread to spaces I was already supposed to be occupying. It’s a very different perspective on growth than I’ve ever seen.
I recognized that I needed help during this transition from survival mode to living. My ways of thinking and managing my emotions were no longer serving me. My tag line to start therapy was “I’ve been battling stage IV cancer, I’ve almost died several times, I’ve essentially had a broken heart for six years and yet.. I’m fine. I don’t feel like that’s actually true or normal”. I don’t want the trauma and the coping strategies I developed in “survival mode” to hold me back or show up in future relationships or decision making processes. One reason I did so well with cancer is because of how naturally compartmentalized I am. However, to stay with my warehouse metaphor, taking up half the building with unidentified storage of things I don’t know how to deal with isn’t doing my production or reorganization efforts any favors. I know I can’t emotionally go to the places I need to go to find the healing and resolution I need to move forward into future chapters of my life. I’ve been slowing down and recognizing and learning things about myself and taking time to figure out how I actually feel and what I need to be successful and move forward. But this isn’t a therapy post so I’ll just say therapy is great, you should probably do it.
Let’s take a second to talk about lung capacity and doing high intensity functional fitness (CrossFit) with only one and a half lungs! I knew that after a year I would regain ninety-five percent of my lung capacity! Bet you didn’t know that! So as soon as my incisions healed I went back to the gym without any “restrictions”. It was tough to get started with such limited reserves. If you know the kind of athlete I am, you know I have one mode, I come out too hot, die out quick and just push through the death feelings. I have always been able to hang on in that dark place and drive through extreme discomfort. It’s what made me “good at CrossFit”, my ability to suffer. Well, take away half a lung and that training mode of redline and then hold on just DOES NOT WORK. What it looks like is hyperventilating early and spending the rest of the workout talking myself down from a panic attack and coughing fit because my poor airways were in spasm and I literally felt like I was suffocating. So luckily, my best friend and coach, Astrid, stepped in and literally held my hand through workouts, modifying movements, re-writing workouts to add in rest breaks, making me slow down, teaching me to pace, and writing additional workouts of slow cardio to increase my lung capacity and endurance. So I got smarter about workouts, I learned where I can push and where I need to hold back, even if it feels easy. I got strong cause moving slow can actually increase your strength more than moving fast. Now, today, I am lifting heavier than I ever have IN MY LIFE and actually performing better on workouts that I did before I had cancer when I would have considered myself in peak shape. How can that be? Stronger, faster, smarter both mentally and physically than I was before I had cancer or tore my ACL? Yes, most definitely. That’s pretty cool.
Did you know in English rollercoaster is one word, but Americans make it two words, roller coaster. I don’t know how that makes any sense. But being American, I’ll spell it as two words, roller coaster. And I am definitely on one. I mentioned at the beginning were keeping a close eye on me. Once a month blood tests, and still once every three month CT scans. I’ve been walking into these tests strong arming confidence. As in, forcing confidence, faking it, ignoring the nagging doubts, kicking fears to the curb. Mental discipline has always been one of my weapons in my fight against this cancer. Then when there’s a hint of a questionable lab test it’s like the rug gets pulled out from under me but everything is ok so I shame myself for getting landing on my ass and pick myself back up into my confident stance and get back to reclaiming my life.
Last month my scan was not clear. There was a nodule in my right lung’s lower lobe. Little guy. Only six millimeters but it had grown from three and a half millimeters on the scan eight months earlier. This threw me for a loop! This appears to be something concrete, there is still cancer. Eleven months after my surgery and a year since my last chemo a nodule had the AUDACITY to show up. Normally my nodules grow three millimeters in three months so the slow growth of this one is suspicious but also explains why my tumor markers have stayed stable and within normal limits. This nodule wasn’t reported on any of my earlier scans because it was thought to be a scar from my first lung surgery. In all honesty, I’m still suspicious that it isn’t just a scar. CT scans take images every three millimeters, so who’s to say, the previous scans’ images weren’t taken at different locations of the scar as compared to this scan’s image? Meaning, this scan took an image at a thicker part of the scar than the previous scan. I mean, it’s possible. Either way, we’re going ahead with treatment options. What’s looking like the best option is radiation. I’m a good candidate, radiation was effective on the lung nodule we radiated a couple years ago, next steps planning it out!
Planning out treatment is never without roller coaster rides of their own. The current plan is to get a biopsy of this nodule and at the same time “tag” or “mark” it for the radiation machine. If the radiation lasers have something to lock onto they can be more precise in their delivery of radiation. This means less tissue damage and makes it easier on me because holding my breath to decrease the amount of movement of the nodule during radiation makes it all more efficient. A machine that can learn and match my breathing pattern because it’s following a marker next to the nodule just sounds better all around! But the last time they tried to biopsy a nodule in my lung it wasn’t conclusive aaaaaand collapsed my lung. So even though the side effects are minimal the outcomes are effective doesn’t mean this course of treatment isn’t without its risks.
Naturally, this has caused an existential spiral. Thoughts like do I even know what the voice of God sounds like? Do I hear him accurately? Is God who He says He is? Does He lie? Is He just manipulative and says things to get us to believe things and act a certain way and doesn’t mean what He says? I’ve had all the doubts and all the terrifying thought spirals. The good news is, I have stabilized. I know He loves me, He will prove Himself to be everything He has said, He doesn’t quit, He doesn’t lie, He isn’t manipulative. But these are still thought battles I fight everyday. So the battle rages and isn’t even close to being done.