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Thursday, August 4, 2016

One Year Remission!

I cannot believe it's been one year today! Overjoyed is not even great enough of a word. It's been a long road ya'll....let's keep going!


Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn knows the deal 
Wow....its July again and every year on July 29th I remember the day my life changed forever--I was diagnosed with cancer. July 29th is when I must force myself to remember a new "time period" of my cancer journey. First it was 1 year, than 2, than 5, than 6 and now 7. Seven years! Seven years since I first heard these words from my doctor: "I'm sorry, It's lymphoma. Now who's here to help."

If you're new to my blog and haven't had the chance to read from the beginning, I'll give you a quick recap:

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma after seeing a swollen lymph node above my left collarbone. As a self-diagnosed hypochondriac (in retrospect I had good reason to be) I immediately Google'd "swollen lymph node" and focused in on the word "cancer" in a long list of causes. I had no other explicit symptoms of what we in the HL world call "B symptoms" (weight loss, night sweats, fever) but I was scared due to my above explained hypchondriac-ness. So I headed to the doctor who assured me it was probably nothing but ordered a biopsy just in case. I had the biopsy, went to get the results by myself (BIG mistake), received the diagnosis, burst into tears and discovered my cell phone didn't work (clearly I'm starring in my own horror film), called my parents (in North Carolina) from my doctor's office phone, then went back to work because I had no working cell phone and left my bright pink Manolo Blahniks at work and needed to tell my boss I had cancer, sat at my desk where a coworker innocently asked me if it was humid outside, I acted normal and held back my tears and said yeah its really humid, then I emailed my boyfriend who had just moved to Pittsburgh for business school, emailed my roommates who were both going out of town for a wedding (great timing!), walked into my boss's office and cried as I told her I had cancer, no phone, no family in town, no boyfriend in town and no roommates in town, my boss told me to take a car service home and asked if I needed to borrow a cell phone, I went home and emailed my best friend in New Jersey who brought her 6-month baby over with another friend, we played with the baby, ate ice cream and watched Confessions of a Shopaholic (which would later become my reality as I choose to buy myself everything and anything I wanted because, uh, I had cancer).

Fast forward--I started chemo, got engaged, had an auto stem cell transplant, lost my hair, got promoted at work, hair started to grow back, got married, had a gigantic blood clot a week after my honeymoon where I almost died, got a new job, continued doing chemo, chemo stopped working so I started doing clinical trials, got another new job, and then in August 2015 had my first remission!  And now here we are, seven years later. WHEW! Did you get all that???

I know. It's crazy. I can barely even believe it myself and I'm sure I missed some significant hospital stays or the time they thought I had tuberculosis instead of relapsed lymphoma (yep, you guess it, I still had lymphoma). It's one of those things where I can't even process it all at the same time because then I get really sad. I'm sad because for seven years of my life, I've been fighting my own body. Fighting the monster inside of me who wouldn't die, damnit! I'm literally fighting an invisible monster who only shows up via PET scans and CT scans. For the first few years of the fight I didn't feel a lot of the lymphoma symptoms, just the side effects of chemo, so I even wondered "am I really sick?" Or "did they confuse my labs with someone else?" And then about 2013/2014, I started to show signs of wear and tear from the disease. I lost a lot of weight, had night sweats every night, pain in my bones and constantly broke down in tears. When I look at pictures of myself at that time I see (underneath the pounds of makeup I love) that I look tired inside. Even though I'm smiling, it makes me so sad because I know how sick I was.

So "the seven year itch" usually refers to the breakdown of a relationship or marriage. But in this case I would really, I mean reallyyyyyy like to breakup with cancer. Sidenote - its also relevant because itching is a big side effect from Hodgkin's that I also experienced. My seven-year relationship with cancer has been filled with huge ups and downs and it's not over yet.

This week I had my 18th infusion of Keytruda, the miracle drug that brought me my first remission. My doctor is thrilled and said he's in no rush to scan me. But I'm scared. I worry that the cancer is back every time I experience pain in my chest or an itch on my leg (the itching has to be in my head, because as I'm typing this I'm starting to feel itchy!). Sometimes the fear is overwhelming and all-consuming. But then I'll have a moment of clarity where I think, "if its back, we'll deal with it." I frankly don't have any other choice! I desperately want to move on, out of this relationship and into a relationship with Remission--forever. But I've been in this relationship long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed.

And so July 29th will forever be that life-changing day--even if no one else knows the significance. This year I went to work as usual, laughed with my coworkers, met a friend for drinks and dinner, came home to my husband and then went to sleep. I thought about the significance of the day and then I moved on. In seven more years my dream is to look back on my relationship with cancer as a simple blip on this thing we call life.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Belated Post! National Cancer Survivors Day

I've been super busy with work, family, friends, and living a normal life! (albeit with monthly infusions of Keytruda) that my poor blog has become neglected. Ugh, must do better!

But I did want to write a short (belated) post that for National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, June 5th, I was honored to write a short guest post on the official website for National Cancer Survivors Day.

It's amazing that I get to call myself a survivor and after being in this battle for so long (and in remission for almost 11 months!!) that it was a true joy to be able to celebrate this day in a different way than the past 6 years. It's funny, I used to think about cancer every single day. Several times a day--sometimes so often that I would get overwhelmed, choked up and desperately wanted to escape my body and my mind to get away from it. And now...I don't. I don't know when it happened, but my priorities shifted and cancer went from being an everyday thing to a sometime thing.

Now I definitely do still think about cancer, especially when I'm forced to go in to the doctor for an infusion or appointment. And I do still have the prospect of a future PET scan which will tell if this remission is still holding out, so occasionally those thoughts keep me up at night. But, the crying fits and anxiety (about cancer at least, lol) are much less in the past year then they have been during this entire journey. And that? Is amazing.

I'm still concerned about the future and what these treatments have done to my body and the long-lasting effects. But I just try and take it one day at a time. Two close family members were recently diagnosed with breast cancer and I tried to provide perspective to both of them...not the "stay strong" BS that I hate, but the advice to just "do you"...basically you have to live your best life (hey Oprah!) and only you can decide what that means and how you'll get there.

Cheers to all the survivors out there!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Challenge. Learn. Inspire. Master. Believe. CLIMB!

Hi, my name is Morgan and I'm a scaredy cat. I've never been the adventurous type of person who dreams of jumping out of a plane, swimming with sharks or participating in a triathlon. I admire those people and wish I had just a fraction of their spirit, but just the thought of those things makes my heart beat faster. In fact, I've noticed that since my cancer diagnosis I've become more scared--of everything--but especially adventurous activities. This can be really frustrating because I thought after you beat cancer you're supposed to be able to do anything right? Well sometimes I let my fear get in the way.

So I'm proud to say that I conquered a fear last week when I went ziplining at Climb Works Keana Farms in Hawaii, where CLIMB serves as an acronym: Challenge. Learn. Inspire. Master. Believe. Ross and I visited my BFF Danielle, her husband Kwame, and their two little girls in Oahu, where they have been stationed for a few months (Kwame is a Major in the army). We decided to go ziplining for Danielle's birthday and she and I were both a little freaked out at the idea of flying through the trees.

But we decided to rally and make it a memorable trip--and I am sooo happy that I did! As we were putting on our gear, I didn't waste any time telling the instructors how scared I was, but they were amazing at making us all feel comfortable and cheering us on every step of the way. There were 8 different ziplines and I was shocked how much fun it was. The ziplines were dual lines so I was able to zip side by side with both Ross and Danielle, so that added a layer of comfort. The scariest part was standing on the platform, prepping for the jump. I would feel myself getting super nervous as I stood on the edge but as soon as I jumped off, it was an incredible feeling to be hundreds of feet in the air!

Dani and I flying through the trees!

Throwing up the "shaka" hand symbol afterwards

Can you feel my excitement??!
The first few lines I was too nervous to look around, I just wanted to concentrate on holding on, but as the day went on, I was able to relax a bit and take in all the gorgeous scenery. The last 2 lines we even jumped off backwards and went upside down (well I almost made it upside down, I was kinda horizontal)...if you had told me that I would go ziplining backwards, I would have never believed it!

When we were done, our instructors shared their #AlwaysClimb motto and how they strive to push people out of their comfort zone and show how you can overcome challenges. Then they told our group how proud they were and what a great job we did. I'll admit, at that point I was grinning like a fool and getting a little misty-eyed. I thought about everything I've been through these past 6 years and how hard it's been...and yet I'm still here, still pushing forward, taking it one day at a time.

I saw my doctor the week before I left for Hawaii and he said that as long as my bloodwork continues to look good, we can hold off a scan until August. August! That would make 1 year since remission. It's both exciting and scary that he thinks we can wait that long. It's such a catch 22 because scans keep you in check but they also create sooo much anxiety. When that scan day comes, I'm going to do my best to remember the #AlwaysClimb motto, remember the fact that I can overcome any challenge, and remember the feeling of flying through the trees.