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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.