Stage 4 is Not My Finish Line
This year, on December 18, 2023, I will be celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. I will also be marking the anniversary of my first cancer surgery on the same day, in 2019.
It was just before Christmas, parts of the hospital were shut down and I was in a room with 3 other people, at times there were as many as 6. It was hard for me to keep track as I had my curtains drawn the entire time, but I heard them, and many of them were very ill and in constant pain.
I found this surgery to be the most difficult of the three I have had so far, even though it was the shortest. I had never been in the hospital before and I was very overwhelmed, I had not yet found my PMP Pals. I had found my way into the world of stage 4 cancer (and surgical menopause), little did I know it was just training for what was yet to come.
Physically I recovered well, I had been running to prepare for surgery beforehand, and when I couldn’t run anymore, due to the size of my stomach (they removed two football-sized tumors on my ovaries during surgery!), I had switched to walking on a treadmill at home.
The Butter Tart Run
The last race I remember doing before my cancer diagnosis was the Butter Tart Run 5K with my husband and a friend. I didn’t realize at the time I was already “with cancer”, which was the reason it was so hard for me to run, but we did it, and it was fun (and delicious!). I have attempted to run on and off since then. Back then I felt like whenever I started to gain some traction with my exercise a new obstacle would be in my way (hello hernia), thankfully I was able to remind myself how important movement was to me and how it helped me recover from my first surgery. I decided if I couldn’t run I could still walk and so I did, and continue to do so whenever I have the opportunity.
This strategy helped me as I had my first operation in May 2020, and then a second in August 2022. Both were Cytoreductive (CRS) with Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) surgeries. When I was in the hospital I was dedicated to doing laps around the hospital floor. During the second surgery, because of an outbreak of COVID, I did laps in my room pacing back and forth every hour that I was awake and physically able. When I was too tired I still moved, sometimes stretching my legs and arms on the bed, or if I was able, I would sit on the edge of the bed or move to a chair. I thought of this exercise as my personal training plan for the life I still had ahead of me.
I remember when I started chemo (March 2022) after my recurrence, it was really hard to keep moving. I didn’t move much some days but I tried. When I was able, I walked outside to get fresh air, sometimes I would just sit near the window. I always felt better when I moved, especially when I got fresh air but didn’t always remember that when I was sitting on the couch during treatments. Folfox was hard, it definitely made me cold so I had to wear gloves and dress in layers, I usually only felt sick for one or two days each treatment (I did 6 in total). My hair also got very thin so I eventually cut it short and wore a hat often as I was pretty self-conscious. The mental side of feeling and looking weak was very challenging. I had lost a lot of weight and muscle which I knew was contributing to my fatigue and the general sense of “Blah”.
Fast forward to 2023.
I feel even better than I did when I was first diagnosed in 2019 (no that doesn’t mean every day is rainbows and unicorns) and yes I still have cancer.
I have slowly shifted my way of thinking and now refer to my cancer as a chronic illness that can be managed.
How do I do this? I am resourceful as there is no instruction manual. I educate myself, asking questions and finding help from experts when necessary. I also continuously remind myself that my body will change as does everything in life.
I try to identify what feels “out of balance” with my mind and body. This is continuous and challenging, but I believe finding more balance will help me be stronger and more resilient.
I focus on my nutrition, eating well to give my body what it needs which takes lots of trial and error (nutrient-dense food to stabilize my weight and help my body get stronger). Sleep is a priority, allowing time for my mind and body to heal (there are lots of books and videos about why sleep is important).
Reducing my anxiety is a big one for me! I’ve incorporated meditation and breathing exercises as well as finding a good therapist and learning to express my feelings better (work in progress!)
Movement is a secondary priority every day. Walking (a lot!) — gentle yoga, pilates, or even stretching. Recently, I’ve started adding running and bodyweight strength training back into the routine again.
Last, but definitely not least, connecting with others (so grateful for each of my Pals). The piece I was missing when I began this journey. Everyone needs a support crew, especially when stage 4 is not your finish line.
Love your Pal,