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Friday, February 24, 2017

Cancer Free!

Brian and I just got back from a quick (for us) 3 day trip to Houston where I finally heard that my months of treatments worked and I am officially cancer free!  I will go back every three months for the first two years (the risky years), then it slowly comes down to every 6 months, then once a year for the rest of my life to keep monitoring and making sure I am in the clear.
Me in Dr. Rosenthal's office right after I heard the news!
I also had a little bone spur removed from my gums, got information on my bridge, got re-inspired to work harder on my swallow exercises, and no longer have to wrap my arm.  My biggest concerns were simply the minor swallowing issue and how weird my arm feels to now be bandage-free.  I also still have my feeding tube, which was expected.  I know for sure it will be gone at our next visit on May 22nd, though.  I have to be able to maintain my weight for 2 weeks without using it at all.  Right now, I am able to eat more and more real food each day, but we are talking a few small bites of various bland, soft food.  No actual meals.  My weight is down to 135 (I have lost almost 30 pounds since this started - don't judge my weight Cheri and Dani, I am much taller than you both), which is less than I was at my wedding.  People think I am happy when I share this, but I am not.  This is certainly not how I wanted to lose weight (nor did I ever want or need to lose that much for my height and frame), and I look bad.  Like, sickly weird thin (for me) with no muscle tone versus healthy glowing thin and fit, which is what I want.

My plan is to start a regular regimen of walking and low-effort yoga.  I have to start very small since I have no energy and have lost all my muscle.  I'll get it back, though.  Just knowing that I am in the clear and don't have to start back up on that that horrible treatment makes me so positive and excited about the future.

I have slowly been getting my taste buds back, so that will help with eating as well.  It is hard to make yourself eat when you can't taste the food - the enjoyment is completely gone.  While we were in Houston, I ate one Reese's peanut butter cup - slowly and in tiny bites - and when the peanut butter taste exploded in my mouth I almost cried.  I can barely taste chocolate at all, but that peanut butter was so vibrant!  It is funny the things we take for granted, huh?

My swallowing concern is a minor one, but still a big deal.  Though my ability to swallow drinks and food has increased dramatically the past few weeks, I am told it will be a life-long struggle.  My speech therapist said some people come back 20 years later and describe new issues.  I have head and neck exercises, as well as swallow exercises that I do every single day to try to help.  So my issue right now is that when I drink a liquid, some of it is able to get into the area where my voice box is located since my muscles don't pinch shut as tightly as they once did.  This causes me to have to clear my throat after every single sip of water.  I need to do my swallow exercises multiple times a  day now to hopefully counteract that issue and make my muscles stronger in that area.
This one is not me, but we got to watch a video of my barium swallow study that looked just like  this - it was pretty cool.
I bought an MD Anderson t-shirt while we were there.  It is funny, I have seen them for months and I told myself when I got good news I would buy one and wear it proudly.

There is also this sign right by the check-in desk at the Head and Neck Center where many of my appointments have been over the months - including my very first one.

Over the months I have read that sign with varying emotions - doubt, annoyance, anger, inspiration, etc.  This trip, I saw it and smiled.  For the first time, I actually felt like a survivor rather than just a fighter or a depressed patient (let's be real).  It was a good feeling and it struck me how that one little sign tracks my emotions through this journey so well.

We got home from the airport around 11pm, but I had to go in and hug the kids.  Brian and I laid on top of them in their beds (I know, we are nice parents) and woke them up to say we were home and reiterate my good news (Mom told them as soon as we found out - Jeremy was so nervous).  When I got back to my office, I found the huge sign below, and I received so many sweet texts, emails, cards, and hugs from my staff, colleagues, and bosses at work.  So sweet.

I am relieved, happy, and exhausted.  I feel like anyone who has fought cancer can understand this perfectly, but the waiting continues.  I think I will be waiting forever.  I will be tested the rest of my life...just to be sure.  I hope so much that I never have to go through that again, and I feel really confident that I won't, but the possibility remains and always will.

My goal now is to turn my attention to living my life in the best way possible.  Surviving cancer does not magically make me a better or more profound person, but I am going to do my best to live my life more fully and to live up to the many prayers and kind words bestowed on me by so many during this struggle.  I want to give back more than I have been given and be the person who truly deserves the blessings I have received.  I hope that I can take this experience and make it serve a lasting purpose beyond the scars on my tongue, neck, arm, and leg.  I want to leave my own marks and now is the time to figure out just how I want to make that happen.

I am so grateful just to have the opportunity.

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