Leukemia. It's not for wimps.

When I was 33, I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in my life. This is my account of having leukemia and the following years of recovery.


6. Shouldn't I Be Happier?

Now that my chemo has ended, my time of isolation is up, and my strength is increasing, I find myself asking,’Shouldn't I be happier? Shouldn't I be more elated? Jumping for joy??’ And don't get me wrong, I am happy. I am grateful. I am joyful. But I am terrified.

The person I am today is not the person I was one year ago. And that's sad because I was pretty happy with the person I was. I'm not sure now what I'm supposed to do with myself. When my restrictions were lifted, I found myself thinking, ‘What am I supposed to do? What would I have done last year?’ And I don't know. I can't remember. Go to concerts? But those are still off limits. Take a trip? That still has restrictions too.

Slowly I am stepping back into the world. I've started going to restaurants. Rob and I have taken small trips, most recently a weekend trip for our anniversary. I'm still staying within a short radius of the hospital though. Just in case.

‘Just in case’ is what I find myself thinking most often. Should I go to the mall? ‘No, I should stay out of there, just in case.’ Should I go visit my parents? ‘No, I should stay closer to the hospital, just in case.’ Should I go to a friend's house? ‘No, they might have pets or kids or maybe they had visitors before me and I might catch something…. I'll stay home, just in case…’

‘Just in case’ is stopping me from being who I was. I almost died last year, so sickness is a real fear now. Even the slightest cold or stomach bug could turn into something serious. And as we approach cold and flu season, well, it's hard not to think about that. ‘Just in case’ is what I'm working now to overcome. This is my next struggle.

Post-cancer depression/anxiety is a very real thing. I'm aware of it and always on the lookout for it. Most cancer patients don't even know about it or discuss it amongst themselves. They're just in it and assume they're the only ones. The fact is though, it's completely normal. One doctor went so far as to say that if you don't have those feelings, it's a surprise. My doctors’ office has a psychiatrist for the patients, presumably to deal with things like depression and anxiety before, during and after treatment. I met her once, pre-transplant, as part of the check off list. She told me she'd follow up with me in the office. I've never seen her again. Even doctors don't really prepare or plan for the aftermath.

I definitely wouldn't categorize myself as depressed. Objectively, that isn't because I'm in denial, it's because I'm familiar with the signs and symptoms and that diagnosis doesn't fit me. I am working on finding my new normal. And that's a difficult road to pave. I know because I've done it before. And I will do it again. All of this is to be expected after a life altering event such as this one. What I have on my side is that I'm an optimist and I'm stubborn. I am, in fact, very happy to be done and moving on. I don't want that to get lost in this (pretty depressing) chapter.

What I hope you gain from my story is not sadness or pity. I want my story to be one of strength, of courage, and one of honesty. I want you to learn from my struggle. At the end of this fight, I will be different, but I hope I will be better. One thing is for sure, I will not lose my optimism and I will not lose my love of life!

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