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Surviving

Updated: Apr 20

I have been cancer free for 179 days. In that time, I have lived with a temporary ileostomy, planted my summer garden, created this website, read more books than I did in the previous 4 years, had my ileostomy reversed, recovered for 5 weeks, returned to work, saw a few concerts, went to a few street festivals, have eaten in some great restaurants, reconnected with friends, made new ones, got back into the kitchen, reclaimed my fitness, began to take apart my summer garden, and after all of these highs and lows, there is a low hum inside me that isn’t quite sure what should come next.


I keep having these moments in which I flashback to where I was a year ago. A year ago today, I was regaining my strength after completing 28 days of radiation. I was embracing a new role at work, and on the verge of my first massive emotional breakdown. (Bumps and a Breakdown) These flashbacks make me feel overwhelmed at the fact that I actually had, excuse my language, fucking cancer… and now I don’t. I can hardly believe what I endured to get here. I was so head down in checking things off the cancer to-do list that rarely was I processing the gravity of what was actually happening.


The realization 179 days into this is that surviving feels like starting over. My body is not the same. My soul is not the same. I look at the world through a completely different lens. I am different in so many ways. My entire team at Northwestern enthusiastically told me that the cancer I had would be curable, that this would not be my end. And in the physical sense, they were absolutely right. But I am often presented with pictures of myself before cancer and I don’t recognize myself. I stop and I mourn for her because in a way, she is over. The way that woman lived, the way she navigated the world, the way she looks, is all over. A part of me did die, while a whole different part of me has been reborn.


This rebirth is a different space to be in. In many ways, so many wonderful things have come with this rebirth. I feel like my priorities are different, that the important things in my life have become crystal clear. I have embraced my spirituality and am deepening my relationship with The Divine. I am healthier on the other side of this, eating better, I am sober (I love being sober!) and becoming more physically fit. The other side to this coin is that cancer is a constant breathe at the back of your neck, gently whispering in your ear, reminding you that it will be a constant narrative in your life. Like recently, when I had my first round of surveillance scans, and they didn’t go exactly as planned. It resulted in another PET scan and a visit to a specialist and the choice not to tell anyone so as not to raise an unnecessary alarm, and a month of grappling with suppressed panic. Turns out, I am completely fine; there was absolutely no reason for alarm and now I get to continue with the PET scans every 3 months. Just call me the radioactive woman.


I also feel that people perceive me as back to normal, back to the Meredith I was before and that I will just jump back in to life where I left off when cancer came knocking. But I don’t want to do that at all. I want to be better and live my life with more purpose and spend my time doing the things I am passionate about. I do not want to be pulled back to the things that did not serve me. Because I don’t like getting sucked back into a routine that leaves me questioning if this is all there is, if I really just went through all of that treatment so I could reinsert myself into a routine that was hectic, stressful and unfulfilling? What was it all for? What the hell am I doing?


And in starting over I am trying to put myself back together, piece by piece, because cancer treatments have changed my physical vessel. I am getting stronger, I have put more weight on. Roughly 128 pounds, up from the 117 I weighed in early July when I was struggling with LARS. My neuropathy in my hands and feet changes daily, mostly for the better, but sometimes my feet feel like blocks of numb flesh that are being actively charred by a blowtorch. Brushing my teeth has a whole new sensation and my sense of smell is heightened. And then I look in the mirror and think, Who am I? Do I want Short hair or long hair? How do I want to take care of my skin, my nails, my teeth? What should I do for my sexual health? Am I doing the right things for my strength and muscle tone? Am I managing my post menopausal body correctly? Am I sleeping enough? I wonder how strong my immune system is? Oh and don’t forget to take your medicine three times a day and your supplements and, and, and….


The stress management! I have read so much about people who survive cancer and they resume their pre cancer, stressful lives and bam! Cancer comes back. I read a good deal about this in the book Cure, The Life Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Jeffrey Rediger. So I am extra mindful of managing stress as best I can by committing to daily meditation, exercise, writing, fueling my body, resting and balancing work within it. This is no easy task and writing helps me reflect on how I can continue to work at the right balance.


Last but certainly not least, community has played a very important role in this new beginning. I hold dear to all those who rallied around me as I shared my diagnosis: My family, my friends near and far, my work team. I have sought out and embraced a whole new community of people diagnosed with or impacted by colorectal cancer. My mentor, whose shared lived experience gave me so much insight into an otherwise unknown landscape. I followed a non-profit group, Fight CRC, and took advantage of the free resources they offered. I became inspired by their work and chose to join them in their fight as an Ambassador for the 2024 year. In doing so, I found a broader group of amazing humans who share my experience and it has left me feeling less alone. It is the same thing I want to do here on my blog, and in the world, to make sure that no one feels alone in their experience with colorectal cancers. And to work for a world where someday, no one will have to have this experience.


Surviving, starting over, being reborn, comes with questions to answer, emotions to process, work to do, decisions to make, and none of it is easy. But with the support of my community, my people, and my connection to the Divine, helps to soften the internal hum, and turn it into the inspiration for great things to come.










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