November 22, 2016

What Adulting With Cancer Is Really Like

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Isaac Viglione
Isaac Viglione

I had a plan: graduate high school, get an Honours BA in French, go to grad school, get my teaching degree, become the most bad ass French teacher the world had ever seen. As someone who is Type A with possibly a mild self-diagnosed case of OCD, plans and I get along pretty well. But somewhere between getting my BA and going to grad school, life stepped in and kicked me in the nuts. Hard.

Suddenly I was an aspiring teacher who had never set foot in a tanning bed, never went outside when it was sunny and always wore SPF100 but I had the C-word. Fate can be a fickle bitch sometimes: I’m blonde, athletic and have a great set of boobs (thanks mom!) so it would seem like genetically, I was doing alright. It was news to me though, that people with fair skin, eyes and hair like mine can be predisposed to melanoma (skin cancer), even if they take all the steps to avoid it. If I had known that I was already doomed, maybe I would have spent a little more time outside to get a J-Lo glow instead of maintaining my usual Casper hue.

So what came next?

Surgery to remove my tumours, a complete change in my eating habits and enough good drugs to make Charlie Sheen jealous. No one tells you that cancer treatment is easy because it sucks harder than the Maple Leafs. However, I was not prepared for how debilitating this stupid disease would be. I consider myself a tough chick and I’ve got the tattoos to prove it but if I never see an IV again in my life, it will be too soon.

People who are close to me sometimes ask me, “What does cancer treatment feel like?” Well dear friends, let me tell you: at first it’s awesome. The first time I sat in that chair and let all the pre-chemo drugs run through me, I was ready for the most relaxing sleep of my life because those drugs are God’s gift to cancer patients. Give it an hour though and you’ve got poison running through your veins. I never understood that part; they need to kill the tumour in your body but in doing so, the rest of your body practically dies with it. It doesn’t seem like we thought this through…but regardless, after the nice, sleepy drugs, they run the actual chemo into your IV which I’m pretty sure is a mixture of sewage, dirty diapers and run off from the local dump cause that’s exactly how your body feels afterwards.

For the first while after chemo, you feel alright but that shit comes back with a vengeance for days afterwards. You can’t sleep, all your muscles ache and your feet kill from neuropathy, which is pretty much your feet saying WTF trying to push the chemo out of your body. Your hair begins to fall out, but luckily I was able to hold onto most of mine and some extensions get me by. Even your bones hurt because you need to get your white cell counts back up and it feels like Andre the Giant is sitting on top of you for days. And then it goes away…just in time for your next treatment.

Being a cancer patient is hard but post-secondary education makes it even harder. I was determined to reach the goals that I set for myself pre-diagnosis but it’s been more difficult than I thought. I think anyone in my shoes knows that one of the more difficult aspects of this is letting people know that you’re sick and actually asking for help, which I’m still working on myself.

I’m an adult now but I suck at that. I rarely do dishes and I have a clean pile of clothes in my room, right beside a dirty pile and sometimes I can’t even tell which is which. So at this point I felt like not only did I suck at adulting, I was going to need help to do even the most basic things and I am not that girl.

I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was sick because I didn’t want to be treated differently than anyone else. I didn’t want people to avoid talking about cancer because “the cancer girl” was around. I didn’t want anyone’s pity and I didn’t want to miss class and have special accommodations because I had a tumour. More so than the treatment, which is worse than university group projects (and you know those are bad guys), telling people is the hardest part, especially when you can see it on their faces that they immediately feel bad for you. I want to yell and them and say “STOP FEELING BAD FOR ME! YOU’RE THE ONE WITH THE BAD HAIRCUT”. Having the people close to you feel pity towards you is possibly worse than the cancer itself.

On one hand, I’ve mostly remained by usual pessimistic, sarcastic self over the last year and a half. On the other hand though, I’m now the bitch on the outside that I’ve always been on the inside. Funny thing about cancer is that it not only takes over your body, but also your mind. You’re so doped up on medication all the time and in some ways the future is uncertain, so you just say what you feel like saying. My personality finally matches my chronic resting bitch face I guess. As many good drugs as I’ve been given for pain in this journey, I’ve been given countless others that make me miserable to be around. I’m too tired to do anything productive, I’m irritable and I have no impulse control when it comes to what I say, so it doesn’t always come out great. For everyone close to me who has stuck around and put up with me: two for you Glen Coco. I am so grateful, even though I suck at showing it. For everyone else that I freak out on unnecessarily, know it’s not you. Except in the case that it is you, figure it out.

So what the hell am I trying to say here? To be honest, I’m not sure. Now that I’m in grad school and I’m working towards my teaching certification, I’m not sure what’s next for me. Melanoma and I have become pretty close and she hasn’t exactly given me a departure date just yet. I guess this is my way of saluting everyone who’s going through cancer and trying to still live their lives. I know how hard it is to keep going and not just lay in bed watching Netflix all day (which I sometimes do anyways). And maybe you don’t have cancer but you’ve got anxiety or depression or another disability or maybe you just suck at school. Keep going anyways and you’re going to get there, that’s what I keep telling myself. We pay these institutions but apparently it’s their job to try and kill us after we give them a few grand. I just keep thinking, if I’m not gonna let melanoma do that, I’m sure as hell not going to let a course about literacy in schools do that, and neither should you.

Finally, I guess I have to end off with one thing: Please please please protect yourself from the sun. Even with the Arctic-style winter that’s coming, you can still get burnt. Yes, there are some people like me who are getting some serious karma for cutting a guy off on the 401 or something, but for the most part, it comes down to you. Wear sunscreen and don’t go out in the sun during peak hours. If you go tanning, stop because you’re an idiot but you already know that. If you see a weird mole on your body, get it checked. We live in Canada, that shit is free people. Take your health into your own hands and make sure that you’ll always have it. TC mark

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