By all accounts, 2015 was an incredible year. As I reflect back upon the year, I’m amazed at all that's happened and all that I’ve managed to accomplish.
I started off 2015 realizing that something might have finally changed in my body. We went on a huge Far East trip to Singapore and Taiwan over the holidays a year ago, and not once during the entire trip did I ever feel fatigued. For years after my cancer fight, I’ve suffered from chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), and almost constant muscle fatigue and weakness issues, and burning pains in my muscles. So many people have thought I looked great, but I'm the only one that could feel so many muscles in my body aching and burning. Chemotherapy is sold as miracle pill cures for cancer, but it wreaks havoc on our bodies in ways that only those of us that have been through it can really understand. Chemotherapy rid my body of cancer, but left me feeling like a decrepit old man that struggled to keep up with his kids and his family. It felt like I was having to drag around heavy chains all the time. I struggled physically daily and became so distraught, but refused to accept that this was how I was going to feel for the rest of my life.
I started a program of almost daily exercise at the start of 2013, walking, running, or just doing whatever I could do in a given day. It clearly helped, and my quality of life improved, but I was only able to make incremental gains. In 2015, all of that changed. Behind the scenes, and at a pace too slow to ever notice, my body finally repaired enough of its extensive nerve damage to get me off of the ground, and take me to the next level. For two years I couldn’t run more than a few blocks at a time or do any better than a 33 minute 5K without my entire nervous system shutting down on me, and triggering terrible fatigue spells that would leave me struggling for days. I’ll never forget April 1st, 2015, because that’s the day I was finally able to run a 5K in under 30 minutes without even having to stop along the way. I still had plenty of energy to chase my kids around that night, and was able to wake up under my own power the next morning! After two years of relentless pavement pounding in which I just refused to give up, I had finally broken free, and was so happy that I cried.
Most people, including even medical professionals, are oblivious to the ways in which cancer survivors can struggle even years after their cancer fights. My cancer fight started and “ended” in 2011, but here I was in 2015 experiencing tremendous amounts of healing, and finally being able to achieve a long sought after physical goal after years of struggle. True healing from cancer can take a long, long time.
Taking up running and a program of regular vigorous exercise is the best thing that I ever did for myself after cancer. I’m faster and stronger today than I ever have been even before cancer, and have done a personal best 5K in the 27 minute range now. This year I spent over 100 hours exercising, burned 99,000 calories, and covered over 600 miles between running, walking, hiking, biking, and on the elliptical machine, in addition to some boot camp type fitness classes. This ability didn’t happen by itself. My body never “bounced back” like all of my doctors said it would. I had to fight tooth and nail for every bit of progress I’ve made, and I did it all myself through sheer determination and absolute refusal to give up or let this keep me down. I had a life to live, and a family to keep up with, and I wasn’t going to allow something as stupid as chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy to get in the way of living my life. (Look for a major piece of writing about this in 2016).
I can do whatever I need to in a given day now, whenever I need to, and don’t have to constantly ration physical activities. Because I’ve been able to exercise a lot harder than I ever used to without triggering any debilitating fatigue spells, I also managed to lose 25 pounds and finally get back to my “pre-cancer” weight at long last! I have full physical freedom back, and it’s been an incredibly liberating feeling. I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish.
It was amazing to feel that my body had healed within after so long, and that would have been enough to make my year by itself. I was over the moon physically, but still hurting inside in other ways. I was still suffering from periods of depression, and post-traumatic stress became more of an issue in 2015 than it had in the past. I wasn’t afraid of cancer anymore, but my mind was still being haunted by memories from it, and from other disappointments in life in the aftermath of cancer. I realized that this inner pain was dragging me down and holding me back, but didn’t know how to let it go. I dug deep, and finally taught myself how to forgive and forget, and move on from things. Scorpios don’t know how to let things go, but for my own well-being, I really needed to.
I came to understand the true meaning of self-love, and for the first time I learned to accept myself and all that I’ve felt exactly as I am. There are things that I wish could have turned out better, or that hadn’t had to have happened at all. I wished that I could have done better for myself and for others in my life. I felt that I had failed myself in various ways, and was still hurting from people that had failed me. I expected perfection not just from myself, but from everyone around me. How unreasonable is this to expect in even the best of circumstances? We are what we are, and it’s even less reasonable to expect such perfection while living in the aftermath of cancer and all that it puts one through. Our perceived faults are not flaws, we’re exactly as we’re supposed to be. I finally learned to love and accept myself exactly as I am, and released myself from so much inner pain. Once you allow yourself the unconditional self-love and acceptance that you deserve, it becomes so natural and easy to extend that to others, including those that had caused you pain. I had no idea how to do this at the start of 2015. I had to teach myself, and grew and evolved so much as a person throughout the year in ways I didn’t think were possible.
I’m starting 2016 with a clean slate spiritually. All of the physical and spiritual healing that took place for me in 2015 is still sinking in. This didn’t happen in 2011 when I was fighting cancer, nor in 2012 or 2013. It happened in 2015, which just goes to show how deeply cancer survivors can struggle on so many levels, and how long it can take for us to heal. It feels amazing to be starting a new year with so many of these weights lifted.
Cancer Advocacy and Writing
This was also an incredible year in this other life of mine as a writer and voice for the young adult cancer community. I finally joined the Imerman Angels organization as a Mentor Angel. I never felt strong enough to do this even though I’d informally mentored someone in the past, because I was afraid of failing someone like myself. Healing from within has brought me the strength to do things that I haven’t done before.
I started this very website, and finally have a home for myself on the Internet where all of my writing can be found. Between here, writing for the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation, and the I Had Cancer community, my writing has evolved from reaching less than a hundred people on my old CaringBridge page to now reaching tens of thousands of people all around the world. It’s because of all of the healing that’s taken place within, that I’ve finally been able to tackle the extremely heavy-weight topics through my writing, such as post-traumatic stress after cancer. Thousands of people now know a little more than they did before about how PTS can affect young-adult cancer survivors, those that are suffering from it feel a little less alone, and perhaps it will help them find their way out or the support that they need. "There Is No Such Thing as an Easy Cancer" posted at IHC has easily gotten tens of thousands of hits by itself, just in the past few months. One educational blog that I wrote for TCAF gets over a thousand hits per month, and is a top-rated search ranking on Google for “testicular cancer pregnancy test”, even beating out WebMD.com!
Writing has been a great source of therapy for me. I’m glad that it’s resonated so strongly with so many in the cancer community, and that its been able to provide potentially life-saving information to so many others.
Fun Times and Adventures
In the midst of all of this struggle and healing, there’s been so many fun times and adventures with family and friends in 2015, as with previous years. The best way to survive cancer is to live.
We started off 2015 by ringing in the New Year in Singapore, and then went to Taiwan. We went to Disney World over spring break with dear friends, took in the famous Washington DC cherry blossoms, and made numerous trips to Shenandoah National Park between the spring, summer, and fall. We went to the beach a few times, made a midwest trip to Chicago and Wisconsin Dells, and went to the first DC airshow in three years. We enjoyed some fall festivals, and I climbed Old Rag mountain with a friend, which is something I never could have done in previous years due to muscle fatigue and weakness issues that I had suffered from. I turned 38, and my wife and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary and 19 total years together, which also marked the point of now having spent over half of our lives together. What a wonderful milestone to have reached with someone that you love so much. I had a wonderful birthday month celebrating with family and friends, and then straight through Thanksgiving and Christmas. We take a breather over the winter, but life picks up for us from spring break onward, and really accelerates through the end of the year. October through December go by in the blink of an eye! I love it all, and wouldn’t have it any other way. We never waste a day, and live full and complete lives.
Looking forward to 2016
My issues with December aside, 2015 was a fantastic year and one for the books. I healed in ways I didn’t think were possible, and grew and expanded as a person in ways I didn’t think were possible either, and made so many great memories along the way. Life has been amazing, and I couldn’t be happier. I have no idea what will happen in 2016, but I sure am excited about it. We have some amazing trips and adventures lined up for this year already that I'm very much looking forward to.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 for all. Wishing everyone in the cancer community hope, strength, comfort, healing, and most importantly CURES!