Tonight I’m sitting here trying to keep my mind off the CT scan I’m getting in the morning. It’s a routine scan for a 6-month check up to see if there’s any sign of cancer in my body. Ugh, the c word. For the most part, I’m feeling pretty positive about it, but I can’t seem to get my mind off the past year and especially those ugly summer months. (I should warn you now, this post is long and you’ll see a side of me you’ve probably never seen before.)
I’m lucky to have so many people who care about me, asking how I’m doing and wanting an update. But most people have no idea or at least don’t understand what I went through over the summer. It’s been hard for me to talk about it really. The last time I wrote about this I was just realizing I had to go with the flow. Unfortunately, I figured this out too late and my body took over for me.
Just a few days after I wrote that post, I was sitting at work one day and I couldn’t stop crying. I was dead tired and felt an anxiety about being in the office that I had never experienced before. Every email I opened created more tears. I was overwhelmed. I took a cab home because I could feel that I needed to get home quickly, then proceeded to sleep for the next several hours. I felt like the rest helped.
But the next morning came, and I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t get out of bed. I also couldn’t stop crying. I was scared.
My husband emailed my boss to let him know I wouldn’t be in… little did we know that I wouldn’t be in the office again for another 7 weeks.
For the next three days I slept and I cried. My husband would force me to get up and brush my teeth and make me eat a peanut butter sandwich. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to drink, hell I didn’t want to get up to pee. I wondered if I was depressed or something, but somehow that scared me even more than having cancer.
After several days I finally called the doctor. Yes, I was depressed. I was going through shock and mourning after finally realizing what I had been through the previous seven months. The doctor called it an “adjustment reaction.” Oh. Shit. So what did this mean? He instantly put me on anti-depressants but explained that it would take at least a couple weeks for the medication to kick in. I was absolutely horrified. How could I be like this for the next 2 weeks?! It was hard on me and even harder on my husband and daughter. Pfft… if only it had been 2 weeks.
The worst part though was my own mind. I couldn’t stop thinking. I thought about work and worried and cried because I wasn’t there to answer people’s questions about Mozcation Brazil. I was getting emails about MozCon and all I could do was forward them for someone else to handle. I couldn’t do anything and it was killing me. I was worried about every little thing. I thought about high school, college, my first job, living in Mexico and Costa Rica. Literally all I did was think, and it was scary in my head. I felt sick that someone else was having to do my work for me on top of their own job. I just wanted to feel better, and I wanted to feel better NOW damnit. The doctor said 2 weeks, so I should be back on my feet in 2 weeks right? Right?!
We had been planning a trip back home to Denver for months and unfortunately it came along just a couple weeks into getting sick. I was scared I wouldn’t even be able to make it on the drive to the airport, let alone a 3 hour flight and all that goes with traveling. But I was bound and determined to get home. I wanted my mom. I wanted her to take care of me. And that’s what she did. For the 10 days I was home, my mom would give me massages every day. She would sit next to me and tell me it was going to be ok, that was I was going to be myself again. The entire time I was there I left the house twice, once for a quick drive and the second time to go to dinner on my last day. It was a disaster. I came home and cried. I couldn’t even go to a restaurant?! And why the fuck wasn’t this medicine working yet? It had been two weeks. I felt the same. Why? Why? Why?
The following week was MozCon and I was supposed to speak about Community Management. This whole time I kept telling myself that I was going to be well enough to make it to MozCon. I had been looking forward to the event all year since the previous year I missed most of it because I had just found out about the cancer. I totally fought myself. I didn’t want to be sick, I wanted to be well. I wanted to go to MozCon and see my friends and meet the community. I wanted to do what I love!
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t leave the house. I was scared. I, Jen Lopez was scared to be around other people. I thought often that I would be like this forever now. That I’d never be myself again. That I would lose my job because I couldn’t do it. I was depressed and I was embarrassed to talk about it. I couldn’t let people see me like this. My mind just kept thinking all these things.
All the while my boss was telling me that it was ok, to take my time, that everything was under control. He was amazing and very kind and understanding. As was my husband and my doctor and everyone else really. But I was still a mess. I was fighting myself and couldn’t seem to go with the flow like I had tried to learn earlier.
Oh, I should also say that some time during this whole mess I decided I couldn’t proceed with chemo. I had 1 1/2 rounds left, which would have been another 8 weeks. When I told the doctor, he completely agreed and felt that my body was telling me it was time to stop. WHEW! At least that was out of the way. The day I found out I for sure didn’t have to go back for chemo I was overjoyed. I tweeted about it and posted on Facebook. It was so great to tell everyone the news and get such positive feedback. :) Unfortunately, the next day I felt horrible again.
Mornings were the worst. I would wake up and it felt like my heart was racing, but it wasn’t. I had this incredible anxiety and it would often take me until noon or so to actually get out of bed. It was frustrating. Not just for me but for my husband who all summer had been taking care of our daughter full time while she was out of school and taking care of me full time because I was a fricken mess. He hates when I say this, because it was hard on him, but he’s a saint. He was sweet and understanding when needed, and forced me to get up off my ass when I needed that.
One morning when I was complaining about feeling that horrible anxiety he said “maybe you need to exercise a bit to get your heart pumping and get rid of it.” He literally forced me to do situps and pushups. I was so pissed at him for “being mean” until I realized I felt better. WTF!??? I felt better after exercising a bit. This was new to me. The next day (or maybe the day after that, who knows anymore) he made me go for a walk around the block. Then I went for a walk around two blocks. Finally one day I walked to the Ballard Locks and was hooked. I felt great! Ok… let’s not lie, I felt pretty good which at that point meant great.
So I started to walk every day.
The walks help me clear my mind in the morning and obviously get some exercise. They also make me feel like I’m prolonging my life. My friend Mike recently passed away from colon cancer. He was too young. One time after he found out I also had colon cancer, he emailed me about how walking for an hour each day had helped him go into remission. He was feeling great at the time and was passing along lots of great advice. Now when I go on my walks I think about Mike and how if those walks prolonged his life to help give him another year with his wife and sons, then what could it do for me?
I walk so I can see my little girl grow up and grow old with my sweet husband. (Oh! Also because I’m now the mayor on Foursquare. ;) )
After 7 very long and very dark weeks, I attempted to go back to work. It was a complete disaster. I wasn’t actually ready, but again I forced myself. It had been too long, I needed to be there. I walked in and my coworkers right away gave me lots of hugs… and I started to cry. Those damn tears were back. I made it about 2 hours, then had to go home. I slept the rest of the day. I was exhausted and being there had sent me back into that depression. Now this scared the hell out of me. If I couldn’t be in the office, what was I going to do?!
I finally, after 7 excruciating weeks, gave in to my body and mind. I stopped fighting. Ok, fine, I’m depressed, I feel horrible, FINE. I kept going on walks and started working from home. Little by little I was finally feeling better. Over the next few weeks I slowly worked myself into full days and am now back to work full time.
At this point I mostly feel like myself again, other than the fact that I’ve lost a ton of weight. :) It has been a long road to get back here and I’m definitely not done. But I’m glad to be out of that dark place. I’m scared about two things now: depression and cancer. And honestly, while the cancer could actually kill me, getting depressed like that again feels worse.
So as I sit here wondering what the scan tomorrow will bring, I’m content. I have a wonderful husband, the sweetest child anyone could ever imagine, and I feel pretty ok. I’m thankful for my family and for the support of SEOmoz and the entire community. No matter the outcome of the test, I know one thing for certain:
I’ll be going on a walk tomorrow, as if my life depends on it.
** update 10/28/11 – Talked to the doctor today and the CT scan came back clean. woohoooo!