Monday, July 6, 2020

Well well well ... bet you thought you'd never hear from me again?

Well hello there my blogsy people! I don't know if you remember me, but I'm Caatje, the owner of this here blog. For those who only read my blog and stayed away from Facebook and Instagram it must have seemed like I disappeared, but the rest of you know it has been one hell of a year and then some.

I have no idea if people still read this old blog, if you are still subscribed to the blog in your mailbox, or if you're even still interested in me and my artsy stuff, but I figured if anything, I owed you all a bit of closure over the past year and maybe myself too, because it doesn't feel right to just let this blog sit here 'unfinished' if you will.

In my last post of over a year ago I spoke of health issues I was having, but at that time I still had no idea just how much of an issue it all would be.

I had several checkups and tests and scans and stuff and it eventually turned out I had endometrial cancer! Stage IIIA, which basically means there were metastases in my ovaries in the form of huge tumors. Over the past year I have had major surgery, complications from that surgery, radiotherapy, slow recovery and a very slow return to a somewhat normal life.

July 2019 - Me in my sexy hospital gown, a day after surgery.

My surgery was almost exactly a year ago today and I finished my treatments last October. After that I had two months of blissful nothing. I cannot describe it any other way. I have never experienced Fall so directly, it was quite wonderful. A bit of reprieve after months of roller-coaster.

In December I slowly started a reintegration path into work again, starting with just two hours a week and very very gradually adding to that. It wasn't until this May that I finally came fully back to work. I have changed my schedule somewhat so there is more balance to my days. I used to work three extra long days, but now I only do five mornings and it feels better for me right now even though I miss my extra long weekends.

The above is a very short version of what has been an incredibly invasive and difficult, but also wondrous year. I have been very open about the whole process on Facebook and Instagram and if you want to know more you can find it all there in my update posts. I have no need to be closed up about it all, I have found it way more practical to tell anybody anything they want to know, but telling all the details in this post just sounds like a lot of work, haha.

The scariest thing of the past year was that a week after surgery the operation wound reopened. I was rushed to the hospital by helicopter! I had about two months of wound care after that at home by four wonderful home care nurses. It had to close up by itself and it did. It was horrifying and miraculous at the same time. I hope to never experience anything like that again. Anyway, this was my 'wound care tower'. It was a wonderful day when it was no longer needed.

So how are things right now? Well, pretty good actually. I get a check up every three months and so far so good. I came out of the treatments clean, but my type of cancer has about a fifty fifty chance of returning and there are no guarantees for the future. It's hard for me to figure out if I am a person who has cancer or a person who has had cancer because of that. As my oncologist says: cancer is something you have for life whether you have tumors right now or not. It's a scary thing that you have to learn to live with and that is easier one day and less easy the next.

But I have also been fortunate. I have not come out of it all unscathed. The abdominal surgery alone has quite an effect on your body and it will never feel quite the way it did before. But I have been amazed at my general resilience and strength and my body's power to heal. As an overweight person I have always been pointed out at how unhealthy it all is, but it turns out I am quite strong and capable and for the first time doctors actually kept telling me how healthy I was. That was a somewhat strange pleasant surprise. Also, when you are overweight it's a lot easier to carry the loss of 30 pounds because you simply cannot stand food anymore.

One of the things that helped me recover was my love of walking. The weeks when I could hardly leave the house were pretty awful, but I was determined to get back into it as soon as I could. I started with a stroller just walking across the street and then going a bit further every day. Now I am pretty much back to my old capabilities en strength and can take long hikes again which is such a blessing.

I have also simply been lucky in that I was not too affected by the radiotherapy and the whole treatments and cancer itself. By that I mean I did not suffer from lack of concentration (except shortly after surgery because of the anesthetics) and I did not suffer from the extensive fatigue that a lot of people seem to get. This is not an accomplishment, this is just good fortune. If there's one thing I have found to be true in the whole ordeal it is that cancer has a mind of its own and we have very little say in any of it. All this positive thinking crap gets on my nerve even more now than it ever did.

I also have found a lot to be grateful for in other people. I am a very solitary, independent and introverted person by nature and was not sure how I would take it to be so dependent on others, but it was amazing. Help and support came to me from all sides and I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I also surprised myself at how easy it was for me to let others help me when it was necessary and to ask for that help too. I have been showered in love and attention and it made everything better and more bearable. I have found a new appreciation for this small island community that I am a part of even if I am not a very sociable element in it. ;-)

I also cannot express enough my gratitude for all the medical people I encountered, doctors, nurses, lab assistants etc. I have never met so many kind helpful and understanding people in my life. I can just tear up thinking about the surgeon and anesthesiologist  who made me laugh out loud just before going into surgery for instance. Or the nurse who helped me wash my hair when I couldn't do it and felt so yucky.

And now we are here in in July 2020. When the year started I made a wish for a very boring  year for a change and of course a few months later Covid-19 hit, so I will refrain from making wishes from now on. Sorry. ;-)
Because of the virus a lot has already been cancelled that I was looking forward to this year, my fiftieth birthday in April for instance. But then again, a year ago I wondered if I would make it to my fiftieth, so I can't complain.

Art-wise I have been getting back into things too. Last summer it was still a bit hard to do, but slowly (just like walking) I built it up again and (just like walking) it is giving me great pleasure. The same goes for photography and my journal. One wonderful thing I got out of the whole cancer ordeal is a new found love for digital drawing. I got myself an iPad and Apple Pencil and learned Procreate. Now I am drawing my patterns, mosaics, mandalas and other abstract nonsense on the iPad too. It is so convenient and so much fun.
It has also gotten me through the radiotherapy, because that meant traveling back and forth to the mainland for five days a week for five weeks straight. The treatment itself was about five minutes, so I had a lot of waiting time on my hand before I could go home. I made it a fun thing by choosing different locations for having a luxury coffee after each treatment and then sit there for a long time just drawing.

A personal tradition during radiotherapy. After treatment finding a place for a luxury coffee and a drawing session.

I think in general it's the things and the people I love that are like anchors in the chaos that is a serious health issue and everything that comes with it. I have found it almost life saving to have things like a love of art, reading, writing, nature and sweet human beings. Things that I have always done for the pleasure of them almost became therapy over the past year and I am most grateful for that. Writing helped me express my worries, fears and feelings and also joys and gratitude. Photography helped me to keep an eye out for the beauty all around me. Drawing calmed my mind like nothing else could. These things are essential to me now and I am more glad than ever to have them in my life.

As for the future, who can say? I am worried and grateful at the same time. I am doing well, but always aware of how fleeting it all is and how soon things can turn around on you. For the coming time I will have a check up with an oncologist and/or gynecologist every three months (next one in August), and every check up is scary as hell. There's not a day that I don't think about it or am reminded of it because of something in my body acting up. That doesn't mean I am walking around miserable and paralyzed with fear, or am limited in my movements,  it just means that cancer is now an everyday part of my life that I cannot remove ever, even when I am clean.

That may be the hardest thing to explain, that it's never over. When I come out of a checkup okay, there are people who congratulate me or even claim I conquered cancer. Well, I didn't. I underwent it all, sickness and treatment, and I got out okay for now, that's all I did. There's no battle, no victory and no loss. It just is what it is. With that I hope to grow to a very old age and will live with the possibility that I may not reach it. But then again, as I like to say, I could still get hit by a bus tomorrow! ;-)

I have been thinking about what to do with the blog a lot. I have been postponing writing this post a lot too. Because I just didn't know if I wanted to continue or not and frankly I'm still not completely sure. It's a bit of chore sometimes, but it also is a nice place to express myself and show my art and photography.

So I'm just going to give it a go again and see what happens. I may simplify it a little by just doing group postings of pictures I put on Facebook and Instagram with a bit of extra text. We'll see.

For now I hope you are all doing well and still here somehow. I look forward to hearing from you. Tell me what you've been up to in the past year. I also hope Covid hasn't affected you too much personally. So far so good for me, but we all know it's still out there, so keeping my fingers crossed.

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy day!