Hello Glowups! Just checking in and doing a pulse check on how we are all doing. Can you believe that it has already been a year since Covid-19 had been declared a Global Pandemic and we have been in lockdown since?? I guess depending on where you are in the World — but nonetheless — we have all shared this experience. This is my 2021 lockdown edition, practice self-care: my colon cancer journey.
If you have watched my latest “GRWM Morning Skincare Routine” Video, I unveil one of the biggest adversity I was confronted with during the lockdown; battling cancer. But with the love and support of those around me, I built up the courage to be vulnerable to share my story. While I didn’t get too into the details, I thought I could use this post to share more in-depth with you. I also wanted to stress the importance of taking care of yourself, taking the time off for yourself, and putting your health first – and in using my platform as a voice for cancer patients and survivors that you are not alone in this journey.
Or watch here..
My Story; How I Got Here.
How did I get here? By being busy living life and always being switched on to go-go-go, my Husband and I live vicariously an adventurous lifestyle. We are both originally from Toronto and decided to embark on a relocation journey seven years ago by way of Singapore for two years, then to Manhattan for the next five, and finally returning home recently to be closer to our family during these Covid times.
Stress and food probably played a big factor but the truth of the matter is, I don’t know, much like the doctors and specialists don’t know and can’t explain the very details to the questions that were looming over my head when I found out. Statistically, women are known to have more constipation, indigestion and we are constantly on this quest to achieve some sort of harmony between our diet and weight. I feel like we as women, just can’t catch a break!
I like to think that I was on the healthier side, my husband and I have tried a plant-based diet for over a year, but the tempeh never really cut it for us. We have tried keto the following year, but I realized my love for carbs was beyond ‘to fill an empty stomach’ void. And here I am, never suspecting a thing, no indication or sign whatsoever.
And then one day, just like that, I felt completely sick to my stomach, not being able to go to the washroom, and vomiting non-stop for 48 hours (it’s sort of where I drew the line of precautionary covid). I checked myself into the ER where they ordered a CT scan to ensure that it was not appendicitis or my gallbladder – but instead, they found a lesion blocking my intestine. Colon cancer is the 3rd leading type of cancer for Women (following breasts and ovarian cancer). That’s why early proactive screening is so important, because it’s curable if detected early-on.
The craziest part was the on-call surgeon describing to my Husband on the phone that I was calm, stoic, and focused on getting the surgery, which in my mind I thought were the oddest adjectives to use to describe someone learning that they have been diagnosed with colon cancer. Nonetheless, (thankfully & luckily) I was able to have surgery that same day the tumor was discovered. The new information had obviously not fully sunken in yet.
Crazier than the cancer news itself was learning how to take things slow – literally, understanding that it’s OK not be OK every single day. And that we all have good days and bad days. Two weeks post-surgery and realizing that I was a cancer patient turned survivor – took a mental and emotional toll on me, on top of the physical recovery I was going through post-surgery.
To learn how far along science has advanced medication and the types of chemotherapy treatments that exist today – is overwhelming but also a peace of mind. Everyone is so quick to share their story whether it’s personal or of someone they know, and some feel compelled to say something because they don’t know the right thing to say. I assure you, that it’s sometimes best not to say anything at all.
A sincere “I am here for you.” suffice because actions do speak louder than words when I have that off day and I need a shoulder to cry on.
And because of the types of chemotherapy treatments, even when people share their stories it was hard to relate because depending on the organ, stage of cancer, and type of treatment – it can be a completely different experience from one person to the next. Quite truthfully hearing those stories helped but I had to let it flow out the other ear and take everything with a grain of salt, otherwise, the fear of the unknown and what’s to come can feel so paralyzing and daunting.
And you would think after all this time and money put into research, that we would be so much more advanced with answers, but sadly this isn’t the case. Fortunately, the one great thing is the science behind the medicine and treatments that have come a long way from what we envision (the over-dramatization in movies and TV shows) of a character diagnosed with cancer is no more. It’s such a complex disease that can affect so many different organs of the body, with different stages depending on the aggressiveness of the growth and spread, that every treatment is concocted differently for the patient.
You are reading my 2021 lockdown edition, practice self-care: my colon cancer journey.
While knowing people close to me who have battled and overcome cancer, it hits you differently when you are faced to deal with it. I cried after learning my close girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer, but the tears of empathy towards others versus yourself is different. The fear of what’s to come, knowing the unknown, not being OK all the fucking time – the feels on my bad days.
On the flip side, on my good days – making sure those I love are Ok too with learning my news, trying to think positive, taking it slowly one day at a time, and being proud of yourself for being so fucking brave. And you don’t even have to be battling cancer to have those good days and bad days, I think we all go through it at some point in our lives. And you have to remind yourself that it’s OK not to be OK all the time.
Meeting with the cancer treatment team was overwhelming. I remember my first day I had to check-in (also on my own due to covid lockdown restrictions) and register at the cancer center part of the hospital. The nurse asked me your typical questions and all I could feel was an overwhelming flood of emotions and tears began welling up in my eyes as they quickly started to roll down my cheeks but hidden by the mask I was wearing. But the nurse caught on quickly and gave me a moment to collect myself.
And when I finally met with the team, I was looking forward to learning more on the tumor and lymph nodes they were able to remove and send out to the pathologist, but again not as much information as I had hoped. As they went over the type of chemo treatment and the symptoms I can expect, and how long, how often, etc., etc.
The influx of information I was trying to madly jot down on my notepad, and the next few pages I came prepared with my questions all came colliding. “Breathe. Take deep breaths.” I told myself as I started to feel slightly dizzy under my mask. I looked down at my pen and focused on what was happening around me. The sound of my husband’s voice over the phone made me smile again, I knew that if I missed anything that he’s got my back. This helped me reframe and in tune with the conversation again.
“Breathe. Take deep breaths.”
One of the most looming symptoms of chemo for Women is infertility, so that was another quest that I needed to tackle prior to starting my treatment. Thankfully the fertility clinic and my treatment doctor were on the same page and I was able to push back my chemo treatment start date by a couple of weeks so that my husband and I can consider IVF process to proactively preserve what we can. Never have I been poked and jabbed so much in my life until now. And never have I gone through so many procedures one after another, back to back to back, literally. I was amazed at myself for being so resilient and brave. What we can accomplish as humans when we set our minds to it is truly astounding.
Even the day before my first chemo treatment, I could feel the wave of panic and fear taking over me, scared of all the symptoms and side effects and how my body would react to it. Anticipating the worst case scenarios in my mind.
Eventually, I tired myself out and fell asleep for a few hours, and on that day I remember being so tense leading up to my treatment time. And while I sat at my seat having the nurse go over my treatments, I remember looking around and watching other cancer patients bravely taking in their treatments and battling to beat this disease.
I felt slightly embarrassed for feeling the way I felt, there were patients older than me, weaker than me, all enduring what they can that I felt like I shouldn’t have felt scared – basically bitch and complain – but wait, this is all new to me too, I don’t need to be apologetic for anything I feel or react. I am not them, nor they like me, everyone’s pain is different. It’s so important to not compare myself to anyone or any given situation. The way we handle and tolerate varies by person. There is no one size fits all model here.
So now that I am in the process of recovery by way of chemotherapy, I suddenly became very present in what I do and where I am. Essentially becoming very intentional with everything I do by having a purpose and being very present and in the moment. This realization made me appreciate everything we do in life. I was always a believer in ‘everything happens for a reason and so you can imagine how shopping for what I consume and what I apply topically has become more mindful.
But I also realized how chemo could take away so much from a woman. Hair thinning, hair loss is probably a very common symptom that many of us typically associate bald-headed individuals as cancer patients. I also lost so much hair that I am on the fence about what I need to do with it. This is something that I will need to continue monitoring and take action when necessary.
Hair is something I have always loved, whether it’s experimenting a new style or colors, giving it a perm, hair is like shoes to me, both essential to complete a look. And since fashion and style are something so innate in me and that I am passionate about, I didn’t realize losing hair would be such a big deal to me, especially since I am the type to not think twice about chopping my hair off for a short bob, my attitude always was “it’ll grow back.” But for some reason, this just didn’t feel the same even while knowing that my hair will grow back after chemo.
Taking care of myself with self-care. Taking time for myself, taking the time off for myself, by putting my mental, physical and emotional health first.
Since part of what I do is Digital Content Creation, I had to make a hard decision and take time off from social media to focus on my recovery. With the lockdown put in place for over a year now, social media has inevitably been our scapegoat and subconsciously taken a mental and emotionl toll on our well being. This past year has not been easy for any of us. One year into this pandemic era has taken so many lives, jobs, livelihood, coupled with relentless attacks on social and civil rights across the US, on top of the US Presidential Election, has made so many of us mentally drained with all the news, media outlets, memes, sattires, ‘lip-service’ posts, etc., – but seriously, how are you doing?
So, what can we do to make sure we are taking care of ourselves? Be kind to yourself, limit your media-intake, practice self-care, allow yourself to rest, focus on what you can control, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Be kind to yourself.
While it sounds simple enough we often don’t end up practicing what we preach. We feel it when we see that inspiring “motivational quote of the day” but we all need to make a better effort to not feel bad about experiencing negative emotions. This means allowing ourselves to notice our feelings without judging them as good or bad, and instead choosing self-compassion. Try to work on reframing your thoughts. Reframing is a way of changing the way in which you look at something, and by way of changing your experience of it. Basically a way to change our perspective. By noticing your negative thoughts and challenging them, you can engage in reframing.
A personal example is when I reframed my thoughts after learning that I needed a total of 12 sessions of chemotherapy over the course of six months, instead of counting the amount of time or counting up after each session, I focused on counting down the number of treatments remaining. For example, every time I go for a treatment this lessens the number from the total, and because we learn math very early-on and wired to counting down as something exciting and celebratory, this subconsciously helped my way of thinking that I had 11, 10, 9, etc., more to go. It can be something as simple as this but you would be amazed at how much this helps shift our perspective.
Limit your media intake.
You notice some posts actually have trigger warnings? There is nothing healthy about consuming news or scrolling on your feed 24/7. Set daily limits for yourself. For example, give yourself atleast half an hour before checking the news or social media feeds first thing in the morning. Same at night time, try not to watch the news or consume in your feed before going to bed. A good way to assess whether you will be OK is to consider how you’re feeling before watching the news and feeds. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or just down, put your phone away. Be mindful of how you are feeling prior to social media consumption.
Take Care with Self-Care
Self-care is a conscious and intentional act we take in order to promote our own physical, metal and emotional well being. This can mean various things like physical exercise, reading a book, spending time with loved ones, taking some days off work, treating yourself, having a really good cry, etc., just remember, it is essential in allowing yourself to take time for you.
Allow yourself to rest.
We live in a society that places so much emphasis on our level of productivity, so it’s made us push our limits and test our boundaries beyond our measures to the point of burning out. This has been especially the case more recently with so many of us working from home for the past year. Since we are working from home we don’t set clear boundaries between office and home time. Allowing yourself to rest will benefit our physical and mental health.
Focus on what you can control.
Focusing on the things that are within our own control is a useful way to stay grounded, espcially when it seems like everything around us is beyond our control. There are a few ways to utilize grouding techniques – which are techniques that create space from distressing feelings in almost every situation, but particularly helpful when you are dealing with anxiety. Physical techniques: try putting your hands in water and focusing on the temperature. Taking a short walk and focusing on your steps. Listen to your surroundings and asking yourself ‘what do you hear?’ A mental technique is playing a memory game. A soothing technique is repeating kind, compassionate phrases to yourself or visualizing your favorite place or person. Trying to focus by being present in the moment is also a great way to focus on what you can control.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help if and when you need it.
Whether it’s Professional counseling, your parents or siblings, your partner or close friend, having someone that you can confide in without feeling judgement and there to listen to you can really help. Try not to let your stress, anxiety, frustrations, fears, and feelings mount inside. When you’re ready to talk or cry, let it out.
Please take care of yourself with self-care and put your health first. I seriously cannot stress this enough. Personally while I took the time off to focus on my recovery, I could not help but also reflect on how I felt prior to my cancer journey during this lockdown. And this is also why I shifted my focus to well being, skincare and about owning your glow inside and out, because this message was so important than sharing an outfit post. In this pandemic and economy, I couldn’t stand being tone-deaf. Shifting my focus and content were things within my control, and having my support system of my husband, family and friends gave me the courage to be vulnerable in sharing my journey with the rest of the world.
What is the way forward?
It’s funny because I always thought that I was this strong person. I have had to face other adversities and never once did I feel defeated or knocked out but this took such a heavy mental and emotional (on top of the physical aspect) toll on me. I was grappling with the word cancer and any other words associated with it.
My mind was racing 100mph, my body was physically weak and still in the recovery process, my emotions were out of control and I felt a huge knot in my throat every time I felt like I had no control of my current situation and for putting my loved ones through a turmoil and being a burden to them. I was reminding myself to breathe and just take it one step, one day at a time because that is the only thing I can control. Focusing on my physical recovery and what I can control, being present in the moment helped me heal mentally and emotionally.
I have always been the type to plan and think forward, but at this given moment I have decided to focus on the present and on what I can control. I figure by being present and in the moment will help me plan my way forward. Oh – I have a 5k run coming up on Sunday, April 25th, 2021 with @bumruncanada to continue raising awareness of colon cancer, the importance of early screening, and research. Click here if you want to support my cause and donate.
What I do know is to continue using my platform for awareness and hopefully help others battling a similar health journey that they are not alone.
Time heals all wounds.
The saying, that “time heals all wounds”, couldn’t be more true, and being present in the moment helps you become stronger and more in tune with your mental and emotional well-being. This also helped me understand and accept the fact that my healing process doesn’t just happen overnight with a snap of a finger.
And if you have read this far, I thank you for your time in getting to know me and my story, as this was a very raw and emotional moment for me. I hope that you can continue to cheer me on as I navigate through this digital world.
Remember to take time for yourself, take the time off for yourself, and get yourself checked by putting your health first. This is the way to be kinder to yourself.
|The views expressed on this site are that of my own and are provided for informational purposes only. I make no warranties about the suitability of any product or treatment referenced or reviewed here for any person other than myself and any reliance placed on these reviews or references by you is done so solely at your own risk. Nothing on this site shall be construed as providing dermatological, medical or other such advice and you are always advised to seek the advice of a suitable professional should you have any such concerns.|