I was a 23-year-old registered nurse when I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I’d met the love of my life, I had a job I’d always wanted and I was carefree. A lump in my breast changed all that. I always thought I’d have a few months of chemo, and then return to that life. I never expected what was to follow.
My scars aren’t from my cancer being cut out. They’re a result of just how harsh the treatment was on my body. Chemo, radiation, a bone marrow transplant, and some pretty serious complications later and here I am: 26 years old and I’ve had both hips replaced. Well that’s the short version.
It’s called Avascular Necrosis (AVN). High dose steroids caused the bones in my major joints to die and start to collapse. The only treatment is to replace the joint. I have AVN in both shoulders, hips, and knees. Although the cancer is thankfully long gone, my body will never be the same. I can’t go back to the life I had before. I can’t work in my old job, and my hobbies, which were boxing and rock climbing, are off limits.
I still have my partner, an incredibly strong woman by my side though. I believe she has played a huge role in how I feel about my body. When I met my partner only 6 months before I was diagnosed, I had beautiful long hair and was lucky enough to eat whatever I wanted and never put on weight. During my treatment I was bald, put on a lot of weight, and had the classic steroid ‘moonface’. I hardly recognized myself when I looked in the mirror and it brought me to tears many times. She never stopped telling my how beautiful and stunning I was. Never wanted me to wear a wig unless I chose to. Never showed a hint of embarrassment, as people would stare across the street. She was, and still is proud to hold my hand. I have no doubt in my mind that it would have been incredibly difficult without her unwavering support.
In a strange way I appreciate my scars. They are a physical, visible mark of what my body has been through; something tangible that I can see and feel. What I feel on the inside most days: the pain, the ongoing exhaustion, and the mental battles inside my head can’t always be seen from the outside. I can however, look down at my scars and be reminded that I’ve been through a crazy tough experience and am slowly making it out the other side. My scars are my battle wounds and I’m proud of them.
I’m still trying to figure out who I am after cancer and how to live my life in this body, but I’m thankful to still be here albeit a little worse for wear. As for the incredibly strong woman who’s been by my side through thick and thin, we’re now engaged.