Life after cancer

This picture was taken shortly after I returned to work. At this point, my life felt amazing. I had a coworker take this photo because I couldn’t believe I finally had my own desk. Who gets excited over that? Someone who just beat cancer, I guess. Everything was amazing during those first few weeks of my new “normal” but eventually that feeling wore off and I realized there’s a lot more to this new life of mine. Since May 2017, I couldn’t wait to get to this point, yet here I am feeling so lost and confused.

Life after cancer is so much harder than I ever imagined it to be.

Everything about cancer is awful from before the diagnosis, throughout treatment, and apparently even after it’s all over. Life after cancer was supposed to be amazing. I had a new appreciation for everything and a boost of confidence that would get me through whatever was thrown my way. Although I am so thankful to be here and finished with my treatments, it turns out none of this is actually that easy.

Physical effects from chemo: I’m still dealing with some intense fatigue, even months after my last treatment. I’ve been trying to stay busy because once I sit still, it takes every bit of effort to not fall asleep. Working out regularly has helped a little bit with my energy levels though. Once I got back to work, I was determined to also get back in the gym. I wanted to prove that cancer couldn’t hold me back forever. Not only was it really hard to see how much strength I’ve lost since my cancer journey started, but I’m also still dealing with some pretty bad neuropathy. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I recently started jogging again. During what was supposed to be an easy jog, both of my calves swelled up in so much pain and my feet went numb. I couldn’t feel my toes. I’ve been trying to continue jogging since then, but it has become an ongoing problem that severely limits how far I can go. I eagerly signed up for a few 5k races before I realized how much the neuropathy was still affecting me and it’s so disappointing that the cancer side effects continue to have this much control over what I am able to do. I plan to follow through with those 5ks though, even if it means walking a good portion of them.

Emotional effects from cancer: Cancer is traumatic. Somehow, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what I went through, but there are still many things that are really tough to think about. There are a lot of emotions I’m dealing with that I can’t even describe. I don’t understand it because I should be ecstatic, right? I just beat cancer! Unfortunately, life after cancer doesn’t come with a manual to explain these things, although I wish it did. It’s such a roller coaster from day to day. There are days that I feel on top of the world followed by days that are incredibly tough to get through. That’s about as much detail as I wish to go into on this topic right now, but I think it’s important to note that the emotional stress after cancer is almost as bad as during treatment in my opinion.

Financial stress– Another thing people don’t talk about is that cancer is really, really expensive. Many times, cancer will force a person to stop working and even if you’re lucky enough to get some compensation for being out of work, it’s going to be a huge cut from what you’re used to. Then, you have to worry about all of the medical bills, countless prescriptions, fertility preservation fees (which is an ongoing monthly cost), travel to and from the cancer center, moving costs… I could fill up a whole page with this list. These expenses don’t just go away when the cancer does. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn’t have insurance because even with insurance, the cost of having cancer has been overwhelming and stressful.

Anxiety- Since my last PET scan, I’ve been living in a constant state of fear that this may not be over. I hear so many stories about people, who I know personally, having relapses or suspicious scans even after they’ve been told they’re clear. I over-analyze every little thing and worry that it may be the cancer coming back. It’s a stress that I’m not sure will ever go away. My next scan is coming up in just a few weeks and I’m sure that has been the cause of a lot of the anxiety in my life recently. It’s one of those things that I’m dreading going through, but at the same time I can’t wait for that day to get here and hopefully clear up some of the “scanxiety” that I’m dealing with.

I want to end this by saying that I have so much to be grateful for and I don’t want this post to take away from that at all. I knew I wanted to write about life after cancer from the moment I beat it, but I never imagined it would go like this. Every day is a work in progress to try to get back to a new normal, a new happy, and a new healthy and I’m realizing now that it’s going to take some time. With that said, I, of course, am very thankful to be given the opportunity to find those new realities and will continue working on myself until that day comes.

 

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43 thoughts on “Life after cancer

  1. Numerous thoughts come to mind, many you’ve heard very often, I’m certain. Please continue to persevere through all adversity. You’re a shining star. Warmest and most caring thoughts and prayers for you Crystal.💜

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  2. Gorgeous picture and you should be excited, you are beating cancer. I don’t know of any disease that could be harder to beat. Not to minimalize others but cancer is so prevalent it touches everyone in some way or another. Keep up the fight, stay strong and you will always be beautiful.

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  3. It’s great to see you back in action doing the weather, traffic and other stories on the air! It sounds like life is starting to get back to normal – and it’s great to have your own desk!

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  4. It’s normal to be anxious before having scans done. I am confident that everything is going to be ok. I know that you know that you have so much to be thankful for❤️God has brought you through this, and he will continue to take good care of you! We love you and are praying for you! By the way, I love your blog!

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  5. Thank you for posting this- when I went through my own battle, it was incredible to me how some people just expected me just to bounce back to “normal” as soon as I was done with treatment. The truth is-it stays with you forever IMO. Not to sound negative because I am grateful mine was detected and treated- but there is still alot to deal with in the aftermath. One of the things I am grappling with is that my cancer treatment damaged by heart so severely that I had to stop working and go on disability. Hang in there – will keep you in my prayers.

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  6. You have the support of your admirers. So keep on with positive thoughts to help you get through your daily tasks. It sounds like a real struggle, but you have the will power to beat this horrible disease. You are an inspiration to all you come in contact with. Thank you for your honesty. People need to hear what a challenge it is for you to complete ordinary procedures or chores. Give yourself time to regain your strength after taking so many chemo treatments.

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  7. Ugh. I have permanent neuropathy in my feet from chemo. Also, I have PTSD from hospitalizations, procedures, and ongoing therapy, so I can def relate to the psychological scars of cancer. I have the “privilege” of stressing out every monthly blood test- to see if the cancer is regathering itself, since my cancer is incurable. Ugh. My fatigue is ongoing as well. But like you, i force myself to walk and exercise every day, however little, because we really have no choice; if we don’t keep our bodies as strong as possible we will physically suffer more. Not to mention the added psychological burden. So keep at it!

    There is a good book coming out in June called “Sick.” By an apparently renown writer named Porochista Khapour, who examines her battle with late stage Lyme disease. Poor thing. Her friend is another young person, Suleika Jaouad, who like you, fought through Leukemia and “won.” She’s also an outspoken cancer advocate, kinda like you are, but a writer who happens to make the occasional speech to various organizations. You should check these woman out.

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  8. Crystal! Sorry I haven’t been in touch, but I would love for you to come to my 4th grade classroom at Norfolk Academy to talk to my girls about your life, career, etc…tell me if any particular day of the week and time is good for you….first thing in the morning…like 8:30 works well for us but I am open for what’s good for you!

    Hope we can make it happen!

    Janice

    On Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 5:46 PM, Crystal Harper wrote:

    > crystalharper posted: “This picture was taken shortly after I returned to > work. At this point, my life felt amazing. I had a coworker take this photo > because I couldn’t believe I finally had my own desk. Who gets excited over > that? Someone who just beat cancer, I guess. Everyth” >

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  9. Your honesty may be the voice for someone else who is not able to speak up to help others know what they are going through, and also a voice of reality for someone who needs it. Either way, this is your voice! Your life! Your experience! Allowing others to know what You are going through! Thank you for sharing it so that know as I specifically pray for you!
    Thinking of you and praying for you as often as the Lord allows, dearest Crystal! God loves you! ❤

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  10. The realities are far different from what we think, hope, and expect sometimes. Many will be blessed by knowing they are not alone and not crazy. You are strong and wise. Thank you for sharing your reality.

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  11. Have you tried acupuncture for the neuropathy? It has worked for me and may just be what you need to try…..many daily prayers for you….

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  12. Hi Crystal you’re doing real well . keep thinking positive . t had prostate cancer It was concentrated in the prostate that was 2yrs ago. they told me if I went 5yrs without it coming back I was cancer free I still keep my fingers crossed. I have to get a blood test ever 6 months for 3 more years. I can understand what your going through. Have faith. You look pretty in your DESK. If you need someone to talk to I’m here! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

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  13. You are a survivor Young Lady. Yes it will take time to get used to the new normal. This is not something that is going to be easy, or happen overnight. But you have a great support group of people that are pulling for you. Lost my wife in November to stomach cancer, so know what you are dealing with. Stress, anxiety, health changes affect everyone differently, along with the family and friends that are there to support. As time goes by, you will adjust to what you can do. Not going to say it gets easier, but you learn how to deal with it better. Just remember that you can do this, you are STRONG, BEAUTIFUL, and SMART.

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  14. Very inspirational, I pray God will help you with the aftermath and even though you still have trials ahead, you are right, every day we breathe we have a lot to be grateful for. ♥

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  15. Crystal, how accurate you are with this blog. After 18 years, I still cry when I talk to people about whenI I had cancer. I still get tired and have trouble with my weight gain. But you know what? I am grateful that I have these things . It means I am alive and cancetr free and I know it. Please keep up blogging. It is healing and beneficial both for you and all of us that identify with you. Thank you for sharing. Hugs

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  16. You are so right Crystal, I have known people that had gone through cancer treatments, and they don’t talk about how hard it is. You are so brave and honest that you have to speak the truth. I guess it is the second part of this battle, but with the love of your family and friends and God’s mercy you will pull out of it! Hang in there dear Crystal, God bless you!! 😍🙏🏻

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  17. I have followed you through your Cancer journey. You were my inspiration especially when my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Carcinoma of Unknown a Primary on December 26(very unexpected may I add). She passed away on March 13th

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  18. I understand completely. PTSD from cancer is real. I’m a 2.5 year survivor from NHL. When I finished chemo and was told the cancer was gone I thought it would be happily ever after but it’s not because a lot of issues are left over. Time makes it a tad easier. I also went to therapy. I found a local therapist who had also survived cancer and that helped tremendously. He understood all of it. Best wishes.

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  19. What an amazing and honest piece!
    First, I want to agree that you should write a book. You have a way of capturing the heart of so much you have had to cope with through this whole ordeal. I would love to be the FIRST to purchase that book.
    Despite all that you have just written here, you have a way of always projecting optimism and happiness. I can’t help but think that so much if this is an internal struggle much of the time. I’m glad you choose to share all of this with us.
    I’m not quite sure why you and your journey has struck a cord with me. I lost both of my parents to cancer; thankfully it was later in life. I worked in the clinical laboratory for decades and had gotten to know numerous patients who fought this battle…..
    Some were young , some were old. Some won, some didn’t. You possess an ability to capture the attention of those that follow your story.
    After your last chemo and PET scan my prayers for you changed from praying FOR a positive outcome to praying THANKS for your outcome.
    All the best and keep up the good work in knowing that you ARE making a difference. ❤️& 🙏🏻

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  20. Crystal: It is one day at a time and Don’t beat yourself up. Your body has been through a barrage of toxic chemicals that have sapped your strength and energy. Be kind to it and give it time to recover. It took two years for me to feel strong again but I still give in to taking a nap if I need to or just slowing down a bit. Listen to your body and respond. It will be strong again. Don’t rush.

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  21. I took LETROZOLE (Femora) – an anti-cancer drug for 5 years after having a pre-cancerous lump removed from my breast. When I developed neuropathy in my feet, a neurosurgeon friend of mine told me that the LETROZOLE can cause the neuropathy. My regular doctor has checked me out on everything….diabetes, lack of some vitamins and everything he can think of that would have caused the loss of feeling in my feet. I can feel a pebble in my shoe but the bottoms of my feet, the soles, tingle as if asleep. I walk dogs now and do not race anymore. I hope you get your feet feeling back so you can continue to run, jog and walk. I really appreciate your telling us exactly what it is like to go through the cancer treatment and your problems after the treatment is over.

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  22. Crystal,

    As a 20 year cancer survivor, it’s extremely important to continue your followups indefinitely! I know you will tire of them, but, I get a big boost every time I leave my oncologist’s office, knowing all is well. It will get easier! Hang in there! I’m happy to see you doing weather reporting again – you’re the best! Evelyn

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  23. Crystal, I have been with you from the beginning of your journey and your words continue to inspire and even more important educate others.It has been over 5 years since my Colan Cancer diagnoses , yet your thoughts I recognize as my own. It is the reality of knowing you beat Cancer , but some things continue to be with you. I will tell you this, it does get better and Crystal remind yourself you are stronger having gone through this.

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  24. I know how you feel. You convey my feelings too. Just know you are not alone in this difficult journey. 2 1/2 years post total gastrorectmy and chemo regimen. Everyday I’m thankful that I have a new normal and not the alternative. I put one foot in front of the other and march on. Prayers for Courage, Strength, Peace and Comfort. Warrior Strong!!

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  25. Crystal you are an impressive young lady. I have followed your journey and I am impressed by strength and endurance. Getting told that you have cancer is traumatic and often leave huge emotional baggage and decision.

    It is 11 years now since I have been in remission and I have to admire you for the courage/strength that you have shown over the last year. I remember the emotional shock of being told that I had an aggressive form of cancer and that I had to make a number of decisions about what I wanted to do. While they include surgery and chemo on the option list they never discussed the neuropathy or the diabetes that cancer and it treatment has left. While oncologist and surgeons are quick to discuss treatment regimes they tend to deal with anxiety and emotional questions that the patient has distractions. As a long term Department of the Army who had carefully banked my sick leave, financial issues should not have been an issue but as soon as my military supervisors learned of my diagnosis they wanted me to either medically retire or tele-work. While this conflict was eventually resolved in my favor by the 4 Star leadership it added to my anxiety right up to the day of my initial surgery. For the first 5 years after my surgery I was on a bit of an emotional roller coaster, while so far cancer is remission, and my remaining kidney appears to be functioning, my immune system has had to be shut down twice, I now have diabetes, and I have neuropathy in both hands, legs and feet. I have found a great Pain Management Specialist who has help me deal with both the neuropathy and my service related spinal stenosis. Family and friends have been key for my to push through anxiety and emotional issues.
    Your willingness to share your journey has help to highlight many of the issues that cancer patients and caregivers struggle with on a daily basis (while I was my mother’s guardian about 15 years ago she had breast cancer, so I had experience dealing with oncologist and I finding psychological consolers for her). I avoided any form of psychological consolers/consoling during my cancer treatment because I had Security Clearance. I also had to have a list of all of my medication submitted by my doctors to DoD because I was on continuous unannounced drug testing.
    Employers and insurance companies often want to minimize their financial exposure as soon as they learn the patient has cancer. I have lost track of the hours I have spent on the phone arguing with insurance companies about denied doctor’s or testing bills. The other hot button is having to get preapproval for a required drug prior to being able to getting prescription filled.

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    1. Crystal a couple short term treatments for neuropathy that I forgot to add into my earlier ramble are soaking in a 104 degree F hot tub and Solanpas Jet spray. I had been using the hot tub deal with degenerative arthritis from my time as an Army Infantryman and found it also helps with the neuropathy. I run my tub at 104 degrees because I find that the relief is longer lasting. The Jet Spray is nice because it provides a greaseless topical treatment which will rapidly numb the affected area for 3 to 3.5 hours.

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  26. Spot on! I’ve experienced neuropothy in both hands and feet for 16 months now. It is better when it’s warmer out……..something to look forward to. 🙂

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  27. Crystal Congratulations on your recovery and being nominated Woman of the Year. Best of luck with your fund raising efforts I’m sure you will make a big impact. As far as the neuropathy is concerned I can empathize with you as I deal with it daily and have been for a few years. As there are medications for it I have had allot of luck with the Vitamin B Complex. They come in different potency’s 12, 50, 100 and you just have to try different types to see what works best for you. I wish you all the best and so glad to see back where you belong.
    Jon

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  28. Hi! I’m about 2 years out from my diagnosis of Stage 3 HL, in remission, and I’m going thru all of the things you are writing about. I can relate to everything you posted, which is extremely rare because people don’t understand. Life after cancer IS harder, and I’m the most positive person on the planet. I have bad hand/foot syndrome still because I thought I was tougher than the chemo and kept firefighting thru my first 3 treatments. And with no one but my cat to lean on, going thru this single was incredibly tough. I had a girlfriend of 5 years break up with me right before I was diagnosed because she thought I lost interest, when it was just 2 years of cancer fatigue. Since my main tumor was behind my pectoral muscle and invisible, doctors told me I had everything from depression to catscratch disease. Somehow I knew what was going on and pushed for a ct scan, you are absolutely right that you have to listen to your body. I did 6 cycles of ABVD, had clear pet scans and ct’s since, yet I have Scanxiety because of my next ct on the 19th. I don’t complain to anyone because they won’t understand, and appear grateful for being alive. I even got my Oncologist an award from the Chicago City Council for saving my life (that’s me on the right in the white hat). But I guess I dread the cancer coming back so much, I go out of my way to keep Karma on my side. If you are ever in Chicago and want a HL buddy let me know. I could be in a roomful of people and still be lonely because no one gets what it’s like.

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