My Struggle Made Me but Doesn’t Define Me

I first found out I had cancer while in the grocery store parking lot.  Thank goodness I was already in my truck at the time of the phone call because the news was a shock and hit me like a bolt of lightning.  I distinctly remember three things from that five minute phone call from M.D. Anderson.  Strike number one, I had cancer.  Strike number two, chemotherapy must start immediately.  Strike number three, just in case I wasn’t already down, the next year of my life was going to be one of my toughest.

As I hung up the phone I sat there, wide-eyed.  This new information was swirling around in my head, exploding over and over again.  There in the grocery store parking lot, my five grocery bags in the back seat, with the whole world around me continuing as it would normally, I cried.

I cried because I was scared.  I cried because my life outside of college was just beginning, and it already had to change.  I cried because I had no idea what this next year would entail.  I had no idea this simple biopsy would come back as cancer.  I thought a simple surgery, maybe, but nothing like this.

God had a different plan in store for me that day.  It completely changed my life.  Now, in hindsight, I appreciate those life events, which made me who I am today.  Those events instilled qualities, now so ingrained into my personality that they have completely altered my spirit.  Changed me from the inside-out.

Those events, now many years later, through many dips and turns in the road, brought me here, today, to tell you my story.

My Struggle Made Me but Doesn’t Define Me

After those initial lightning strikes fell, exploded, and passed, I was due for one more.  The beginning stages of treatment are always the worst.  I think Doctors sometimes give you the worst outcome so you’ll be happy in the end when it’s only half as bad as they told you initially.  Do Doctors take classes on this stuff?  They’re good at it.

The cancer, specifically Ewing’s Sarcoma, was located in the palm of my left-hand.  It originated on the pinky-side and spread throughout my whole palm.  During an office visit, my doctor brought in the x-rays and showed me on screen what was growing inside.  The cancer was bigger than I had thought.  The abscess was local to my pinky, but the x-rays showed the cancer extending all the way across the palm.  I sat there, staring at the x-rays.  The doctor rambled on about what lies ahead as my thoughts drifted.  I was startled back to reality when the doctor mentioned surgery.  The size of the tumor coupled with the current research on Ewing’s Sarcoma led him to believe I could lose my hand.

Wait, what?  There was the fourth lightning strike.  Aftershock, maybe, who knows.  Felt just like the first ones, if not worse.

My Fighting Chance

There was a chance, though.  Ah, my saving grace, the ray of light shining through the silver-gray clouds that lifts my spirits.  Through intense chemotherapy and radiation, there was a chance the doctors could save a portion of my hand.  A portion…in exchange for a chance.  I was willing to take that chance – my fighting chance.

I can’t remember why I was alone on that day when the doctor gave me such devastating news, but I was.  While I waited for my next oncology appointment, I looked down at my left hand.  The left side of my hand was so swollen, like a golf ball was inside my palm.  I felt my whole palm, connecting the picture of the x-rays with what I felt.  I thought of the surgery to remove some, if not all, of my hand.

Again, in such a public place, with people following their normal, daily routines all around me, I cried.  I cried harder and longer this time.  Knowing the full extent of my situation, knowing the potential outcome, and knowing the next year ahead was going to be a battle, I just cried.

In the midst of my tantrum of sorts, I hadn’t noticed a woman had sat down next to me.  This woman, I will never forget her, put her hand on my shoulder and jostled me back to reality.  A woman I’ve never seen since, but provided a comforting touch.

Something about her calmed me almost immediately.  Maybe it was the physical touch that gave relief, or maybe, her words of encouragement, her words of God and His plan for me.  Maybe she was an angel sent from God Himself to pick me up, dust me off and let me know it would be alright.

I needed that encouragement.  I suppose we all need encouragement from time to time.  This encounter reset my spirit.  It gave me the determination, the positive attitude, the fighting spirit to make it through one of the toughest years of my life.

The treatment itself was merely a blur.  A process, which repeated itself every month, consisting of chemotherapy, coping with the effects of chemotherapy, allowing my body to heal and rejuvenate, and then doing it all over again.

I had about a week each month where I felt halfway normal.  I spent quality time with friends and family, but I also spent a lot of time with my boyfriend (now my husband), who always found a way to make me smile, laugh and forget the reality of the moment.

Josh and Me at the Beach

Through the support of my family, friends, and boyfriend I finally reached the end.  That last day of chemotherapy was amazing.  It was finally my day to ring the bell and I rang it loud and proud for all to hear.  No words can describe the merriment, happiness, and excitement I felt that day.  No words can do the feeling justice.

All in all it was about a year’s worth of treatment, mixed with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and more chemotherapy just to be sure the cancer was gone.  I put up a tough fight and ended up saving most of my left hand.  I did, however, lose my pinky finger, but I didn’t mind.  It was a success.  I was healthy.  I was cancer-free and that’s what mattered most.

Fast forward a few years.  I married my soulmate and love of my life, who stood by my side then and continues to do so.  Not long after, we were blessed with an amazing angel of a child.  Life had returned to normal now.  Each passing year, the cancer treatment has become more of a distant memory, but an unforgettable memory.  A memory, in which the experience shaped who I am today, but I don’t let it define me.

Josh, Wyatt and Me

Second Round

My journey was not yet complete.  That would’ve been too easy, right?  The chemotherapy caused significant deterioration of my kidneys that was further exasperated by the pregnancy.  In terms of kidney function, I was classified as having chronic kidney failure.  My doctor had no choice but to start dialysis.

Given my family life, my active lifestyle, and my growing career, I chose Peritoneal Dialysis, PD for short.  I followed a routine schedule of manual exchanges every 8 hours.  This freed me to continue with my life somewhat normally, but it weighed me down, both literally and figuratively.

Every day, I hauled my supplies around with me – PD liquid for the exchanges, caps, gauze, cleaning supplies, etc.  Doctor’s appointments were adding up and took a lot of time away from work, and I had to work longer hours to make up for the lost time.  These changes, though very minor considering what I had previously gone through, were stacking up and the burden was growing.

I began visualizing the rest of my life.  Was this how I was going to live for the rest of my life?  Cancer was at least temporary.  Was this ongoing cycle of PD exchanges going to become who I am now and forever?  I’m still so young – too young to be contemplating the rest of my life and settling for it.   These years are supposed to be the most amazing years of my life.  Will they be forever clouded by my health?

No!  I fought cancer.  I can do anything; “I’m superwoman!” says my positive attitude.  My brain came around later.  I held the power to change and better myself.  I held the power, and now the drive, to be healthier and improve my situation.

Around that same time, a friend introduced me to the Whole30 Challenge, which is a 30-day-cleanse and follows the Paleo concept.  It essentially purges your body of all the toxins that cause serious health problems.  Similar to an iceberg, only a small portion of these serious problems are noticeable at the surface.  A majority of them go unnoticed, hidden well within your body – wreaking havoc on your digestive system, immune system, hormones, and even your brain.

With the help of my loving husband, who once again stood by my side, I completed the 30 days of the challenge and felt great.  I felt like a whole new person.  I had energy to work a full day, exercise 3-4 days per week, and still keep up with my 2-year-old son, Wyatt.  A huge shout-out to my husband, who did the challenge with me and made it a lot easier.  It helps when you don’t have to make such a change by yourself.

After about 6 months of following the Whole30 concept, which slowly morphed into my current Paleo lifestyle, my doctor said I no longer needed dialysis and took me off of it.  Wait, what?  I found myself, again, in a state of shock.  A good shock this time.  No crying involved.  I had an inkling – maybe, this would work.  I was trying to be positive and optimistic about it.

It Did Actually Work

I surprised my doctors, I surprised my family, and you could say I even surprised myself with the positive effects of my Paleo lifestyle.

Two years later, I’m still running around with my son, have a ton of energy, quite a few pounds lighter, and in better shape than I was in high school.  I am the prime example of the profound health benefits of following a Paleo lifestyle.  I’m still on the kidney transplant list; however, not in dire need due to my stable condition.

Celebrating my Birthday

The decision to follow a Paleo lifestyle is, hands down, the best decision I’ve made.

I will easily trade grains, gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes and alcohol in exchange for more years of my life spent with my family and watching my son grow.  I treasure these special moments in life…moments that are only visible if I recognize them, pay attention to them, and allow those moments to fill my life and add sustenance to my soul.

My experiences have molded me into the person I am today, but if you saw me, you would’ve never known.  I don’t let my circumstances define me.  I don’t let my health setbacks bring me down.  I’m not a bitter person.  For those who know me, I’m always smiling, laughing and persistently positive.

I can only move forward from here.

That is my story – a work in progress.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello Tanya,
    I am in stage 3 kidney failures no/beans ,1/2 of this 1/2 of that, so scared and confused. is this diet safe for me ?
    Blessings for you and your family
    Joan Marie

    1. Tanya says:

      Thank you so much Joan for your comment and blessings. I’m so sorry to hear about your stage 3 Kidney Failure. If you are willing to follow this Paleo lifestyle, it will certainly help and drastically reduce the kidney pain. The main concept of this Paleo diet is to eat healthy, natural foods. These foods create much less waste and toxins in our bodies, which means that our kidneys don’t have to work as hard trying to clean our bodies out after each meal. It’s a big change, but definitely worth it. Let me know what you decide.

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