If you shake me hard enough, I will appear, yet it feels as though I have been in an unceasing dream, or shall I say nightmare since July 1st, 2013. It has taken me a couple of days to regain surreal consciousness as I was sluggishly coming out of the dark tunnel that has been my existence for the last nine months. In fact, I became used to the dark tunnel, my eyes adjusted to the dimness and although I imagined the light at the end, I grew to accept my new reality as a Stage IV cancer patient. Somehow, I knew by some means I’d eventually see the glistening light but in the mean time I vigorously challenged my mind, body and spirit for the fight of my life.
My new identity and only distinctiveness became that of a Stage IV cancer patient. Prior to being diagnosed, I held a good deal of individual characteristics that made up my identity in my profile as a human being. Twenty-seven years had crafted me into an abundance of roles to which I found myself identifying with; a lover of all mediums of art, a frequent concert goer, a best friend to Crystal, wife of Steve, daughter of Karen and Tom, loyal employee of American Express, a shoe collector, a clothing coinsure, frequent traveler and student of the world. However, as of July 1st, 2013, my identity splintered and all of the things that once made me who I was, became superseded as I hastily shed my foregoing self to become a cancer patient, which immeasurably became my whole universe.
The last month had become soberly temperament in the realm of ways I was deteriorating both physically and mentally. For weeks I was vomiting between fifteen to twenty times per day and in some cases even greater than twenty. I was unable to keep anything down, even water. Much like many other times within the last nine months, I was forced to shelter myself like a recluse, as my symptoms disallowed me to be a part of the rest of the world for fear I would be sick, pass out and assassinate any remaining cool factor that I was clinging onto for my ego’s sake. Nevertheless it became very apparent that my inflated coolness was overstepped by my Exorcist’s style of retching. I passed the indications along to my Oncologist and she had many calculations as to what she believed it could be, even at one point believing that my symptoms were synonymous with the possibility of a brain tumor. Needless to say, I endlessly underwent every assessment and scan known to man in this so called game of “practicing medicine”. Fortunately, but frustratingly everything was coming back negative and to no avail we discouragingly found ourselves at a stand still. I cursed and I cried. I spent several nights in the Emergency Room and still no sign of the culprit or any form of developments in the hunt of what was remotely off beam as they were all returning to us unfounded. Conclusively, after kicking and screaming, my Oncologist decided it would be best to admit me to the hospital, and just like that I once again became an occupant of the Oncology Ward. The plan of action was to monitor me in the ongoing effort to uncover my unusual and erratic symptoms, which was liable for draining my body of any remaining strength by the minute.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, I did not vomit once during the recurring visit to the hospital. Ultimately, the Doctor’s were unable to categorically figure out the vile symptoms I had been having over the last month and determined that the only conceivable cause was myself. Yes, that is correct, the medical professionals reasoned that due to all of the negative testing and scans; the unremitting vomit activity was due to my very own irrational brain, or psychological anxiety, as they prefer to define it. My brain was the dam and the levee ruptured leaving me with an overflow of anxiety and self-made symptoms that could not be contained.
Now with the understanding that the monsters in my head were making me sick, I was about to be discharged from what had become my natural habitat, but not before my lovely Oncologist entered the room. Making herself comfortable at the foot of the hospital bed, as I lay sitting up waiting for her to address any further information pertaining to my current circumstances, she reached for my hand, squeezing it in a fashion as though she was about to share something of great magnitude. I took a deep breath preparing myself for her words and she then began to speak in her soft, gentle tone, “Britt, your last PET scan came back remarkable and while there is still a small tumor, there is no evidence of disease”. Confused, yet delighted, I once again found myself emerging straight into business mode. I had so many questions and my brain was scrambling to connect all of my overwhelming thoughts. Was I cancer free? Did I beat Stage IV cancer? Is this hellish nightmare over? Did I redeem the clean bill of health I had so hoped for? I was quickly shut down on all of the above questions. My Oncologist went on to say that I am in the early stages of remission, the tumor still exists, and if it weren’t for my debilitating neuropathy I’d still be on chemo going forward. She proceeded to keep it real with me and explained that the tumor still resides in my body and that there is a high probability that the cancer could return at anytime, being that my diagnosis was Stage IV. Yet, for now it is dormant and by a small margin, I am well enough to proceed with my young life at the moment without any evidence of disease living inside of me. It wasn’t the exact way I had envisioned myself receiving such news, however to know that the chemotherapy treatments proved to be a success and I was now able to carry on with a quality of life, came to be first class news and the greatest news I had heard in almost a year.
It’s been nearly five days since I have been gifted this news and to be perfectly honest I have not been able to make sense of it all in my head. But, more significantly I am hesitant as to how I should refer to myself– Am I still a cancer patient, or now a cancer survivor, or perhaps neither? Yet, I am more than willing to accept the news and feel vigorous that I survived this war that has been waged upon my body and robbed me of good health for the last 290 days, 41 weeks, 417,600 minutes, 6,960 hours and 9 months + 16 days.
After we had finally arrived home, Steve hugged and inhaled me while whispering, “I finally have my wife back”. Tears streaming from his eyes, I kissed the salt that was streaming down his cheek. Somehow, I felt as though I was the only one who wasn’t bursting at the seams with ultimate ecstasy. Cancer had managed to take possession of my life and suddenly I didn’t know how to go back to my life after the cancer surrendered. Following a steaming hot shower to wash away my bewilderment, I stood in the doorway of our bedroom that met the living room where Steve was gleefully revealing the remarkable news with all of our family and friends. In my disoriented state of mind, Steve detected that the best news we had received since my diagnosis was not sinking in for me and he wanted me to completely take in the concept that I was now a healthy twenty-eight year old woman. Resembling that of a movie, Steve enticed me to chant and scream and repeat at the top of my lungs, “I’M HEALTHY, I’M HEALTHY, I’M HEALHY…I, Britt Ochoa am H-E-A-L-T-H-Y”. It was an unfamiliar declaration, as even so much as decent health had been a stranger for so long. Somehow, I was the only one needing convincing of this news and felt guilt-ridden that I was not reacting in a more gratified and wound up manner. Sure, I knew I should be jumping for joy, showcasing tears of happiness and taking the news in a gifted way, but I was unable to parade my sudden liberation; perhaps out of shock or perhaps because I felt unconvinced.
The first few days of my new “branded identity” as someone in remission did not go as expected. Unable to get myself out of bed, I found myself wanting to be completely alone and still felt as though I was in the never ending dark tunnel that I somehow became comfortable in. The thing is, as I would lay in bed over the last nine months, it became a frequent daydream as to when the day remission would be mentioned and how I would feel in that very instant. I pictured myself to feel well, feel 100% and back to the Britt that once was. But, in turn, I felt the opposite, still reeling from the brutal pains of neuropathy, as well as the poisonous chemo that remains in my body, a “welcome home” to your old self, was not arising. Were all of the nightmares over my health supposed to escape my head by the mere mention of remission? Was I supposed to peel away the mental scars and put them in a mason jar for safekeeping? Pessimistically, my head seemed to be splitting at the seams and I found myself having an identity crisis; who was I, if not Britt, the Stage IV cancer patient?
So, as I sit here now, I can honestly tell you that I am still very jumbled over how I am presumed to emote over such rewarding news. However, alongside the confusion, I am eternally grateful that I was able to go on this journey, for I truly believe that I am a better person for it, whomever that person may now be. I now understand the meaning of “life is too short”, I comprehend that life can change in an instant and that no matter the situation; you must go at it in its full entirety. I am humbled by this experience and realize that people are truly mind-blowing, ranging from close friends and family, to complete and utter strangers. When I didn’t have the strength to pray for myself or inflate myself to keep fighting, so many soldiers in my corner took it upon themselves to keep me in their pleas to God and blessed me with good vibrations. The love and encouragement will forever be in my heart and mean more to me than anyone will ever understand.
As for my next steps, I am going to focus on healing and manifesting the idea that nothing is permanent, much like my identity as a Stage IV cancer patient. I’m not sure who I am now since finding myself post cancer, or how I will come to define myself, but what I am damn sure of is that I am a relentless fighter and if cancer shows its dreadful face again, I will be well equipped to handle it and terminate its existence.
Thank you, to everyone for being an unwavering support system through this turbulent trek. I am going to get busy living and embrace the new Britt, while rekindling some of my former identities. I now revere my life similar to that of a semi colon; a sentence that was supposed to end but didn’t. My sentence in life came close to an end and I was given the opportunity for it to continue. Therefore, I will be upmost grateful for this gift called life and continue on with my life’ s story.
Until next time,
Love- Britt x