Cancer: before and after

This entry was written by Jackie Roth, PhD. Jackie is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who was diagnosed with Stage III A breast cancer at the age of 28. Every other Friday, throughout the entire year of 2011, Jackie will share a blog entry about her breast cancer experience. This year-long blog series is in honor of LBBC’s 20th anniversary.

To read Jackie’s previous entries, enter “ Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

Lately, more so than ever, I’ve been looking back at past pictures of myself, usually  to select one to post here with my blog.  But what I’ve realized recently is that I don’t recognize the old, pre-cancer me.  I am not just talking about the physical stuff, like long hair and a nice tan.  There is a certain happiness and carefree-ness that just seems to radiate from me in those pictures.  Pictures of the post-cancer-me are not nearly as happy; they are more sorrowful.   

“I miss the care-free days when I did not have to worry about cancer and recurrence.”

When I am smiling now, it’s because, well, you have to smile in pictures, right? I’m not smiling because I am truly happy. Before cancer, I could go out in the sunlight and get a nice tan in the summer. After cancer I find myself hiding indoors so that I don’t reactivate my recent radiation.  Before cancer, I enjoyed walking outside. After cancer, I can’t go more than one block before my hands swell up like balloons due to water retention from my tamoxifen.  After cancer and because of water retention, wearing my wedding rings is nearly impossible.  After cancer, I’m at risk for high blood pressure, I have headaches, and I’ve been introduced to my new friend – an ever-growing waist line that requires me to purchase a new, larger pair of pants every two weeks or so.  I can’t sleep through the night anymore due to my intense hot flashes – after cancer.  My new upper body does not fit into my clothes and it is just outright difficult to dress – after cancer. 

Nowadays, about one hour after I wake up in the morning, I realize that I am alive and I get to live another day.  In that moment, I stop and pause to think about how thankful I am that my feet are touching the ground.  I certainly never did this before cancer.  The pre-cancer-me was always a planner and and she never really lived in the moment.  I was spending my time trying to figure out what is going to happen next.  Well, that got me nowhere because your future can change within a single minute.  That minute when you hear the words “you have cancer” your future plans fall apart.  Before cancer, I used to see a house, kids…the usual for a newlywed in her twenties.  Now my future picture is so blurry. I am not sure what I see. 

I often think about what I would tell the old, pre-cancer-me. Oh, how I wish I could jump into the picture and talk to her. I would even be fine simply writing her a letter…

Note to Jackie: 

  • Check yourself for cancer – no, it’s not way too early in life for that
  • Do not to take anything or anyone for granted
  • Be thankful and enjoy life – but don’t be naïve to the fact that it can all change in an instant

Pre-cancer, I did not have a care in the world.  I think most people in their twenties live their life this way.  I know I did.  The old saying: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone has never been made more clear to me.  I really don’t think that healthy people realize just how lucky they are.  I know I didn’t. 

How did your breast cancer diagnosis reinvent your tendency to live the care-free life that you might have lived before cancer? Comment here or on our Facebook page.

To read Jackie’s previous entries, enter “ Jackie Roth” in the search box on this site.

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9 Responses to “Cancer: before and after”

  1. Joede Says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m more care-free after cancer but I’m definitely embracing life on my terms. I quit a miserable job and went back to school. My dream school: Harvard. I’ve become closer to Christ and it’s refreshing to just do it and not explain myself. I felt an explanation was always necessary. It’s not. I don’t give much credence to silly, petty things and I just live as I like. My cancer did come back so the choice of living as I choose and not for other people is definitely no longer an option.

  2. Cathy Says:

    You express so beautifully what many of us are going through and have trouble explaining to those who haven’t walked this road. Thank You!

  3. Moira Says:

    Nicely said, Jackie.

  4. Salwa Says:

    You are so truthful and expressive. Personally I am happy and thankful to have my student back, and beating me at Scrabble.

  5. Jenny J Says:

    Oh Jackie, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how upside down things have become. You are right about the being alive part. Maybe focus on that when things are bad…but I’m sure you already do that. I know it’s not fair. Sometimes I still cannot believe this has happened to you. I hope that it will get easier for you and the Jackie that I knew before cancer has not been completely lost. I’m sure she is still in there somewhere. Be happy for the things that you do have – a loving husband and family, and friends who care about you.

    I know what you mean about the pictures. I have a picture of my best friends mom, who was like my second mother and in some ways a better mother. She died in March after a very long battle with breast cancer. I see the picture and I want to tell her to go to the doctor. I wish that I could some how save her.

    You’ll get through this Jack.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Awesome entry Jack

  7. Tonya Hackney Says:

    Hey Jackie!I can DEFINITELY relate.I’ve been reading your blogs-first of all I’m glad your treatment is over!I find myself doing the exact same thing-looking at pictures of myself BEFORE breast cancer.My experience is the same,I was ALWAYS laughing without a care in the world.The year(11/09)I was diagnosed my nephew geaduated eigth grade,my baby sister received her second Master’s degree-and I ALWAYS say to thost pictures,that you had breast cancer inside you-and you didn’t even know.You are absolutely right-the pictures I take now seem to reflect a weariness of spirit,a journey traveled that was so unexpected!But,like you when I wake up every morning,and thank God for it-it takes on a NEW meaning!I’m on a level of intimacy with God that his “holding me”in his loving arms through the “brutality”of Chemo to my body,and spirit gave me.So yes my smile is different,but all I’ve been through makes me realize how precious the laughter I share with my daughter,sister,and friends are.Maya Angelou said,”I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”Neither would I!Stay well…Be strong!

  8. Kristen Says:

    Another strong entry from a strong woman. Love ya babe!

  9. R L Roth, MD Says:

    JQ- I feel that there are so many things I should tell you and want to, but one thing that I have learned is nothing and I mean nothing is promised to anyone, to be greatful for what we have and what we have had and to be thankful for opportunities and individuals that have and will come our way….and always remember that through the fire comes the steel. Love, DAD

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