Tuesday, August 12, 2014

3 years (almost) post- cancer (the second time)

 
3 years ago, I couldn't talk above a whisper. My neck was burned and my throat was scalded from the radiation that was killing the cancer growing on my vocal cords. All I could eat was soup and I drank liquid Loratab like it was nothing more than cough syrup. I was scared, terrified even, that my life would never return to normal.  Just thinking back to that time makes my chest tighten and my pulse race.
 
I always regret not putting my thoughts and feelings in print. It is so hard to remember everything the way it really was. I wish I'd felt like writing more then, even if it was only to record my fear, hopelessness, and despair. It would have made today's post even sweeter.
 
It has been a long time since I've written anything about having cancer. The end of this month will mark my 3 year anniversary of completing radiation. 3 years. I only had 2 years between my 1st and 2nd bouts with cancer, so 3 years sounds really good to me.
 
So, how are things now? After 2 battles with cancer,  10 (give or take 1 or 2) surgeries on my vocal cords, a neck dissection, 28 rounds of radiation to my throat, steroid shots in my larynx, and collagen injections (I think) into my "bad" cord...
 
To the best of my knowledge, I am still cancer free. The anxiety associated with the possibility of recurrence has all but subsided. I no longer take any anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications. (I am so thankful that they were available when I needed them and am equally thankful that I am now able to move on without them.)
 
I can talk. My voice is a bit "raspy", and I do get hoarse easily. The slightest sinus drainage will cause me to sound really sick. I do still have a random stranger ask if I have a cold occasionally, but almost never have anyone say "Oh! Bless your heart! Your voice sounds terrible!" and waitresses no longer consistently offer me tea with lemon and honey to soothe my "sore throat" after I order.  I can teach, I can work, I can order in restaurants or at a drive thru. Carrying on a long conversation in a noisy room is challenging, but I have learned to let the person I am speaking to compensate by paying closer attention rather than trying to raise my voice. I cannot scream or yell. If I try, my voice refuses to work. So, I suppose I seem more pleasant than I did prior to all of this.
 
I am singing in the choir at church and am now in the praise team rotation. I sang a solo at Easter. I do not have the range I once had, and my singing voice has a raspy quality to it, but my pitch is good. I get winded because it takes a lot of air and control to stay on pitch, but the sound that comes out of my mouth IS the sound I expect to come out. I am able to control my voice and work with it. I do lots of vocal exercises in an effort to continuously expand my range. I stretch my neck and chest muscles / tendons and work to keep the scar tissue in my neck under control. I am SO thankful for all my years in choral music prior to this because I learned so many things that are necessary now- like vocal exercises and stretching and breath control. I use many of the techniques I learned in voice therapy prior to singing, like gargling to break through the raspiness and get a clearer tone.
 
I have some pain and stiffness in my neck due to scar tissue, but it is tolerable as long as I stretch. I have to be careful swallowing or I will get strangled. If I get a cold, it turns to a cough and productive coughing is difficult at best. Even so, it is nothing that a little time and mucinex can't help. I don't "suffer" with dry mouth, but my throat is dry and my mouth is drier than I'd like. I've had 5 root canals and crowns in the past year.  That's fun stuff. That's it though. All in all, its not much to deal with.
 
I love to tell my story from this side. God used some absolutely amazing people to heal me and I am TRULY thankful to be healed. It still amazes me that HE would take time to put everything together to allow me to meet the people I met, make the friends I made, and walk away from all of this with a few scars and a slightly raspy voice.
 
I am thankful for where I am now, but, no matter how unbearably happy it makes me to be able to sing with the radio as I drive home from work each afternoon or to read to my sweet little Izzy or to tell my family I love them or to be able to sing with the choir on Sundays, I will always say - because I truly believe- that the most beautiful part of my story is not found in the healing I celebrate today.
 
The most beautiful part of my story was recorded here 5 years ago, when the Creator of the heavens and the earth took time to carry me through the darkest valley of my life.
 
It was in the darkness of the valley that I learned that God is trustworthy, He is good, He is loving...even when I am terrified and  things are impossibly hard and life refuses to make sense. He taught me to take His hand and follow His lead and focus on HIM rather than my circumstances. I am thankful to be healed and whole, but I am immeasurably more thankful for the valley, for it was there that The Lord Of All Creation took time to remind me that He never sleeps, that He hears my cries, and that I am completely and totally His....no matter what this life brings.
 
 
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