Onward and Upward

At each phase of this journey, I have had to remind myself to look back at where I’ve been so I can better focus on where I’m headed. Glanda has been known to say “onward and upward,” and that makes a polite nod to the fact that you’re coming from somewhere and you have greater places to go.

As I left work down the long treatment hallway on Tuesday night, I stopped and peered into the vault where I was treated just a year and a half ago. On a normal day, I don’t dare stop, but instead walk as fast as I can down that hallway to ignore the usual treatment noises and bustling that happens around that area. But tonight, the Varian Truebeam STx sat there quietly “sleeping” and looked so peaceful that it struck me some kind of way and I had to stop and stare.

What? Am I crazy for personifying the radiation treatment machine that made my skin look like the walking dead? Probably, but the longer I move away from the hardest days of my life into days where the fruits are starting to grow from the seeds of faith that were planted then, the more I begin to have a strange fondness for the things that healed me and helped me along. And the machine is just one of those things.

I’ve honestly gone through a period of time lately where I didn’t know if I still had purpose in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. I wasn’t clear on whether it was time for me to move on or not, and I definitely wasn’t clear on if it was time, then what would that even look like? Have I been here long enough that my story doesn’t resonate with anyone anymore? Is my story too specific that it doesn’t reach enough of our patient population to matter? Am I done here trying to make an impact on our sweet patients that have come behind me and face the same kind of hard days of knowing yet another treatment was coming?

The short answer to that is no, and it’s moments like Tuesday night that remind me of that. This place is without a doubt the place that broke me and put me back together, but now that those things are long gone, it’s what I GET to do.

Last weekend, I got to go to my 2nd annual ROAR gala (as a volunteer) where hundreds of people gathered in formal attire to raise money for cancer research in the Department of Radiation Oncology through a silent auction as well as a live auction. Last year, I was 3 months out from treatment, quite emotional watching the whole thing go down as a survivor (don’t worry, I wasn’t crying in public) and my arms had just recently started losing sensation. This year, I walked in proudly and excited (also awkwardly by myself since K.T. was out of town) to see all that would be done financially in honor of those that will need radiation treatment in the future. The numbers aren’t in yet, but a Maserati was auctioned off…it’s A LOT.

Last year on the left and this year on the right

In a few short weeks, I will be transitioning out of Regulatory Compliance for clinical trials into a role much more suited to my skills. A chance to create publications for our department, a chance to plan departmental events, and a chance to improve the educational documents that our patients receive before, during, and after treatment among other things.

In the same few weeks, a podcast I recorded with Rad-Cast in February will air where I get to talk about my experience as a patient, how my job/coworkers influenced that, and how faith guided me along the way.

And in another few weeks, I get to sit on a panel with other head and neck survivors and speak to an audience of other head and neck survivors about facing fear and overcoming the struggles that come with cancer.

And ALL of these things are things that fell in my lap because of what I’ve been through. People still look at me like I’m insane when I say that “cancer has been my biggest blessing,” as they probably should, but, y’all look at God! I surely didn’t do any of this on my own and without cancer, none of these things (including moments to stare at that terrifying STx machine) would have been part of my life. Do I want to do it again? HECK. NO. But most of the time, I’m kind of glad I did. (That still makes me a little nauseous to say.)

So with my bit of reflection from the other night, I thought now would be a good time to share a little visual journey of where I’ve been so I (we) can continue to focus on where we’re going!

Onward and upward!

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