Ok, I’ve had about enough of everyone complaining about 2016 being so terrible.
Sure, there were several dozen things that didn’t go quite as planned, didn’t go the way I wanted them to, or quite frankly…they just went plain terribly. We had a crazy election, we lost several notable and well-loved celebrities. We had an amazing Olympics that was also riddled with scandal (ahem, especially on the SWIM TEAM). We had a drought here in Georgia. There were shootings. There were riots. There was a Brexit. Yep, there is absolutely no denying that there were some pretty bad parts of 2016.
But I’m not about to let THOSE things cloud the amazing, beautiful, sunshiney year that I had. I’m not letting those define MY year. Life goes on amidst the struggle, and we can choose to let it define us, or we can choose how we react to it. I’m choosing acceptance and forward thinking.
I’ve been waiting for a few weeks to write this post and I can’t think of a better day to do so. I love seeing everyone’s reflections on social media because it seems just about everyone is looking fondly on 2016 despite the adversity they may have achieved. Why? Because we learn and rise from adversity. We can’t have the light, fun, sparkly times and truly appreciate them without darkness. If everything was light, fun, and sparkly all the time, we wouldn’t appreciate it and it would begin to appear dull to us.
So back in the earlier part of the year, I left my job and took a great leap to start a business. It has had its ups and downs, but overall it has been an amazing experience. I’ve put it on hold several times due to several personal hurdles, which isn’t the most helpful thing when you’re starting a business and trying to grow…and when your business is dependent on having clients. But I will learn from it, rise, and move forward, stronger than I was before.
Once I finally gained some good momentum in my business, I hit hurdle #1…a hurdle that I knew was coming but still felt extremely untimely and shocking to me. It was time for surgery. I battled it out with my insurance company for a few months so I could get several necessary tests and procedures prior to the surgery. There were times I thought I really might totally lose my mind because of that. But I learned from it, rose, and moved forward, stronger than I was before. And eventually they came around, thanks to several Twitter shout outs and dissertations I wrote them.
I had surgery on May 19 to evict Benedict. Surgery wasn’t super smooth (because why would I ever do anything in a straightforward way?) and lasted 10 hours. Each hour of surgery earned me that many days in the hospital, so I became a local at Northside Hospital.It wasn’t the most fun 10 days of my life, but I definitely learned so much about my spirit, a spirit that I’d worked SO hard for a few years to reinvigorate and reshape. I had a fairly breezy rehabilitation process (all things considered) because I had several past experiences to fall back upon. I wanted to right my ship in recovering from this hardship–because in the past with other “recovery” experiences, things hadn’t quite gone the way I wanted them to. I had learned from my previous experiences, I rose from them, and I moved forward stronger than I was before.
Benedict was super stubborn and a little piece of him stayed behind –you know, for old times’ sake–which earned me an all-expenses paid trip to radiation therapy. Because I hadn’t had enough fun battling it out with my insurance company, I earned 3 more months of that after surgery in trying to get specialized proton radiation approved in Boston. In the meantime, just for fun, I also earned 4 more months of chemo. Unfortunately, the radiation prescription and plan in Boston didn’t go my way. In fact it didn’t go at all. And I didn’t let it define me. I saw it as a sign from the Universe that I was supposed to get my treatment here–the old fashioned way–and that was that. I learned from it, rose, and moved forward, stronger and better than I was before.
Well that didn’t go my way either. The day that I went in for pre-radiation scans in August, I learned that I had broken one of the titanium artificial ribs they had implanted in my chest in my May surgery had broken. Yes, I broke titanium. Yes, that’s nearly impossible. Yes, I did it anyway. Yes, I’m Wonder Woman. So I earned an all expenses paid trip to surgery #2. They removed all of the broken and unbroken artificial ribs and sent me on my way. This could have been a major setback, and I definitely felt like it was for the 4 days I knew something was broken and didn’t tell anyone. But eventually I realized the only way out was to get the ribs out, and I learned from it, rose, and moved forward stronger and better than I was before.
Why? Because back in February–before I knew I was supposed to have surgery, I had committed to participating in Swim Across America-Atlanta this year, a charity swim organization that raises money for cancer research. I had put off doing SAA for years and finally I had what I considered an undeniable reason to join the team. I volunteered on the planning committee, served as an advisor to the SAA Junior Board, and committed to training by getting back into the pool consistently for the first time in nearly a decade. And I had totally done it. I had big surgery #1 and dangled the SAA carrot in front of my face as a reason to keep fighting, keep rising, and keep improving every single day. I was back in the pool–sinking and flailing no less–in just 32 days post op. I got in as soon as they told me I could. Within 4 weeks I was feeling pretty normal. And then my artificial rib broke–7 weeks after the first surgery. I knew I didn’t like those ribs–and I felt like normal once they were removed. Well, normal except for the gaping hole in my chest, but I digress. I was back in the water 2 weeks after that surgery (in fact my first swim was my first open water swim of the year) and participated in the 1 mile open water swim at Swim Across America just 3 weeks after that. I did it by the skin of my teeth, and I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. My physicians were uninformed that I was doing it, and all tell me after the fact that they wouldn’t have approved of me swimming that soon after surgery. Sometimes you just have to ask forgiveness, and this was one of those times. Plus they’re all loving being able to play a role in the great “hero’s journey” story that I tell them now.
Finally, a week after SAA, it was time to start radiation. The timing couldn’t have been better. Except I had gotten my business up and running again, and I learned that I was going to have to cut back my hours because traveling to and from radiation every single day for 7 weeks was a bit time consuming. Another hurdle. The 4 millionth hurdle of the year it seemed.
And then there was more. I showed up for radiation treatment #1, and something wasn’t working right. They told me I wasn’t following directions correctly and it was my fault that the treatment wasn’t working. Insert shame feelings of the century. I had waited for this day for months, it was a treatment I really didn’t want to have to do in the first place, and I was finally there, totally pumped and ready to finish this FINAL leg of the #takethatbenedict relay. And they were telling me I hadn’t done enough, I wasn’t good enough.
There was a lot of crying then. It took another week and a half to get the matter resolved and–guess what–it wasn’t my fault at all. In fact, to make a long story short–I had done SUCH a good job of improving after my 2nd surgery that the machine didn’t recognize my body and therefore wasn’t working right. So yes, it was my fault, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough.
We eventually got started, and radiation was really just a blip on my radar in the grand scheme of things. I had very few side effects, had 28 treatments, and I almost looked forward to the 2 hours each day were my energy was completely devoted to taking care of myself and frying Benedict. There was something oddly serene and meditative about laying on the cold table, naked, while the loud machine (which I named George) spun around me while I held my breath and tried to keep my eyes from popping out of my head.
On my 28th and final treatment, which incidentally happened on Election Day, I was presented with a completion diploma, given a hug, and sent on my merry way.
Wait, that was it?
Why yes, yes it was. WOW! What freedom! What liberation!
3 weeks later, I was given the bill of clean health, clean scans and BONUS–a clear subclavian vein. My blood clot (which oh by the way, is something else I encountered after surgery #1) had finally resolved after over 6 months of putting up with the FUN of being on a blood thinner. Let’s just say that if you are female on a blood thinner, your life is utterly miserable approximately once a month. And you can’t have certain foods or alcohol. But I learned from it, rose, and moved forward stronger and better than I was before.
So on December 8 (Happy Birthday Ashley Steele!) I was given the total clear. On December 10 I had my first glass of wine in 1.75 years. On December 12 my surgeon told me he never wanted to see me again. On December 20 my radiation oncologist told me he was thrilled with how I was doing. Merry Christmas to me!
So yes, this has been a trying year, but maybe it’s the drugs they had me on along the way, or maybe it’s that strange amnesia that sinks in after a traumatic and tiring life event (or set of events)–but I honestly only remember it as an incredibly formative and positive time in my life. I learned more about my character over the last 2 years, really found who I was, and have learned from it all, risen, and moved forward, stronger and better than I ever was before.
So 2016 was a challenge in so many ways, but it was overall an INCREDIBLE year. The positives outweigh the negatives on so many levels, I can only remember the negatives enough to write about them in a blog. It’s going to be hard for 2017 to top 2016 I think, but I’m willing to take the challenge!
I’m moving into the “every 3 month scans/checkups” maintenance mode for Benedict for anyone who wonders “what’s next” and I’ll post some updates periodically, but for now I’m going to sign off on the #takethatbenedict blogging and storytelling. It’s time to just go be Julie who lives a beautiful life and leaves Benedict and all talk of him in the dust. Say it with me folks, ADIOS BENEDICT!
Happy holidays and happy and healthy new year to everyone out there!