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How I got through more than two years of chemo

By Katie Jeffries I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two-and-a-half years ago, and at the start of my cancer experience, I had the mindset that I could sit and cry all day — and there were moments when I did — but I soon realized, “why waste my energy on that?” I had weekly chemo, with spinal chemo every four months. I had my last chemo treatment on June 24. On some days, I had to take the day a minute at a time; on others, I was able to look ahead by an hour.

“Get up, Mommy!”

I have two daughters (now aged six and eight) who would tell me to “get up, Mommy!” every morning. We read a book called Cancer Hates Kisses. The concept is to list everything cancer hates before each treatment. With my girls, I would actually do the actions, and it became a bit of a ritual for over two years: Cancer hates hugs, cancer hates kisses, cancer hates high fives, cancer hates fist bumps, cancer hates dance parties (this one was always last).

Team Sparkle

We came up with a team name for the group of people who were/are involved in my care: Team Sparkle. This stems from me saying my daughters sparkle differently than other children, why not add my care team or anyone else who I encountered during my care? My social workers, home care nurses, porters, and CT techs who I saw a lot all joined the team. I found this attitude would change their day and that brought me joy, and that helped change my attitude even slightly.

“Cancer hates…”

On the really bad days I would complain to one of my parents who drove me to every chemo appointment since my husband works further from home, whining and listing all of the bad things before doing a mini “cancer hates” with them and trying to change my mind set before getting out of the car. This let me be that kid again and helped me get out of that parenting mindset.

Katie’s angry mix

I also made a playlist on my iPod called “Katie’s angry mix” and listened to it really loudly while I had treatment (I would tell the nurses I was having a bad/angry/sad etc. day so they wouldn’t bug me too much). I still listened to it on the not bad days, and found that the playlist ended up having a lot of my favourite songs and I would skip the angry or sad ones on the list. I found/adopted the song “Broken But Beautiful” by Kelly Clarkson (from the Ugly Dolls movie), and would listen to that on repeat and cry (sometimes) or sing it to myself angrily.

Getting creative

Finally, I have a Cricut, so I made t-shirts to wear to chemo with some amazing sayings. I adopted my cancer’s ribbon colour as my own (orange) and discovered that I look amazing in it. I just did everything I could to be, to put it bluntly, selfish. My chemo days were my “non-parenting” days. My chemo days were my “sleeping with no alarm days after chemo” days. My chemo days were my no responsibility days. Since then, honestly, I’m not getting any or many of those selfish days. I have a few other strategies but those are the main ones that stick out. I hope that helps and feel free to connect with me if you need a “cancer hates” buddy; I have a team of them behind me with a lot of experience who would probably love to help.

FOLLOW UP: I was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis in both my hips and will require hip surgery. My case is so serious that my surgeon was able to find me a cancellation and I am having my first hip surgery on my right hip on November 22, 2022. I am now having to go through and find coping strategies all over again while dealing with the PTSD of the things I experienced during my chemo treatment.

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