There are some things that are so hard for people to understand—especially when it comes to survivorship.

Letting go of the past—who and what you were—is quite possibly one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome post-transplant.

I’m definitely not there yet—at least I don’t feel like I’ve fully accepted I won’t be back to where I was before leukemia.
It’s been two years since I had my allogenic stem cell transplant (meaning I received stem cells from a donor) and I’m not even close to being “normal” due to ongoing physical side effects—like fatigue and GVHD. But I’m also not there emotionally either.Brody & Easter 27

Guys, I want you to remember how it’s so easy to take your health for granted. Every old photo, video, or memory that comes to mind makes me want to shake my head at the girl who was so vibrant, exciting, full of life—and naive. I thought nothing like this would ever happen to me, but then it does and the life you once knew is gone and your life will never be the same.

When I was younger, I never took care of my body, especially, in high school, because I didn’t have to. I was naturally thin (size 0 or 2), could eat what I wanted and was active in sports. Though once I got on birth control and quit playing sports junior year, I gained weight.

I wasn’t fat, though I got called fat, I was maybe a 6 or 7, and I hated the way I looked. I did get some pretty big knockers at the time so that was a plus (at least for Klay).

I hated the way I looked when I was a size 2 or at any size really. I’ve always been pretty unhappy with my looks. I never thought I was naturally pretty. I have a big nose, pale skin, and thick thighs.

And, right now I have 72 chins—stupid turkey neck—from swelling and being on steroids (prednisone). I hate looking in the mirror; it seriously makes me cry. Thankfully, I haven’t had to stare at that person in the mirror that much because I’ve been at home trying to rest and get back some strength.

And yet, back then, I never took the time to work out or eat right. I’m a born and raised Texan; we think butter is an essential part of the food group—that and gravy. #restingrease

Honestly, I never knew how unhealthy I was until I moved to Alaska. People up there were blown away by me drinking cokes (or soda or pop for you northerners) and eating pop tarts, Taco Bell, or any fast food for that matter. I didn’t really begin to care about my body until I started working out daily with Klay at the gym on base. When I started seeing results and changing my diet, I realized how great I started to feel. And I miss that feeling.

potters_marsh_alaskaBut not even a year later, we were back home in Texas and I was knocked up with Brody, so my body was going to change again—and I was going to have to work hard to get it back.

So, in a lot of ways, I feel as though I contributed to my cancer by being so unhealthy. But I never smoked, barely drank, and never did drugs—not even pot, ya’ll. I would seriously smoke some weed today though. I think I’ve earned it, plus it may help me with pain. 

I stayed away from all of the bad shit that’s really harmful to your body (drug wise). Yet still, it is me who gets cancer. No one knows how or why I got leukemia. Could just be unlucky genes or just unlucky in life. I think it may be a combination of both.

Looking back at the old “Cass,” I can’t help but feel an ache in my chest. Photos of Klay and I eat 15 and 16 or living in Alaska make me sad for them; those two high school sweethearts had no way of knowing the life they were going to be dealt in the years to come.highschoolsweethearts

They were clueless. We were clueless.

By now I’ve learned if some crazy shit is going to happen to someone, it will be me. I don’t know why but it does. From root canals gone bad and locking my 4-month-old child in Klay’s truck at Walmart to totaling my car on the way to an oncology appointment and finding out I have cancer while 29 weeks pregnant, to breaking my tailbone the day of my sinus surgery, I’d say I pretty much get dealt a shitty hand on the reg. And those events were only in the past five years. Could you imagine what the other 24 years of my life were like?

You’d think after hearing some of those stories, I’d be all for a “new” me. But it’s not just losing my health that upsets me, it’s also the emotional/mental/personality changes that hurt,

I don’t know what the future holds if it will get better if it will get worse, or how much mobility I will have. I do know I won’t be the same—ever. Cancer does that to you.

I probably won’t be able to be physical with the boys by taking them on runs, or chasing them, or throwing the ball with them. I always wanted to be the “active mom” that was out there playing with my kids and helping them learn and grow. I don’t think I’ll be able to do those types of things again. I mean, hell, I can’t even put up my own hair, can barely carry a milk jug with both hands, and look like a 90-year-old trying to get up from a sitting position. #realife

I’m not trying to be negative; I’m trying to be realistic. And right now, I can’t see myself jogging outside, going to the gym, or doing more active things outside with my kids. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to run again. And I’d give anything to be able to go for a jog, and I effin’ hate running.Jogging with Brody

But I’m trying to change the way I think. I don’t want to look at the future five to ten years from now—it scares the living shit out of me. I’m afraid of the disappointment it may hold.

So my new goal is to adapt to the way my life is now. I’m looking for activities I can do with the boys that don’t involve so much physical activity.

And, I’m setting small goals, like washing and loading the dishwasher, or putting up the dishes, or organizing certain areas of the house—which I’ve accomplished none because right now showering and getting dressed consumes all of the energy I have for the day.

So, I’m finding small things I can tackle that may be ordinary for some people, but exceptionally difficult for me.

The problem is I’m still holding on to who I was before cancer and comparing it to life now, so I’m not able to look at those small accomplishments as progress (like going to Kindergarten Roundup or showering and putting makeup on). It’s hard for me to see how far I’ve come because I’m so miserable right now. So, I feel like it’s not enough; I should be able to more—a lot more.

And, if not for me, for Klay. He has so much on his shoulders right now.

I get out of breath so easily, it’s hard to do basic daily chores—which makes me depressed because Klay does EVERYTHING. He does the dishes, the laundry, he even made me shower with him so he could wash my hair because I can’t keep my arms up for too long. He bathes the kids, he plays with the kids outside, he takes them to Brody’s practices and tae kwon do classes. He drives me to my doctor appointments. He puts the kids to bed every night. He does everything and he never gets a break. I know he has to be frustrated. I would be. But he doesn’t complain; he takes care of his family. That’s the one thing I did get lucky in—was earning his heart and his love.

nye 2014

On the flip side, he kinda got screwed if you ask me. He had this once beautiful, fun, light-up-the-room-kind- of girl, and now he has a sick, unattractive, useless wife. He’s mommy and daddy right now—and he has been for two years.

But I can’t take care of him and that hurts.

I feel guilty all the time. He deserves so much better than the life I’ve given him. If I could save him from this life, I would. He deserves the world and I’m holding him back.

I stare at old pictures of us and wonder if he would change it all if he knew it would be like this? Would he choose me to be his partner in life again? Knowing him, he would.

Letting go of the old Cass is hard for me because if you know me, you know that I’m a person of stories. I have many to tell, many to share, many to laugh at. In a lot of ways, I’ve always looked over my shoulder into the past. My entire life has been about “when I did this or the time I did that,” I’ve never really had to look at life day-to-day. And if I wasn’t looking behind me, I was worried about my future—if I’d accomplish my dreams or be disappointed to never reach them.

I’ll be honest; I’ve had trouble getting over things that happened in the past with friends, family, and even frenemies. I’ve held on to the pain from the many times I experienced hurt, loss, and heartbreak. I held grudges and can’t move on sometimes, so yes some stuff from the past still bothers me. And as much as I wish I could let all that shit go, I’m still trying.

There are things that stick with us forever. It’s like having gum on your shoe or when you step in dogs shit and you try to rub it off in the grass by not touching it, but there is no way to get all off without getting dirty because it’s settled deep into the teeny, tiny cracks on the sole of your shoe.

When someone you care about hurts you, that pain gets buried deep in our hearts hooking its roots in our very core.

My past has always been a friend and a foe. It’s allowed me to share stories, stay connected with people, reminisce and it’s also made life more difficult by not letting me move forward.

I know I need to just let it go, but I’m not effin’ Elsa in Frozen. I can’t just sing the song and build my own ice castle and shut the world out. I wish it was that easy, plus having some awesome tricks like that would be pretty epic, but it’s not.

For me to get better, it’s time I embrace this new “normal” I’m currently living—even though it sucks balls right now.

I need to stop letting my brain twist and turn things negatively. I can’t worry about what’s going to happen or stress over the burden that I am to my loved ones, My future is and will always be a mystery to me. I’ll never know what it holds, if the cancer is going to come back, or if I’ll ever be close to being pre-cancer Cass again.

I tell my brain to “shut the hell up. I’m trying to live over here…”

I have to stop thinking about who I was or I thought I was before AML (acute myeloid leukemia).

I need to figure out who I am now.

And it starts with letting the rest of me go—mourning my old self—and getting the hell over it. There is nothing I can do or say or think of to change what happened to me. There is no going back in time in a Delorean with Doc; it’s not the way life works.

Maybe I’ll be the caterpillar becoming the butterfly or maybe I’m Nemo—the only fish left after a horrific accident who now has a little fin—a handicap—and I have to learn how to manage it the best I can. OK, so I’m not exactly good with analogies, but you get where I’m going with this, right?

Maybe life is just that—life. Some people have fortune, fame, careers to die for and other endure a lot of pain, loss, abuse or terrible situations that forever change their lives.

My focus should be on the right here, right now. No more comparing this life to the way things should or could be. It’s time to adapt to what is. I need to do better; instead of complaining about how I wish things were different, I need to focus and celebrate the things that are great in this moment.

I’ll always wish things were different. This part of my life really sucks. My body is not what it used to be.

But I’m here.

I have air in my lungs, two handsome boys, a loving husband with friends and family supporting me.

Maybe I should have a bonfire and throw in some old clothes, photos, and mementos that remind me of who I was then. OK, maybe that’s too dramatic.. but I feel like I need to do something that will hold my feet to the fire and makes me keep my promises to myself to live for today, not for tomorrow.

But I want people to understand that I am mourning a loss—that girl before cancer. I hope part of her is still inside of me somewhere and not gone completely.

With that said,  I’m gonna have to reverse the Titanic mantra “I’ll never let go,” and say “bye, Felicia” to the old me. It’s time to embrace this new, more challenging life, even if it blows.

Keeping things 100,

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  1. From a woman to woman and a mom to a mom, cancer does not own you or make you who you are. You are still that beautiful person you were when you met your husband, got married and had kids. Cancer does not take that away from you. Do not let it take that away from you. Do not throw away the old Cass. You are going down a rough rough but will persevere and get through this. Look how far you have come. I’ll be your cheerleader!!! I have had my share of friends battling through Cancer, but women are the strongest beings on earth and you will fight. You will fight for the “old Cass”, you will fight for your awesome husband, you will fight to see your children grow up. You do what you gotta do to stay here as long as you can. Breathe, pray, do the things you love and FIGHT!
    You got this girl!!! Stay strong!!! I’ll be following your blog now so please keep in touch!
    Christine xo

    • Thank you Christine! Your words are so kind and inspiring for me. And, I need that, especially with how things have been going lately. I will definitely need “my cheerleader” to keep pushing me as a make my way through this “journey,” so please continue reading, commenting and sharing. Much love to you and yours!

  2. I am in complete agreement with Christine! The things that make you “Cass” are inside you. Focus on the good. Get real with God. Don’t quit. His love never fails. Read the Word. It’s important and so are you!

  3. What an amazing post. You are an extremely brave and beautiful woman and I’m so happy for you that you have such a loving man and wonderful children surrounding you. Keep fighting the good fight! What you are writing is important to share with others who are going through cancer too. xx

    • Thank you Cassie! I’m happy you’re reading and felt moved enough to comment. My goal is that through this blog I will be able to help others struggling or dealing with similar issues. It’s definitely uplifting from others to keep on going. Thank you again for following and reading!

  4. I was so glad to see you at Kindergarten Roundup and I was proud of you for being there. I see you fighting and so strong. Your honesty is speaking “me too” to someone and we all need that.

    • Thank you, Yolanda. It was tough. I almost fell to the floor trying to get up off those tiny bleachers though! Luckily, Klay was there to break my fall or catch me, as always. I was so happy to see you guys too!!! I hope I’m helping people. That’s my goal anyhow!

  5. Dear, dear, dear, dear Cass!!!! I have been absent, but my 98 year old Dad gave us all quite a scare. He is OK now, though, so here I am. My heart just breaks for you. It truly does. It’s almost like you are going through changes that we middle aged folks go through, although ours are expected: loss of our looks, our youthful vitality and mobility, physical strength, being pain free, looking in the mirror and wondering who that is looking back at us! So, I understand, a little bit, what you might be experiencing,….in theory…… but only in theory, because you are so dang young and so dang sick, that your situation is 1000% worse, but I can empathize, to a degree. OF COURSE, you long for the way life used to be! Who wouldn’t??!! Who wants to have to relinquish their former self, especially when they loved who that person was and had no intention of giving her up, at least not yet!! You don’t deserve any of this. Please, my dear friend, just take life one hour at a time (not even a day, because that’s too difficult!) Try, just try, to keep those hopes and dreams alive, because those are what will get you through this. You were “well” not too long ago and you will be again. We all have to believe that! But, in the meantime, your boys understand, love and adore you beyond measure. They are just happy to have their mommy in their midst, no matter how broken she might be. She’s there. BTW, I am on 3 North, pediatric surgery waiting room, but email me if you are back in the hospital. I would love to come see you. Hang in there, girl. Your fighting spirit has gotten you this far and still burns inside you. Love you!

    • Jo Ann. My goodness hun. I just have to tell you how much I miss you. Your words and spirit always make my days brighter. And please don’t act like you have no youthful vitality, loss of looks and mobility! You’re so spunky, fun, vibrant and full of life and that radiates through your teeny, tiny body and uplifts those around you. I hope you know that. I am sorry to hear your Dad has been sick. Glad he’s OK. I will definitely let you know if I go back to the hospital, crossing my fingers that I won’t have another hospital visit soon, but I’d love to see you. Love you!

  6. Amanda Wiggins Limoges Reply

    Perspective is absolutely everything! It shocked me to hear you say you thought you were ugly & fat in high school, because I would have given anything to look like you. You were exactly what I thought an American girl should look like & you are certainly friendlier than I could ever attempt to be. The harshest critic in our lives will always be ourselves, even (especially) if we don’t deserve it.

    • Aww thank you, Amanda. I appreciate it. Yes, perspective is everything. Only if I knew what I would be like in the future I would have definitely enjoyed life and not even pay attention to my outer appearance. But life doesn’t work that way. I tried to be friendly to everyone. I just wanted to be liked like everyone else.

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