Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three Years Cancer-free

This weekend, on March 24, I will be celebrating a very special anniversary. My cancerversary. For most cancer survivors, the date when you first learned of your diagnosis is forever ingrained in your mind and every year that passes is met with a huge sigh of relief. The goal for many of us is to reach the 5-year mark—the mark that effectively says you are cured. Well, as cured as anyone with cancer can ever be. We all know cancer doesn’t always play by the rules. On Sunday, I will be another year closer to that mark. I will be three years cancer-free.

Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, life fundamentally shifts. They call it the “new normal”. You can never really go back to living your life the way it was before your diagnosis. I guess that is good and bad. I certainly feel anxious and vulnerable this time of year. I routinely question every ache and pain in a way that I never did before cancer. I no longer feel invincible. But cancer also reminded me that life is short, encouraged me to love big, and well…got me back to making art.

I was 38 when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I think it is normal to reflect on your life when you are faced with a life trauma. You wonder, have I lived a full life? Do I have any regrets? What can I learn from all of this? On reflection, at that moment, I knew that I had lived a pretty blessed life. I had a wonderful family who loved me. I was married to my best friend and love of my life. I was surrounded by friends who truly understood me. I had jobs that had fulfilled me. And I was a new mom to a 5-week-old baby girl. A dream I had thought might never come true. When all was said and done, the only regret I had was that I had stopped creating.

So once I was feeling a little stronger, I got back into the daily practice of creating art. It was incredibly healing for me. This piece was the first work I made after my diagnosis. It was created for a traveling exhibit titled “Discovery.” It is a self-portrait during chemo.

I was lucky that my cancer was caught early. I have an excellent prognosis. That is not the case for most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are frequently dismissed as digestive issues and women fail to get treatment early, whether they ignore the warning signs themselves or their health care provider misses the diagnosis. I urge you to get to the doctor if you have any of the following symptoms and have been experiencing them for more than three weeks. You know your body. Be your own best advocate.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

This week I am grateful for:
1. being cancer free 

2. sharpie markers
3. a full night of sleep 

4. comfortable shoes 
5. the unconditional love of my spouse


Linda A. Miller said...

Beautifully expressed! May you continue to be cancer free, Lisa. Love the quilt!

Lisa Kijak said...

Thanks, Linda!

Stacy Hurt said...

I am astonished and had no idea. You are such an amazingly gifted artist and I so wish you well and am so very, very glad you are with us and will continue to be for way long time to come! Congratulations Lisa, and I toast you to many more years to come!

Lisa Kijak said...

Thank you, Stacy, for the compliments and well wishes. I plan on sticking around. I have a lot more to create. :)

Pamela Price Klebaum said...

Bravo. You live your life so well.

Lisa Kijak said...

Thank you, Pamela. I appreciate the kind words.

Karen said...

I still think you look like a student at CSLB. Congratulations on the three year mark.

Lisa Kijak said...

Oh, should feel free to comment daily. You'll keep me young.

Martha Wolfe said...

Congratulations, Lisa! I missed you in Santa Fe this last week at the SAQA conference and did a little poking around....what wonderful news. May you continue to thrive and create your beautiful work. Enjoy Quilt National...can't wait to see your entry!

Unknown said...

Hi! I just got reading through a few of your posts and just wanted to say congrats on being cancer-free for three years!! I had a quick question and was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance. Thanks! - emilywalsh688(at)