After a cancer diagnosis, many patients wait anxiously to hear the words “no evidence of disease.” But as Kimberly Hill has learned, the start of this new chapter – life after cancer – is where the real journey begins.
Kimberly, now 47, thought the hardest part of her lymphocyte predominate Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis was behind her when she learned she showed no evidence of disease in May 2015.
“I think I had unrealistic expectations that this journey was over,” says Kimberly of learning she had no evidence of disease.
Although she’s cancer-free, she still struggles daily with side effects of her treatment -- neuropathy, weight gain, chemobrain, pain and the fear of recurrence.
Moving forward despite cancer pain
The Knoxville, Tennessee, resident copes with these changes in the best way she knows how, which is to continue moving forward despite the pain.
“I can’t take pain medication because I have an active lifestyle,” says Kimberly. “Pain medications slow me down and add to the mental fogginess that I’m already dealing with.”
She traded her stilettos for Converse because of pain and inflammation that won’t go away. Walking across campus at the University of Tennessee where she works and keeping up with her busy 9-year-old daughter require a lot of time on her feet.
Coping with chemobrain
The toughest adjustment has been managing memory problems. Kimberly admits she didn’t think chemobrain was real – until she experienced symptoms like leaving her keys in the door, not turning off the stove and even forgetting to pick up her daughter from school. Her inability to recall information has made completing her Ph.D. and serving as an adjunct professor especially difficult.
Yet, she’s found ways to lessen the cognitive challenges.
“I use sticky notes. I carry a note pad around and use the record feature on my phone. I set reminders -- and reminders to set reminders,” she jokes.
A constant fear of recurrence
Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been Kimberly’s constant fear of her cancer returning.
“It’s a nagging feeling that’s always there. Even in your joy. Even when you have happiness,” says the mother of three. “Every ache, every pain is always accompanied by ‘What if?’”
Being mindful is key
Kimberly utilizes services at MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center to help with some of these side effects. She credits the center for treating the whole person, by first acknowledging that her symptoms are real, and then providing meditations and memory exercises to help.
“I practice mindfulness and self-care. I can’t help what was. I can’t help a lot of what will be. But I can be very present in what’s now,” she says.
She’s learning how to be patient and adjust to her new way of life, one step at a time. Despite all she’s been through, Kimberly is grateful for the most precious gift of time.
“Try to appreciate all of the good things. You can get so bogged down on the negatives you experience that you forget to be thankful that you’re here to experience them.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.