Surviving Cancer : : NOT What I Expected

I expected a renewed sense of purpose. I expected a heart full of joy. I expected to spring out of bed each morning, inhaling the sweet aroma of life…

This is not what I expected.

Bloody toenails. Afro-hair. Fatigue that could sink the Titanic… I’m just getting started.

I want to be crystal clear: All of the whining I’m about to do is flavored with immeasurable amounts of gratitude. I am so lucky to be alive. I fully realize just how fortunate I am. My heart is broken for those who don’t get to bitch afterwards like I’m about to.

I write this for a reason. I believe there is a very unclear picture about what surviving cancer is like because so many of us who live to tell this story keep our mouths shut out of fear of being insensitive or sounding unthankful. But I’m going to tell you how it really is. So if you want a feel-good story about a woman basking in the joys of vitality, flitting through her glorious existence singing Kumbaya and the Hallelujah Chorus, STOP RIGHT HERE.

Because here’s the truth: Life after cancer still sucks.

I feel worse now than I ever did with cancer. I think I’m getting better every day, but I’ve been finished with treatment for two months and I feel like a shell of my former self. Here’s why:


See all those black markings on my chest and neck? Those are radiation markers. In that lovely shape of Africa is where they found the cancer, so that’s where they zapped me (front and back) with their radioactive lasers and cooked me from the inside out. Chemo and radiation kill the cancer, but they can’t distinguish between healthy cells and cancerous ones. So the radiation also attacked all the good stuff under there like my thyroid, my esophagus, and my vocal chords. So, as a consequence of all the healing, I sound like Marge Simpson and I’m putting on mystery weight despite the fact that I can hardly swallow. What fresh hell is this? I may choke to death on cake and I’m still gonna get fat??

**Women everywhere resound in chorus with me** “NOOOOOO!!!”

The voice is frustrating, but not fatal. And, as much as I hate it, the weight gain is just a vanity issue. But the exhaustion is infuriating. I’m done every night by 8pm. I’m not sleepy, mind you. I’m just worn out. So I lie in bed for hours instead of playing with kids, going out, or working on my next awesome novel. It sucks.

Then there’s my lungs. One of the drugs in AVBD (or is it ABVD? I can’t ever keep my acronyms straight), the chemo regimen for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, reigns down hellfire on your lungs. Apparently my small airways aren’t moving enough oxygen into my bloodstream, so I feel mildly suffocated all the time. Which is loads of fun. Thankfully, steroids are helping with that, but as you know, they come with their own set of lovely side-effects! More fat storage for me. Yippee!

And we have to talk about my hair. You all know how much fun I have with my hair. Well… right now I look like Bozo the Suburban Clown. No joke. How did I go from blonde (I think that was my natural-ish color) and straight to Little Richard? This mess is ridiculous. Screech has better hair than I do:


Again, this is pure vanity and I should probably just shut up, but the point it…

I no longer feel like me.

Then there’s my brain to deal with…

Cancer PTSD

Aside from still living under the fog of chemo-brain and having the short-term memory of that blue fish from that Disney movie (what’s her name?), I’ve also gone a bit insane. Cancer PTSD is a very real thing. Living with the fear of recurrence is almost as crippling as the disease itself.

These days, we all fear cancer to some extent. In theory, I’ve always been afraid of it, but it never stopped me from smoking or sitting too close to the television. I mean, it took me 6 months to go to the doctor after I first noticed symptoms I knew could mean cancer!

But now?

True story: A month ago I was once again planning my funeral because I thought the cancer was back and I was dying. I literally told my family to prepare for the worst. And what brought on my meltdown? I was feeling the exact way that my doctor warned me I was going feel. 

And that’s how it is. Cancer makes you coo-koo-ca-choo.

With every case of the sniffles, every wave of fatigue, every pending test result… I freak-the-eff-out.

A friend of mine had to go for a follow-up PET scan the other day. She asked, “Do you think it ever gets easier?”

I laughed and shook my head. “I can’t go to the dentist without being afraid they’re going to find mouth tumors.”

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe someday the remnants of this horrible disease will be absolutely obliterated from my life. I certainly hope so, but I doubt it.

In the meantime, I’m going to tease up my ‘fro as high as it will go. Because honestly, you can’t be too bitter or sad when you look like this:


So much curlz. So much makeup. So much Photoshop. And I still could pass as Screech’s Gentile sister.


Free Book!

I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled programming about religion, beer, politics, and sinners to let you know about a special offer from the writer (me) behind The Beer Drinking Angel. For a limited time, I’m giving away my latest novel, To Be Her First, absolutely free. You can pick it up now at www.eliciahyder.com.

A disclaimer: this is novel is not a Christian book (which will disappoint some of you and excite some of you). It definitely carries a PG-13 rating. But if you like the stories I tell about my wild and crazy youth, you’ll definitely love this book.


Free Book - To Be Her First by Elicia Hyder


Answered Prayers for Cinderella

In 2007, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman released the track Cinderella, a song he’d written for his daughters. The song immediately became an anthem for fathers and daughters everywhere, including in my own house.

I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t want to miss even one song
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone.

In 2008, I was sitting on my 4-year-old daughter’s bed saying night time prayers when my sister called. She asked us to pray for the Chapman family because their youngest daughter had just lost her life in a tragic accident. We stopped and prayed.

Little did we know that just ten days later, our family would be the subject of tragedy. My first husband lost his life in a texting and driving accident. He left behind a son and our little princess.

After his death, I couldn’t bear to hear Cinderella anymore. I wept painful tears each time it played. The song served as another reminder of my constant fear that my daughter would never have a daddy to cherish those little moments with her again.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in world, Steven almost stopped singing the song for similar reasons. The reminder was just too painful.

Fast forward seven years…

This past weekend we attended Steven’s show at FBC Orlando because my brother was working one of his tables. Steven sang the song. I looked down the aisle to see my now eleven-year-old cuddled under the arm of my new husband–a true prince charming–tearfully singing along with every word. I cried again, this time for a whole different reason.

God is still in the business of restoration and answering prayers, folks.



The Bright Side of Cancer

Is there a bright side when it comes to cancer?  Sure, if you know where to look.

1. Hair Loss

As you can tell, I’ve had a lot of fun with my impending hair loss.


But, rainbow colors and faux hawks aside, did you know that chemotherapy attacks hair follicle cells everywhere??? That’s right, ladies and gentleman–no more shaving for me! No more shaving, no more shaping, and no more plucking! If that’s not a bonus from having cancer, I don’t know what is.

2. Alabaster, Smooth-as-a-Babies-Butt Skin

This may not be the most common side effect, but my skin is freaking awesome right now. It’s smooth, blemish free, and super soft. One of the drugs I’m on actually causes my skin to flush pink, so I don’t even have to wear blush. (It also turns my pee fluorescent fuchsia, but maybe that’s TMI.)

3. The Cancer Card

Do you have any idea how much power you wield when you have cancer? I’m telling you, it’s better than having a magic wand.


Need to get the community HOA off your back? Play the cancer card.
Tired of barking at your kids about keeping their rooms clean? Play the cancer card.
Want strawberry cheesecake pancakes in bed at 9PM? Play the cancer card!

Just kidding. Sort of.

4. I’m Perfectly Healthy… Aside from Cancer

Never in my life have I been a health fanatic. In fact, when the doctor told me I had lymphoma my answer went something like this:

“Lymphoma doesn’t make any sense!
Skin cancer and lung cancer, I’ve earned.”

True story.

I’ve changed my ways since my cancer diagnosis and finding out how anemic I was. I completely stopped smoking. I stopped drinking beer. (Gasp!) I gave up Diet Coke. I always wear sunscreen. And, I’m minding my meat and veggies and monitoring my nutrition intake.

I know… whaaa?  It’s the end of the world as we know it. ♪♫♬♪♫♬

5. The People

I’ve always known this, but now I’m even more certain of it: I have the best family and friends a person could ask for. My parents have given up their blissful days of retirement to be my nursemaid, personal chef, housekeeper, chauffeur, babysitter, and dog walker over the past couple of months. My sister has put her life in Tennessee on hold to spoil me, cry with me, and hold my hand through chemo. My brother has checked on me every day and answered countless questions about medicine and side effects. My neighbors have taken care of my kids and driven me to more appointments than I can count. Sooooo many friends have made (and are making) the trip to Florida to visit and keep me company. I have received cards, flowers, and presents from ALL OVER THE WORLD.

I also have the best cancer team on the planet. As much as I hate going to treatments, being stabbed, drugged, and weighed in public, I honestly love being at the office. I can’t say enough nice things about Dr. Gopal Kunta and his entire team at Clermont Oncology.

And then there’s my husband. Do you know how hard it is to live with someone on chemo? I can go from pitiful and puking to evil nazi dictator in oh-point-no seconds at any given moment without warning and without apology. Not only has he not killed me, he has spoiled me. He runs errands, keeps up the house, takes care of the kids, wakes up with me in the middle of the night, runs my baths, brings presents to chemo, picks up cheesecake pancakes at bedtime, and gives me full control of the television… all while working full time and pulling weekend duty with the Coast Guard.

Are you jealous yet? You should be.

I never thought I would say this, but cancer has been the worst and best thing to ever happen to me. 

It is making me stronger.
It is bringing out the best in me and everyone around me.
It is teaching me lessons about gratitude, perseverance, and attitude that most people don’t learn in a lifetime.


Book Release Party!!! (Updated Links)

OK, so I’m not having a real book release party because I have cancer and all, but I am certainly celebrating and I hope you will celebrate with me! I am currently releasing one of my books for FREE online on a website called Wattpad. It is being released one chapter at a time, but I am considering self-publishing this one title in the near future.  We shall see.  In the meantime, head over to Wattpad and check it out.  Please sign up for a free account, add the book to your library and BE SURE TO VOTE by clicking the star!

THE BED SHE MADE is loosely based on true events from the crazy journey which has been my life.  It is a gripping tale of the ripple effects created by our choices and the power of redemption and forgiveness.



Reformed bad girl Journey Durant has just received the news that her ex-boyfriend is about to be released from prison.  She can’t shake the feeling that her troubled past is coming home with him.  The town of Emerson, Georgia has forgiven and forgotten her involvement in the most publicized tragedy in the town’s history, but only because of her three year absence, her prominent Southern Baptist family, and her marriage to the closest thing her small town has to a superhero.

Bullets and emotions fly, leaving Journey to realize that no matter what penance she has done for her past, the mistakes of her youth still carry unpaid penalties and it’s her father’s words that reverberate in her mind: Someday you’ll have to lie in the bed you’ve made.



Chemo Round 2 – Low White Blood Cells

I’m finally on the upswing from Chemo Round 2: Attack of the Low White Blood Cells.  My second treatment has certainly sucked worse than the first one and has required almost twice the amount of time to bounce back.  I’m hoping it isn’t setting a declining trend for the next few months.  I suspicion it may have something to do with my stupid low white blood cells.  Apparently, it’s a little unusual for someone my age to have a low white blood cell count after Round 1 of chemotherapy, but I have always strived to be an individualist and I guess my immune system is just following suit.  My normal range for white blood cell counts is 3.8-10.8.  I came in last week at a disappointing 2.9.  Thank you, Uncooperative Bone Marrow.


Here’s why:

Cancer cells are rapidly reproducing mutated cells and chemotherapy works like a chemical drone targeting rapidly reproducing cells.  The problem is, it can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and cancerous ones.  This is why our hair falls out and we are prone to mouth sores and digestion problems.  Like the cells in our hair roots and in the lining of our digestive tract, white blood cells are some of the most rapidly reproducing cells in the human body.  They become victims of the chemotherapy’s “spray and pray” cancer fighting approach.

Because of my low white blood cells, the doctor ordered Neupogen shots to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.  Dr. Google and my oncology nurse warned me that it could cause mild to severe bone pain.  I had one shot a day for five days.  The first 3 days I felt so lousy from the chemotherapy that I guess I didn’t notice any difference in my bones. Then, on day four, I woke up cross-eyed with throbbing pain in my chest and hips.

Do you know that feeling when you first wake up but you’re still sort of asleep and dreaming?  In my sleep the pain must have been making me dream that I was pregnant because I woke up thinking “the baby is coming today!”  Not. Even. Joking.  That’s exactly what it felt like – like my hips were separating to prepare for childbirth.  My doctor explained that in adults our long bones no longer have red bone marrow which produces red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  Red bone marrow is found in flat bones like the sternum and the pelvis, which is why I felt like I was in labor.

The shots themselves hurt like the devil; they make Tetanus shots feel like a kiss from the angels.  I’m also a big, fat sissy when it comes to injections so that doesn’t help.  The nurse gives me the shot in front of the other chemo patients which sucks because I can’t NOT be dramatic about it.  I stamp my foot, curse, and pray to Jesus for the pain to stop. Hopefully, everyone at least gets a momentary chuckle at my expense.

On a positive note, I still have all my hair.  I dyed it fluorescent pink this week:


My pink cancer hair and the coolest shirt I’ve ever purchased at Wal-Mart.

My doctor keeps telling me to stop wasting my money on hair dye because it’s going to fall out soon.  I laughed and tried to convince him to dye his midnight blue.  We’ll see.


Chemotherapy Side Effects and the Frozen Vagina

Earlier I wrote about what it was like to endure my first chemotherapy treatment.  Sadly, I forgot to include the strangest chemotherapy side effect that no one bothered to mention! It’s really worth its own post anyhow.

After they finish infusing me with about 20 bags of fluids, anti-nausea meds, steroids, and poison (no, I’m not exaggerating), I immediately drop about 30 IQ points.  It’s like the world starts spinning just a little faster than normal and I’m completely unable to keep up.  I’m coherent, but not exactly cognitive.

Well, Mom went with me for my first treatment and after it was over she drove me home in her snazzy Lexus.  It was about 80 degrees out that day, but something much colder was happening between my thighs.  My eyes tripled in size and I looked at my mother.

“I am having the weirdest side effect right now.  Nobody told me about this!”

She was understandably alarmed.  “What?  What side effect?  Do I need to turn around?”

“My vagina is cold.  Like there’s some Bengay up in there!”

She veered off the road a little.

“I don’t know what’s happening!” I screamed through fits of maniacal laughter.

It was clear that Mom didn’t know whether to panic or crack up.  “What do you mean it’s like Bengay?”

I was starting to squirm.  “It’s really, really cold up there!  My vagina is freezing!”

Instead of calling my doctor, I called my husband.  If anything bizarre or humorous was happening in my special girl places, he should be the first to know.

While he was still on the phone, I began tugging my shorts away from my skin.  I felt cold on the back of my hand.  I looked down and pressed my hand to the seat between my legs.  “Oh sweet Jesus.  Mom has air conditioning in her seats!”

I’m pretty sure my husband fell out of his chair.  Mom may have hit a curb.

Epic vagina freeze is not a side effect of chemo.  Just in case you were wondering.


My First Chemo Treatment

I’m learning more and more that the bark of cancer is so much worse than its bite. My first chemo treatment was almost the exact opposite of what I expected. I assumed that shortly following my first treatment I would be lying in a puddle of vomit and clumps of blue hair on my bathroom tile floor. Thank sweet Jesus I WAS WRONG. Now, I know that all of us react differently to meds, but my experience went something like this:

Chemotherapy Day 1:

Did you watch True Blood? I did, unfortunately. (My thoughts on wasting 78 hours of my life on that series is a different blog altogether.  Yes, I know there were 80 episodes, but I subtract an estimated sum of time of all the scenes with Eric Northman being all sexy and stuff. I digress…) The last few seasons were dedicated to the new vampire virus “Hep-V.”  The disease caused their veins to swell and turn black.  Eventually, the vampire would meet the True Death by exploding into a puddle of goo.  While I didn’t turn into goo, my veins totally looked like I had Hep-V.


^^That’s Bill Compton up there, not me. Next time, I’ll snap a photo of my own Hep-V veins.^^

Apparently, this isn’t a normal reaction to the chemo.  My doctor was a little perplexed by it… or, maybe he was perplexed by my lengthy description of vampire ailments.  Who knows?

Day 2 – Live Television Chemo Day:

No, I wasn’t on TV.  I just felt like I was on a live television special with a five-second delay.  All forms of information seemed a little sluggish passing in and out of my brain.  My thoughts took forever to connect, like I was high without a feel-good buzz.  (Don’t do drugs, kids.)  “I feel fuzzy” covered a lot of ground for me that day.

Mom: “eL, do you want bacon?”
Me: “I feel fuzzy.”

Hubs: “Do you need anything, dear?”
Me: “I feel fuzzy.”

The Dog: “I haven’t peed in seven hours.  Will you please take me for a walk?”
Me: “I feel fuzzy.”

I think what I experienced was the early onset of what the chemo club calls “chemo brain.”

Food was blah.  Chemo kills cancer and taste buds so everything kind of tastes like peach fuzz without the flavor.  Acid reflux and heartburn would set in about 30 minutes after every meal, but Zantac helped that a LOT once I started taking it.  Oh, and sadly bacon ended up on the NO-NO List what I can no longer eat.  It stayed down, but against my will.  :-/

Days 3 & 4 – The Great Narcolepto!:

By Day 3 the chemo poison had thoroughly wreaked its havoc on all of my internal organs.  I had the worst bout of nausea that morning and wanted to die for about 15 minutes.  But, that was it.  Once the nausea meds kicked in I was fine but ridiculously exhausted.  Between the fatigue caused by the chemo and the drowsiness caused by the nausea meds, I could barely hold my head up. Like, if fatigue could be a superpower my superhero (or supervillain – the jury is still out) name would have to be Narcolepto!  I spent most of days 3 and 4 on the couch or in my bed, but by the end of Thursday, the nausea was gone and I was actually starting to feel better.  We even went for a walk after dinner, which considering my comatose state of the day before, it was quite the miracle.

Days 5-10 – Almost normal:

These days were pretty good.  By about dinnertime every night I was ready to just SIT DOWN and not do anything else, but all-in-all I felt good.  I noticed about 6 strands of hair in my fingers after washing, but that may have been attributed to all of the bleach and hair dye as of late.  🙂


On Sunday, Day 6, I developed my first mouth sore.  It wasn’t too bad at first and I kept it at bay for as long as possible with Peroxyl mouthwash and Biotene.  Oral hygiene is SUPER IMPORTANT during chemo.

Days 10-13 – Mouth Sores from HELL:

The good news of these few final days of chemo is that I felt as good as I did before I started treatment.  We went tubing on the lake twice and took the boat and all five kids to an island in Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.  It was glorious laying in the sun slathered in 10,000 SPF sunscreen.  I counted my lucky stars that “my good days”  during chemo fell during Spring Break when all the kids were at home.  We really had a wonderful week together.

The bad news is that by Sunday night my mouth hurt so much that I couldn’t even sleep.  Nothing soothed the pain aside from warm salt water for a few precious seconds.  The inside of my bottom lip and my gums looked and felt like they had visited the SURFACE OF THE SUN.  I won’t lie.  The mouth sores are absolute hell.  A few things helped.  Mild and warm salt water, like I said, and Kanka Mouth Pain Liquid by Blistex.  It burns like fire and death for about 3 seconds, but then it is completely numb for as long as you don’t eat or drink.  I lurrrrve it.  It’s cheaper on Amazon; it’s about $9 at CVS.  With that being said, CHRISTIANS, IGNORE THE PRICE ;-).  Check it out here:

All of this may sound HORRIBLE and it is because chemotherapy sucks – and cancer sucks.  However, it was much, much better than I had feared that it would be.  In fact, by the end of week two I really began to dread my second chemo treatment because I knew I would be back to Hep-V and Narcolepto!

If you or a loved one have had an experience with this, please share below what that first treatment was like!


The Sober Angel – Cancer and Alcohol

The Mayo Clinic outlines the symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as the following:

  • Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss — as much as 10 percent or more of your body weight
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itching
  • Increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol or pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

See anything ironic on that list?

I should have known that I was sick when I began regularly opting for Diet Coke in lieu of Goose Island or Allagash.  Don’t worry… I’m not going to start pointing fingers at all those who have been praying about my stance on Christianity and alcohol.




The Lymphoma Monologues – 9 – Cancer Makes Me Blue

Back in the 90’s I had a reputation for acting and dressing a little bit strange.  In fact, my husband and other members of the football team would place bets in the morning on what I would be wearing to school and what color my hair would be.  One of my favorite quotes from my yearbook was, “I’ve never danced with a girl whose hair is a random-chance kind of thing.”  What can I say?  I like to keep life interesting.  Over the years, I’ve grown up quite a bit with my hair and my attire, but on the inside I’m still a raving pink-haired freak who prefers tie-dye to the fall color line and Doc Martens to pumps.

eL. circa 1997

eL. circa 1997

My recent cancer diagnosis and the prospect of all of my “respectable hair” falling out has flipped some mental switch for me.  I realized that I’m actually a little excited about it.  WTH?

Respectable Mom Hair

Respectable Mom Hair

Cancer sucks, so we have to take our kicks where we can find them.  Can I tell you how much fun I’ve had over the past couple of weeks? I chopped my hair off, bleached it, dyed it turquoise and then blue.  I’ve never felt so alive!  As I’ve been telling everyone, “It’s pretty hard to get all freaked out and depressed about cancer when you have a blue faux hawk and hooker red lips!”

The best part is that I’m starting a trend!  I have my very own #TeameL with friends far and wide sporting faux hawks and fluorescent locks!  This is far better than all of the “going bald” offers I’ve had from dear, sweet friends over the past few weeks.  These photos melt my heart in such a deep and personal way that it makes me a little bit weepy.

You can't be sad when your family is this bright!

You can’t be sad when your family is this bright!

My favorite part?  After all of the head shaking and eyerolls that I received in the 90s, my Southern-Baptist-Republican-Organ-Playing Momma let me dye her hair PINK and my daddy shaved his head!!!  🙂

Mom looks GOOD in Bubblegum!!!

Mom looks GOOD in Bubblegum!!!

Dad looks a bit like Walter White now.  #breakingbad

Dad looks a bit like Walter White now. #breakingbad

I love you, #TeameL.  You all will be what gets me through this.  XOXO

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...