Tag Archives: breast cancer

Lessons


This week someone told me that I can be a bit negative. I didn’t particularly like to hear that, but it did make me stop and think. And the more I thought, the more I realized that person was right.

It’s been nearly three years since I was in a hold up in a cartel town. I and the people I was with thought it was a cartel hit and that we would die that day. I fled back to the U.S. This week as I looked for military pictures for my work, I had a panic attack. The pictures of soldiers and guns did not bring good memories, and I realized I was still affected, still a bit scared.

It’s been one year, two months, three weeks and four days since I finished my last radiation treatment. This week as I sat waiting for my surgical oncologist to see me, I couldn’t breathe. I realized how angry I still was.

I think often of the fact that I was homeless and jobless, that I can’t find full-time employment now. And then I get angry.

People have told me to look at the bright side- I didn’t die in that hold up. I left Mexico safely even though I had to drive through some of the most dangerous areas. I got cancer, yes, but it was the easiest kind to cure. And when people have said this, I have gotten angrier, and asked them, Why did any of that have to happen to me in the first place? I quit believing that things would work out. I lost my faith in happy endings.

I have raged at the universe for a long time now, asking why. Sometimes, though, the answers aren’t clear. Sometimes you have to create your own so you can come to terms with what life throws at you.

Maybe I had to dance with death a bit to appreciate life.

Maybe I didn’t get that full-time job, so I could learn to slow down and get to know people around me.

Maybe those people were put in my path to teach me a bit more about myself, teach me that maybe I am likable, maybe even lovable. Maybe they will teach me how to trust.

Maybe that part-time job was put in my life so I could discover a career that I love and that I do well.

Maybe circumstances have conspired to teach me that things can work out. When I stop to think about it, things have worked out for me.

And maybe I have it all wrong about happy endings. Maybe it isn’t about endings at all. Life is a continuum. Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it’s bad, but mostly, it’s neutral. So maybe the key to contentment is to embrace the neutral.

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Easier Navigation


There has been increasing interest in my cancer posts from several folks. To make navigation easier, I have subcategorized the archives of these posts in the order in which I originally posted them. They can be found under the categories to the right.


Walkers for Knockers


I was part of a team today walking in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K fundraiser. More than 8000 people walked today, plus babies and some dogs (my dog Susie accompanied me).

We were the “Walkers for Knockers” team, with our team name in hot pink on black t-shirts. My shirt had a hot pink bar code on the back that said “Surviving Cancer…Priceless.” My co-workers bought it for me.

I think the red eyes give this picture a nice Halloween touch. I plan to grow some horns and a tail before the end of the month.

©2010 frayedges and http://www.frayedges.wordpress.com


Argh!


It’s just not right I tell you. *pout*

After my little hiking victory, I am anxious to try other activities. I swear I thought I’d never be able to do stuff again. Cancer treatments colored my world. Now, there’s going to be a two-day event to showcase outdoor activities, gear, clubs, and retailers in my city next weekend and I am working the booth for the hiking club. I have been excited about going because you can try the climbing wall, kayaking, canoeing, and other activities for free. I really wanted to try the climbing wall.

But alas, it is not to be! *dramatic hand placed on forehead as head leans back in despair*

My shoulder has been inflamed from tendonitis (stupid shoulder), and the doctor told me no climbing walls or kayaks until the inflammation goes down. To be more precise, he said, “If you climb the wall or kayak next week, you will have a very bad afternoon. The pain will be intense.” *grumble* I’d be mad at the doctor, except he’s really cute and nice.

So now I must wait until a later date to climb a wall, sigh. But do I really need to be practical? Maybe I’ll risk it 🙂 I guess I should ask myself if the climb will be worth a weekend of pain. I must decide. Do I flip a coin, take a poll? Ah life’s critical decisions can be so difficult. Woe is me, a sad puppy!

*close dramatically*

©2010 frayedges and http://www.frayedges.wordpress.com


Small Victory


Let me start this post by saying the following:

Yiiipeeeeee! Wooooohoooo!

*finish line dance*

Attention ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since my cancer treatments, I not only led my hiking group most of the way, I finished first! It’s a brisk-paced conditioning hike on a narrow, rocky, steep-in-places, rough-terrain trail of a little over 3 miles (5K).

Ok, now you probably need some background to understand the significance of this. Up until I got cancer I was always able to hike quickly over rough terrain and walk forever. Then, of course, surgery and radiation treatments weakened me. As a result of the surgery, I ended up with lymphedema (fluid build up), which swells up painfully when I exert myself to any degree. I was still trying to exercise all through my treatments until my doctor told me I needed to stop until after my radiation treatments were finished. So I did.

After I finished my treatments on April 19, I started exercising again, and shortly after joined the hiking group. I couldn’t keep up. I was in physical pain and very weak. I was unable to walk the 3 miles. So I walked the track in the gym instead, increasing my speed and distance slowly. I returned to the hiking group about 8 weeks or so ago. The first time back, I was able to walk the 3 miles, but much more slowly than the others. I almost didn’t make it. I was still weak, and the medicine I take to keep the cancer from returning left me nauseous most of the time. The lymphedema also swelled painfully. I hiked anyway. Every Tuesday I have hiked, and every week I have gotten stronger, and the lymphedema has gotten easier to manage. I have learned to ignore the nausea. And every week, I trail behind the others and get to the end of the trail last.

Today I was tired and nauseous, but I went hiking anyway. When I got there, something came over me, and I had a super amount of energy. I started off before the others, which I often do so that I don’t end up so behind, but this time I stayed ahead of them (about 10 people). I jogged portions of the trail, I ran up steps carved into the hills, and I stayed ahead, with only 2 people in front of me. The last part of the trail is straight uphill. As we neared the hill, I looked at the two people, assessed the trail, and took off running. I ran past the two people in front of me, straight up the hill to the trail head, and did a little jump to the cheers behind. I smiled in delight and have been smiling all evening.

Victory is sweet!


Don’ts and Do’s of Dealing with a Cancer Patient


Now that I am finally returning to some sort of normal, now that the cancer is gone (and hopefully won’t return), I thought I would offer a little advice to those of you out there who know someone with cancer. It can be awkward, and you may not know what to do or what to say to the cancer patient. So I compiled this very short list of don’ts and do’s from the patient’s perspective.

1. DON’T tell them to think positively, that it will better their chances of survival. Why? Well, for starters, it’s just not true (See this American Psychological Association Report). And I know you don’t realize this, but you are effectively placing the blame on the cancer patient: “If you die, it’s because you didn’t have a positive attitude.” You don’t really see THAT perspective until YOU’RE the cancer patient. Being told to be positive can be frustrating and annoying, and definitely adds stress to an already stressful situation (I’m not the only patient who feels this way).

DO be supportive. Cancer has incredible psychological effects. I can’t even express what it does to you. It eats away at you literally and figuratively. Sometimes the cancer patient just needs a friend to be there. Check up on them, even if they say they are fine. Offer help with tasks you think they might not be able to do. The cancer patient might not come to you when they need help because they might not want to be a burden.

2. DON’T try to “cure” the patient. I was about to scream from the numerous emails and advice I received on so-called cancer cures. Following some of that advice would have been deadly. I don’t understand how people can believe everything they read. You may be well intentioned, but you are not helping the patient by bombarding them with unsubstantiated claims. This is LIFE and DEATH folks. Anecdotes just won’t do.

A couple of seriously bad offenders:
Johns Hopkins Cancer Update email hoax

This one is so dangerous that Johns Hopkins Cancer Center published a rebuttal:
Johns Hopkins Cancer Center Rebuttal to the above Cancer Update email

and then there’s the ol’ baking soda “cure:”
Baking Soda Cancer Cure

This is a nice list of cancer myths.

DO let them know about any current SCIENTIFICALLY SUBSTANTIATED studies you think they might like- but be careful here. Not all patients will want this information, so be very sure before you offer it.

3. DON’T try to offer treatment advice. Every cancer is different and treatments are tailored to the patient depending on many different factors. This is a very difficult, individual decision made between a patient and his or her doctor.

DO be supportive with the patient’s treatment decisions-even if you don’t agree with them. That’s a hard one, especially if the decision is no treatment.

4. DON’T assume the patient is all better once the treatments are finished. This is when we need you the most. During treatment we have the support of the doctors and nurses, but once treatment stops, we suddenly find we are very alone. The greatest chance that the cancer will come back is within the first two years, and even after the first two years there is a chance it will come back or we’ll get another type of cancer. This is all we think about. This has been my most difficult time.

DO just be there. That’s all we really want.

©2010 frayedges and http://www.frayedges.wordpress.com


Part VIII: Sorting It Out


The anger has left. It didn’t happen gradually. It just disappeared. I woke up one morning this week and realized I was not upset. And then I realized I had slept all night without the help of a sleeping pill. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I still think about cancer constantly. It consumes my day and leaves me restless, still unable to focus. But it is manageable, today anyway. I have crossed a rocky shore and can now feel the soft sand between my toes. I can relax.

I have tried to figure out what I have done differently. I suppose one change is that I am no longer hiding. For some reason I have difficulty understanding or explaining, I have kept my cancer a secret for the most part. Oh yes, I have written about it, and I have told a select few about it (mostly by email), but I was embarrassed and avoided disclosing this information to people I deal with every day. When I learned of my diagnosis, I told my immediate supervisor because I knew I would need to take a day or two off (haha, a day or two! I was so naive!). But I didn’t tell my main boss. I told no one else at work. It was only after my surgery that I finally came clean, when I realized that the strain of hiding it from my employer would be too great, that I would need to rearrange my schedule a bit to accommodate treatments. Then I told one or two others at work, but the rest I dodged as skillfully as possible. I wanted no one to know. This has taken its toll on me.

My first foray into the public world was through a writing group. I brought the manuscript of my cancer experience for feedback, and it was nerve wracking. I don’t know what I expected, but what I got was positive feedback on my writing and compassion for my experience. I survived exposure.

Then I told a friend that I was falling to pieces, couldn’t get a grip on my reality. He knew about my cancer, had been there the whole time during my treatment, but he was surprised because, as usual, I was hiding my pain and confusion so well. He mentioned that hiding might not be the best approach since others pick up on the subtleties of behavior, and if there is no rational explanation for the way a person is acting, others become confused and possibly assign meaning to those behaviors, and not necessarily positive.  So I stepped back and had to wonder, what do other acquaintances think about me? It is unfortunate, but the majority of people I know in this town I met after my diagnosis. Yet they know nothing about what I have been going through. So did they think I was odd, unfriendly, unstable as I stumbled through the world of medicine and sickness, blind to activities beyond its borders? I could beat myself up for that, but a person is only capable of doing what they are capable of at the moment. For me, my mechanism for dealing was to try to do it on my own, in secret. I can say that hasn’t worked too well, but I needed to find that out on my own. And I needed to come to accept that my life will not necessarily be defined by cancer from now on, but it will be marked by it. How can something that is so much a part of you not be revealed?

I decided to quit hiding. I didn’t run out and make a public announcement, but I did tell a few more people when the time was appropriate. Then I started this blog. Perhaps no one will read this, but the fact that it is out there on the internet makes it public. That has a psychological effect that is cathartic (as another friend described it) in nature. It is an avenue of healing, and it gives me an outlet for my thoughts. It also gives me a purpose- to write. For this I can focus.

So will my mood last? Who knows? There is a little part of me that waits apprehensively for the other shoe to drop, but for the moment I seem to be ok. I will still talk to my oncologist about support groups or other resources, just in case. But I will take my mood at face value and enjoy it. After all, as I have been so brutally reminded, I only have today.

©2010 frayedges and http://www.frayedges.wordpress.com


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