Cancer sucks, but…(Part 2 of 2)
What’s the first thing you’d do if you received a cancer diagnosis?
For me, I decided to make it a game changer.
Taking control is an illusion though. And for each thing I could control, there were lots of things I couldn’t. I needed to go through each of these lessons one by one.
At the end of this post, I’ve added resources that anyone going through a health scare or their friends and family might find beneficial. Please share this post if you think it’ll help someone you know.
Do I really need help?
The thing about having surgeries and needing to go to chemo appointments is that you need help getting home. Up until this point in my life, I did everything on my own. I didn’t need anyone. If I could have driven myself home after surgery or chemo appointments, I would have.
Fortunately, I was forced to ask for help.
I say fortunately because I’ve made some of my best friends because I had to ask them for help. One of my best friends was really an acquaintance when I asked her if she’d take me to chemo one day. She took me and even called the nurse when I turned blue and couldn’t breath because something had gone wrong with the drug mixture. Yeah, who knew that could happen?
Years later, I was sitting at a restaurant eating pizza with her and another of our friends when she told me that the chemo appointments made us friends. She said it’s impossible to watch someone go through something like that and not connect with them.
I’m thankful that chemo gave me the opportunity to become friends with such an amazing woman.
Dealing with anger.
Inevitably, there’s going to be anger to work through with a health scare. In my case, I had questions for my doctor. I had a biopsy a year prior to my diagnosis of the same lump in my breast, but I was told it was benign.
Why wasn’t this caught when a biopsy was done? It turns out that the biopsy showed the tissue was cancer free but the liquid sample they obtained was “suspicious.” They told me my lump wasn’t cancerous. They didn’t do any follow up on the suspicious liquid because I was 28 years old, at low risk for breast cancer because I didn’t have a family history, and the tissue sample came back negative. The only reason I found out I had cancer was because I decided to have the lump removed on my own because I thought it was unattractive.
When women talk to me about a suspicious lump, I tell them to ask all the questions I didn’t know to ask. If a biopsy comes back benign, ask if the liquid came back suspicious. If something doesn’t feel right about your lump, have it removed whether the doctor recommends it or not. Keep in mind that mammograms can tell the doctor there’s a mass, but they aren’t beneficial when the doctor assumes you don’t have cancer if you’re under 40 years old or don’t have a history of cancer or have fibrous breasts. Be an advocate for yourself; do what you need to do to take care of your health.
Chemo as vacay.
Did you know that when you work up to 70 hours a week that chemotherapy feels like a vacation? It does.
I felt guilty for lying on the couch and resting, but I couldn’t deny that my stress melted away. I forgot what it felt like not to work constantly.
Chemo helped me recognized that I needed balance in my life.
Be prepared for the “empathetically challenged.”
Most people are awesome and kind and empathetic. But I bumped into a few who I like to call empathetically challenged.
One of them was an acquaintance who commented about my buzz cut, “Nice haircut…Is it by choice?” Uhhh, how exactly do you answer this one? I think answered something to the effect of “yeah,” but luckily was on the move and didn’t particularly want to spend any time talking to a person I wasn’t friends with about my personal stuff.
Another person was someone I knew in passing who was a nice enough guy, but when we were in an elevator together, he looked at me, grimaced at my buzz cut, and asked, “Why’d you cut your hair?” I told him I’d explain it later, and I did. But it was just one of those things that caught me off guard. There was another person present who knew what I’d gone through, so we laugh about this every so often.
One person I see rarely asks me the same thing each time she sees me: “So how are you doing?” She says it in this super concerned tone as if I may die at any moment. I think she just doesn’t know what to say to me, and the only thing she has to start small talk with me is the cancer diagnosis I dealt with years ago.
In the big scheme of things, these little comments aren’t a big deal. But they catch you off guard. Some people don’t have experience with health issues or don’t know what to say, and it comes out in strange ways.
Cancer: the instant dating BS detector.
Surprisingly, it was not as difficult to talk about cancer while dating as I thought.
Cancer is helpful in that it’s an instant litmus test of whether the person you’re on a date with is quality dating material. If they freak, then good riddance. But I’ve never experienced that.
I haven’t met a guy yet who was put off by the fact that I had cancer. And it’s comes up pretty naturally in conversation. It usually come up when someone asks, “So how did you get into yoga?” or “Why do you like tea so much?”
Don’t sweat this one.
I’m a naturally positive person. Even so, going though cancer treatment is a downer. It forces you to face the darkest and meanest corners of your nature and you have a choice to make.
You can choose to be a victim (I like to call this “woe is me syndrome”) or you make a choice to see the good that comes from your experience.
An easy way to find positivity is to have a gratitude practice. Create a list of everything you’re thankful for.
For example, I’m grateful for:
- learning to ask for help because it connected me to amazing friends
- yoga because it helped me have a better relationship with myself
- Secondary effects:
- less road rage
- Secondary effects:
- better relationship with food (fewer microwaveable meals)
- the ability to prioritize my friendships and personal activities
This list can go on and on. Once you start writing down what you’re thankful for, it’s difficult not to feel positive.
Please don’t call me a survivor.
This may be controversial for some people, but I don’t like the word survivor. For years I’ve resisted joining any cancer group that has the word survivor in its title.
I don’t like being defined by cancer. I feel that the word survivor connotes that cancer has some hold on me. It never has.
I didn’t survive cancer. I used cancer as a motivator. I used cancer as a life changer. I don’t let the fact that I had cancer or now have a higher chance of getting cancer in the future because I’ve had it in the past define me.
Merriam-Webster defines survivor as “to remain aline; to continue to exist.” That word just isn’t descriptive enough for me.
Those who’ve died fighting cancer aren’t considered survivors by definition. However, the way each of us handles ourselves after diagnosis is what’s important. Being an amazing mom or sister or friend even after a diagnosis, making the decision to change your life, prioritizing what’s important in your life in the time that you have left. Those are the things that are important. Surviving cancer isn’t what’s important to me. It’s thriving and improving mentally and emotionally in the midst of a diagnosis or treatment that are what’s powerful.
I’m not knocking people who call themselves survivors. I understand that a lot of people wear that badge with pride. I’m just telling my personal experience. Just like all other aspects of cancer, this is personal to the person who’s gone through it.
Random stuff I didn’t know I’d have to deal with.
- The decision of whether or not to tell people I was undergoing treatment. I told my coworkers and friends. I think for me being open is the best policy. I didn’t tell people in my mom’s circle because I didn’t want her to be asked questions or bombarded with sympathy. I think it was best to have as few reminders that I was going through treatment as possible.
- How self conscious I would feel with a wig on. I thought it was going to be fun. Instead I only thought, “Can people tell I’m wearing a wig?” or “Did my wig just move?” I ended up tossing the wig as soon as I had enough hair for a nice buzz cut.
- Gaining weight. I’m 5’2″ and 110 pounds. While on chemo I weighed up to 145 pounds. It was demoralizing and depressing having to buy new clothes. Everyone tells you you’ll lose weight on chemo. Just know that this may not be the case for everyone.
- Chemo brain is real. I found it impossible to read while on chemo. Netflix was my savior from boredom.
- The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz
- Check out KrisCarr.com. She’s living with cancer, and she’s amazing. I wish I had found this lady when I was diagnosed. She has a great Juice and Smoothie book too.
- Yoga Podcasts – You don’t have to do everything the teacher says. Simply laying down and breathing consciously is enough to get benefits from a yoga practice. When you’re undergoing treatment, your body isn’t going to be as strong as it once was. Be patient with yourself and don’t overdo it. Oh, yeah, and it’s normal to feel some tingling in your arms; that’s just another lovely side effect of the chemo.
- Netflix: Don’t know what yo get that cancer patient in your life? Get them a Netflix subscription. Reading is difficult when you’re on chemo.
- Tune in Radio app.: All the stations you could ever want to hear.
- Overcast app.: Podcasts galore.
And finally, if you’ve gone through cancer or any other health scare, spread the love.
A co-worker who was going through intense cancer treatment took the time to visit me several times during my own treatment. She made me more comfortable with what I was going through, and it was nice talking to someone who knew what was going on.
I spent a year teaching yoga to cancer patients. I think the students liked having a teacher who knew what they were going through.
A lot of hospitals offer volunteer spots for former cancer patients to mentor new ones. Check with your hospital to find out if they offer this program; people benefit from having someone to lean on who knows the drill.
Donate your headscarves to hospitals. A lot of cancer patients can’t afford them.
You’re going to become a resource over the years for people newly experiencing a cancer diagnosis. Share your knowledge when asked for it. You may give them something they need to hear.
Share your story.
Are you or a friend going through something similar? Share your experience in the comments below. Someone may read your comment and find that one thing they needed to hear.
P.S. Share this article if you think it’ll benefit someone you know.