Hearing the words “You’ve got cancer” absolutely WILL change you. It’s inevitable. Not only will your body and mind go through changes, but your soul/morality/spirit will likely change as well. Below are some of ways that cancer has changed me.
I accept that there is no ONE right treatment.
When first diagnosed, I was all about natural and alternative medicine. After diagnosis I was basically TOLD I needed surgery which I blindly believed and went forward with. After the initial shock wore off and the rushrushrush to make a decision passed I was boldly decided to move forward with my natural alternative treatment to “make sure” the cancer did not return. My readers know how this turned out. The tumor returned in less than three months.
My faith in alternative medicine remains as I firmly believe that the change of diet and the various supplements I continue to use have helped strengthen my body and allowed me to “breeze” through both chemo and radiation. I’ve seen some cancer sisters beat their disease using only natural treatments but I have also seen numerous sisters using only alternative methods continue to get more sick and sometimes lose the battle altogether. There are just far too many mitigating factors to be able to say that any one treatment – conventional or alternative -is going to work for everybody. Yes, big pharma is still the enemy but I no longer assume all conventional doctors are “in on it”. Most just really believe that they are doing the best they can to heal you.
Exercise is no longer something just to lose weight.
Yeah yeah- this is something I should have known all along, but getting exercise was never a priority for me. It’s just not fun and usually made me hurt afterwards. Luckily, I had begun exercising over a year before I was diagnosed in order to lose weight. So continuing to get my daily walks in was no big trouble for me. What I discovered was that no matter how tired I became from the chemo or how much of a struggle it was to lace those shoes up and get off the couch, I saw the actual lab evidence of how the exercise raised my blood counts and boosted my energy. It may seem counter-intuitive to spend precious energy when your body seems to be telling you to rest, but getting daily exercise in really IS for your overall health – not just to work off those Doritos you ate.
Your self esteem WILL suffer.
I’ve been told numerous times how strong I am and how amazing my attitude is…blah blah blah. Seriously -thank you! But most of you have no idea what goes through a girl’s mind and heart when dealing with all the breast cancer stuff. Everyone wants you to be strong so you hide the tears and plaster on a smile. But every cancer sister has cried looking at herself in the mirror. Losing your hair, your brows, your eyelashes, and often a breast or two cuts your esteem to the core. Some of us lose our pretty skin by the ravages of chemicals and radiation. Clothes no longer fit right, muscle tone is lost, bags show up under eyes, nails become brittle and often disfigured. I lost nearly all of my upper body strength and now have hanging skin all about my mid-section.
I often chastise myself for feeling ugly. Be grateful you are alive, Gail! Be grateful you started out with a pretty face. Be grateful you know how to use make up. Be grateful you can afford wigs. Be grateful your hair IS growing back! It won’t look butch forever…etc. I am also so grateful to have people in my life who try to pump up my flailing ego. Yes, caring so much about one’s looks is a bit shallow, but it just IS and that’s ok.
But I know some cancer sisters who lost their boyfriends or husbands over this looks thing. Men who lost their love and/or passion when their woman suffered the side effects of treatments. “I’m sorry baby, you just don’t turn me on anymore” , “I’m afraid to touch you now -you seem so fragile” , “you’re always sitting on the couch or at the doctor” , “treatment made you you gain (or lose) weight”… etc. I’ve heard stories of how men have failed horribly at supporting their woman. Sure, it’s easy to say that one should be glad to be rid of a man like that, but it’s still a massive ego killer.
Sure, men are visual and looks matter to them. I get that. But you know what? Your woman is fighting just to stay alive. She is fighting her own esteem battles. Now is the time that YOU be strong and suck it up and tell her she is pretty even if you don’t think she is. Look past the broken boobs, the bald head, the sickly skin and see the amazingly beautiful women underneath that needs you to touch her, hold her, make love to her, tell her she’s your everything. Give her a reason to keep up the battle. Don’t bail on her now.
There is no such thing as “too busy”
Today’s world is definitely more time consuming than the olden days, but I’ve come to realize that “being busy” is really no excuse. I am busy too -yet always make time for my treatments and doctor appointments. Getting cancer has forced me to re-arrange my life. It changed my priorities. Facing mortality has made me put spending time with people at a higher priority than say…my job, cleaning my house, my hobbies…etc. If Cousin Jerry calls and wants to meet for coffee but receives the response, “I’m sorry, I’m swamped with work and the kids right now” what you are really saying is “I’m sorry, you are not the priority right now.”
I’m not judging and I certainly do not expect that other people put me as a high priority in their life. I just realize now that when someone does put me as a priority -its something to truly cherish!!
STRESS -it’s just not worth it!
“Let it go Phil” It’s my new mantra. Stress is the true cancer creator. I’ve talked to hundreds of people in all different walks of life. Some were smokers, overweight, and ate the typical American unhealthy diet. Some were health nuts, avoided all toxins, and exercised daily. Most were somewhere in between. Yet they all got cancer and every one of them questioned WHY? Why is it that some people go through their entire life smoking and never get cancer? How “fair” is that?
We may all have different body make ups, chemistry, cells, genes…etc. But we are all subject to the effects of stress. Stress lowers your immune system and shortens your DNA chains – making it more likely for a cell to mutate. There are numerous different ways to stress your body. Most people think our jobs, horrible bosses, traffic, family issues,debt and so on are stress but bad diet, toxins, chemicals we ingest and come in contact with are culprits too. We are constantly bombarded with stress. Some people are genetically more capable of handling it. Some people take measures to reduce it. Some people are just plain lucky that it doesn’t kill them.
But EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. I’ve talked to who was diagnosed with cancer said their diagnosis came after a particularly bad stress event. One’s mother had died, another went through a bad divorce, another was raped, another had to move cross country after losing her job. My own event was living with and subsequently divorcing an alcoholic who suffered with PTSD. This revelation made me re-examine my life and my current stress levels. I now strive to let go of as much as possible and then take measures to relieve what is left.
Will it matter tomorrow? Or next week? Let it go, Phil. Perhaps that man who just cut you off on the freeway is frantically trying to get to his dying mother or his daughter who was just shot in a drive by so let it go, Phil. That cashier who is winning the record for being the slowest EVER may have arthritis so bad she can barely see past her pain but had to come to work to feed her grand babies so who cares that it added an extra 10 minutes to my shopping trip. Let it go, Phil. If I can’t make up a potential stress relieving excuse then I employ the “just forgive and let it go” method. And if all else fails, a stiff drink, an extra walk, some yoga or meditation or a good belly laugh with my friends will usually do the trick.
I’m sure there are many other ways I’ve changed since hearing the cancer news but this is enough for one post. I think these changes have all been positive and made me into a calmer, nicer person. I’m letting go of the know-it-all girl, usually too busy to make time for people who let stress get the best of her.
If you’ve got time, I’m happy to pick up the phone and find ways to help belly laugh your stress away too. xoxo