Perspective

Have you ever reached a point where you feel like things are crashing down around you? You’re burnt out with your job, annoyed with your spouse, even fed-up with friends? Nothing’s really wrong, except that you just feel fried by life. You need a vacation!

That’s where I was recently. Nothing was really wrong. Life is good. My grandchildren are beautiful (I’m having the best time crocheting toys for them!). And my husband and I are in a good place with jobs and our marriage.

So, what’s the deal? Why do I feel like I need Calgon to take me away? (I’m may be giving away my age with that reference!).

But as I attempted to have a pity party with myself, another part of me stood up to smack me in the head. The other part of me remembered where I was 10 years ago this month. How things have changed, but how good things have been in the last decade.

You see, ten years ago, I was diagnosed with my second bout with cancer. Something we had thought we had beaten five years earlier reared its ugly head again, in a slightly different form, and tried to take over my life, or more accurately, take my life.

Facing my cancer diagnosis together

This time, I had a double mastectomy, but chose not to have chemotherapy. It was an aggressive cancer to be sure, but the reasons for chemo just weren’t there. I’ve had my share of radiation from my first time with breast cancer.

So, as I think back at that time in my life, the diagnosis coming right before my birthday (the picture was taken on my birthday, knowing the diagnosis but still not knowing what the treatment would be), and the surgery coming a month later, I realize I have NOTHING to be down about. Since that time, I’ve been blessed with my children’s marriages, and two beautiful grandchildren. Yes, there’s been tough times, including cancer battles for my mother and brother, but there’s been so much joy, too. And many, many blessings.

When I feel down, or annoyed, or fed up, it doesn’t hurt to still want a vacation. It’s good to take a break. But I need to put these feelings in perspective. I’m still here. I’m strong. I’m healthy. I’m tremendously blessed with family and friends.

No time for a pity party here. It’s time to celebrate 10-years of being cancer-free instead. That’s my kind of party!

How do you keep perspective?

The Look in Her Eyes

I recognized the look in my friend’s eyes. I could see beyond her smile and her hugs. Deep inside, I saw fear. Fear of the unknown she is facing, and the new path she’s now walking. You see, my friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
I could see beyond her brave face, because I’ve been down that road myself…twice.

Our small group gathered around her and her family the night before her first chemo treatment, to pray for her. She was strong, and her faith was evident, but I think only someone who’s walked in similar shoes could see that particular look in her eyes – overwhelmed, fearful, but trusting, because it’s times like these where you need to trust God more than ever.

When you’re told you have cancer, before you can even comprehend those words, you’re suddenly whisked off for a battery of consultations, tests and scheduling.

Cancer barely penetrates your mind, yet it’s looming over everything you do from that moment forward. Your world has shifted upside down, and you’ve stepped on the roller coaster. And it can be quite the ride.
25fec-beckyandvince
Here is a picture of my husband and me where I can see “that look” in my own eyes. This was taken on a Sunday, on my birthday. We were having a great day, enjoy the celebration with friends. But the Friday before, I had been diagnosed with my second bout of cancer, and the next day, a new round of tests, doctors, and mapping out treatment plans was beginning. So, as I turned another year older, I knew that year was going to be challenging, and scary, yet I had my husband right by my side and my faith to guide me. But I still had that fearful look of not knowing quite what to expect, trying to hang on to faith, while facing an unknown, frightening path.

It’s the look I saw in my friend’s eyes the night we prayed for her.

While I’ve walked in similar shoes as my friend, her journey will be different. Everyone’s is. But I will walk beside her, and pray for her and her husband and family.

That’s all I can do, and trust that God will hold her like He’s held me.

What now?

Obviously, since I haven’t posted in a while, I’m not sure what to do with this blog any more.  I’ve talked a lot about my cancer experiences, and hopefully shared how faith, family and friends get you through that. I had a whole list of things to discuss on this blog, and you know what? I don’t want to talk about cancer anymore!  At least not right now.

I’m tired of cancer.  It’s been too big in my life, and now that I’m past all surgeries and all treatment, I want to put cancer in the past, too. I want to go back to being normal again. 
But what is normal?  The tag-line on this blog says “Living After Cancer – the New Normal.” Well, that’s true, this is a new normal.  Cancer changed everything, whether I want to admit that or not.  But I just don’t want it to dominate my entire life.
I’m very proud to be a survivor.  I love to encourage and give hope to others who are struggling with this awful disease or who have friends or family members in the midst of it.  But I’ve never been one to go to these fundraisers or 5K runs, and wrap a pink feather boa around myself indicating that I’m a survivor.  Please don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong about survivors proudly proclaiming that we’re still here.  We should!
I just don’t want to think about this disease every single day.  It may have changed me…and changed me more than my physical appearance, but it won’t define me.  Again, I don’t want to trivialize survivorship. Believe me, every day I look in the mirror, I see that I had cancer.  And my scars are a symbol of surviving.  However, my life is much more than “I had cancer.”

I don’t want to think about it anymore.  I want other things to dominate my life. Key words: my life. (not my cancer).  That life should be focused on my wonderful husband, fantastic kids, cheering on my daughter as she goes to graduate school, preparing for my son’s spring wedding in 2012…there’s so much more going on in my life.  Cancer isn’t here anymore.  Life is here!
Now I want to be a “normal” woman, whose biggest worry is complaining about her weight!
It’s time for life.

Caring for the Care-Giver

One of the most difficult things with having cancer was worrying about my husband and family. I think they have the hardest job. Yes, I was enduring surgery, and previously, radiation. But I had doctors, nurses, and others taking good care of me, and I really had no choice with what I had to go through as the patient. I was just along for the ride. But being the spouse of someone battling this disease is often times worse than being the patient. It’s so difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch your loved one in pain or going through surgery. There’s nothing worse than that helpless feeling. Who takes care of the care-giver?

No matter how many times I told my husband to take a break or make sure he was in good shape, he’d always say “It’s not about me right now.”
Well, in my mind, it was about him. He marvels that people from our church came to sit with him and pray during my surgery. He doesn’t understand that having our friends with him so he wouldn’t be alone made ME feel better. I wanted him to feel love and supported. It doesn’t do us any good as patients to watch our loved ones run themselves ragged.

While being a cancer patient is often a lonely road, I believe being the spouse or a loved-one of a cancer patient is often lonelier and scarier.

The next time you go see a sick friend, or visit a patient in the hospital, make sure you take the time to do something special for the spouse of that patient. Let them know they really aren’t alone and that people care about them as much as they care about the patient. Take them out for coffee and let them talk. Listen to them. They have just as many fears as the cancer patient does. Maybe more…

Take care of the care-giver. It’s good medicine for all of us.

Keep on truckin’ everyone!

Scars

Scars. I don’t think there are any of us who haven’t dealt with scars one way or the other — whether physical scars or emotional ones. Right now, I think I’m wrestling with both.

I’m used to scars. I was in a motorcycle accident when I was 20 years old, and ended up with a compound fracture of my right femur and had four operations on my leg. Thankfully, I walk, talk and can go dancing. With physical therapy, I was nearly good as new. By the way, I think physical therapists are fantastic! They’re very special folks and really do their best to get you back to “normal.” Again, after any accident or surgery, there’s a “new normal.” However, if there’s a “normal” to get to, your PT’s will help you get there!

Ok, I digress…The result of my leg surgery were scars. I have one that goes from my knee to the top of my leg. My hubby calls it my zipper. This scar really only bothered me in the summer — when I’d wear shorts or a swimsuit. But it didn’t take long for me to dress how I wanted and not worry about hiding my zipper. I didn’t want my scars to run my life.

Now, I have more scars across my chest. Of course, these are easier to hide. But they’re still there.

There are two ways you can look at scars. It’s easy to look at scars and believe they’re ugly and disfiguring. With scars, you know you’ll never look the same way again as you did before.

Or you can look at scars as a sign of strength and survival, as God’s blessing. You may ask yourself “What? Scars as a blessing? After the trauma that caused them?”

Yes, scars are a blessing. My scars tell me that I’m still here. After a while, I learned to look at my scars as a sign of strength and survival. Going through that accident and the recovery, and going through cancer not once, but twice, has made me realize I was stronger than I thought I was.
That God carried me through those surgeries, and that He has work for me to do here on earth.

Would I feel that faith and feel this strength had I not gone through these experiences? I was talking with my cousin last week. In future blog posts, I hope to share more about my cousins. We are blessed to be a part of the same family, as most of us choose to go beyond just being cousins, and choose to be brothers, sisters and friends.

So, I was chatting with my special cousin-sister. She fights her own daily battle against a physically debilitating disease: arthritis.
This is not the disease just for aging. She’s had this as long as I can remember, and has to deal with physical pain and the crippling effects every single day. But she told me, she wouldn’t be the same person without this disease. It has made her stronger, made her the person she is today. And I must say, she is beautiful, strong, and sunshine in our lives. If you didn’t know what she battles every day, you would think she didn’t have a care in the world. She is such a bright light, and like me, would credit family and faith for getting her through her days.

My cousin and I have a kinship. She was also in a serious accident when she was younger. And now we know we are more beautiful for what we’ve endured, despite the physical changes on the outside. We are blessed to have our family, to have our faith and prayers for each other, and blessed to have our scars, both inside and out. We’re stronger for our pain, and know God will use this for His purpose in those around us.

I’m thankful for my cousins and the scars we share.

Keep on truckin’ everyone.

The Rollercoaster

I’ve always thought of this journey of dealing with cancer as a roller coaster ride. One minute you’re up, the next you’re down. One minute, you’re strong and you can beat this thing, and the next you’re shouting at God saying “Why me?” One day there’s a doctor sharing grim news, and the next there’s a doctor providing hope.

Living after cancer is not much different than living a “normal” life (whatever normal is). We’re all on the roller coaster of life. There are good days and bad days, calm seas, and rough ones. I guess life would be pretty boring if it wasn’t a bit of a roller coaster ride. It reminds me of that scene in the movie “Parenthood” from 1989 with Steve Martin, where Martin’s grandmother is talking about how exhilirating, frightening and sickening the roller coaster was as compared to the merry-go-round, where it just goes around. She preferred the roller coaster. Well, the roller coaster is life. I’ve always thougth you can’t appreciate the good times without going through the bad times.

So, the point of this is that I’m back on a small roller coaster ride. I went to see my cancer doc yesterday because of the swelling in my arm. Again, it’s not the side where the cancer was and where they removed lymph nodes. That’s where you’d expect some swelling, but that side looks great. It’s my other arm that is swelling. To quote my doctor, “Well, that’s weird!” Yep, it’s weird and unusual. I had the rare, unusual cancer, now I’m having a weird, unusual swelling in the wrong arm.

I’m having a chest CT in two weeks (the cancer I had is one that likes to go to the lungs, so although we believe we got all of it during surgery, we are watching things closely). My chest CT has now been modified to include my left arm. We all think I’m just retaining fluid. My hubby and I have determined that the massage therapy we learned during my Physical and Occupational Therapy already helps. So it may come down to where I have to wear a compression sleeve on that side.

That’s not the greatest news, but not the worst news. I hate my compression sleeve that I have to wear when I fly. Now, it looks like I’ll have to wear one on both arms. But if that’s the worst of this, then it’s okay. It’s annoying but not life-threatening. Just another twist and turn on this roller coaster of life after cancer.

Keeping a positive attitude is difficult somedays. But, in thinking about my attitude in recent weeks, I realized I was forgetting to pray. I was so wrapped up in my discouragement, I didn’t seek the right kind of help by being prayerful. So, as I’m getting dressed after my appointment, I thanked God for my husband, my wonderful doctor, and for the blessings of good medical care. Compression sleeves aside, life is still okay.

On another positive note, as I said, the massage we learned seems to help keep the fluid moving. So that means my hubby must massage me every day. It’s a very particular kind of massage, but hey — he’s touching me daily. And it’s become a sweet one-on-one time for us. See — there are always good things along the way!

Keep on truckin’ everyone!

Bosom Buddies

A friend of mine was just diagnosed with DCIS. For those who don’t know, DCIS stands for Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ. If you have to get breast cancer, well, this is the one to get. It’s very treatable, very curable if caught early. My friend has had the biopsy, awaiting the MRI, then whatever treatment plan comes from there. I’m guessing lumpectomy and probably radiation.

She’ll do just fine. She has a strong faith, a wonderful family, and friends who will love and support her. She has a great sense of humor, too, which you definitely need.

She’s putting on a brave face, and she is brave, don’t get me wrong. But I also can see the fear in her eyes, and I know how overwhelming it all can be. I want to help her and support her. I want to reassure her she WILL get through all of this. I don’t know the best way to do this for her, but I guess number one is just to listen. When she wants to talk, let her talk.

Her experience will differ from mine, just because we’re different people. However, listening and being there is something we all can do for a friend, especially if we’ve been through the same thing.

I don’t want to smother my friend, nor do I want to ignore her. I want to reassure her — hold her hand, remind her that this is all treatable and survivable. After all, she’s now joined this exclusive club that none of us wanted to join. But here we are — Bosom Buddies, so to speak.

So as her Bosom Buddy, I’ll be there when she wants me there, and I’ll leave her be when she needs time on her own. Most of all, I’ll do my best to listen to her, pray for her, and just be a good friend.

I guess this is something we should do for all the people in our lives — be a friend.

Keep on truckin’ everyone!

I’m “normal” today!

I know the theme of this blog is the “new” normal, which is dealing with my new physical body, making decisions about reconstructive surgery, visiting doctors every three months for the next couple of years, etc., etc.

But after yesterday’s post on feeling discouraged, I realized I’m “normal,” at least for today – hee hee. I’m not alone in feeling discouraged or upset that I have aches and pains preventing me from exercising, or a sinus headache like no end this morning.

This past weekend, hubby and I attended a wedding and a funeral. As my aunt so aptly said: it was the circle of life. So, it’s part of life to be frustrated or discouraged. It’s normal today that I have a deadline for my job and am battling a sinus headache.

So, because I had cancer do I get to crawl under a rock? Nope — one has nothing to do with the other. Which is why I’m normal today. I’ll have to do what hundreds of other people have to do today — take my medicine and plow through to complete my work. Since my boss commented on yesterday’s post, I for sure better buckle down and “get ‘er done!”

But I want to take a moment to thank everyone for their wonderful comments and words of encouragement. I don’t know what possessed me to start this blog thing. It’s difficult for me to express my feelings and put it all out there. But the comments yesterday and wonderful words have lifted my spirits, and once again, showed me how blessed I am. Y’all won’t judge me forever as a negative person because I have a discouraging day. Thank you for that. Oh, for those reading me on blogger, most of my comments came via Facebook. But thank you to all for being encouragers and for your kind words and prayers.

Finally, although I’m just a normal, average person, maybe my experiences can help someone else not feel so alone. That may have been my goal in starting this, but yesterday proved that I received the blessing.

Okay– medicine taken — let’s pray the sinus headache recedes, and onward I go to complete my work for the day. This day which is a “normal” day!

Keep on truckin’ everyone! 🙂

My Cancer History

A little bit more about me and my history. I was diagnosed with breast cancer (DCIS) in June 2004. I had a lumpectomy and 7 weeks of radiation. Believe me, I did all I could to move on very quickly from that and put it behind me. I hated radiation! By week six, I was in misery, and couldn’t wait to be done with the entire ordeal.

Of course, that inspired me to write about it, with the help of my husband. You can read more of our story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book (released March 2009).

After that, I happily put cancer behind me. Truthfully, I felt like I “got off easy.” I had fairly minor surgery, and despite how I hated radiation, I did not have to have chemo. I was still me and ready to move on with my life.

But five years later it all changed. Yes, I made it to my five-year mark. Five years and three weeks to be exact. But in July 2009, during my mammogram, the doctor said there was something there. But this one was different. I did NOT have a recurrence. Instead, I had a new cancer, in the same breast as my previous cancer. This was diagnosed as a high-grade sarcoma. It was, as the doctors like to say, “an ugly baby.”

Well, this ugly baby would cost me my breasts. A double-mastectomy was in order. I was diagnosed two days before my birthday.

My emotions were all over the place. Fear, hope, faith, fear, fear, fear…
I was afraid of surgery, anesthesia, pain, recovery, what would I look like, and mostly would I die?

The internet research I did on sarcoma was frightening. I was turning 46 years old, and what I had thought was the downhill slide toward 50, suddenly became a very young 46. I wasn’t ready for all of this. A possible death sentence at 46 was wrong. I was much too young!

Yet there it was in front of me. This time, I wouldn’t be able to ignore my cancer, and its effect on me. This cancer was much too real.

More to come…

This blog has long been defunct. Probably because I didn’t have a topic or theme for the blog. Well, maybe now I do. And it’s a difficult one for me to write about. I don’t want to be a public person known JUST as a cancer survivor. I’m much more than that. I don’t want cancer to become my identity. However, there’s so many twist and turns on this journey through cancer, that maybe I should write about it. Maybe just to not feel so alone at times. I know there are many, many other survivors out there who have walked this road. Hey, and thank God there are so many survivors!! I like that! But it’s still an exclusive club that we’re in. A club we never wanted to join, yet here we are. I’ve been here twice now. Back on this journey, and I don’t want to be alone.
To clarify, I KNOW I’m never alone. As a Christian, I have my faith in God, and He definitely has been with me ALL THE WAY through this journey. No, I don’t understand why I got cancer twice. But I do believe that all things are used for God’s purpose. Maybe mine is just to reach out with love and with hope. Maybe I’ll never know the reason, but I definitely want to focus on moving forward and not back.
This blog was originally called Rebecca’s Journey. What a journey this life is! The theme of this blog is the “New Normal.” The “new normal” is what happens when your life turns upside down, and this you’re supposed to begin again — with many things being the same, but your perspective, and your physical health and looks being so much different.
Everyone reacts differently to having cancer, to getting through treatment, to surviving cancer. Surviving is a word I like to focus on. However, different we may react, only a fellow cancer survivor knows what this feels like at its core. Friends and family can understand, sympathize, and care for you like never before, but sometimes you want to scream: You don’t know what this feels like! But as long as those friends and family members allow you to scream, and still love you anyway, then I guess it’s all right.
I’ve screamed at God. I didn’t understand, and I certainly didn’t want this. But yet I know He’s been there by my side the entire time. Of that, I have no doubt. He’s shaping me, molding me into someone else. It’s obviously not just my physical body that’s being re-shaped. And hopefully, I can take this faith, and this experience, and turn it in to something good.
For now, I just wanted to say hello. Next time, we’ll go into my cancer history, so you’ll learn more about the road I’ve been on. Maybe together, we can share and care for each other, and still be grateful to be here!