The Cancer Journeys: The Gift of Peace

It’s been a while since I’ve written a cancer blog. Admittedly, they are difficult to write. And now, someone close to me is nearing the end of his life due to cancer. It’s hard.

In watching this person face the end of his life, and to watch those close to this dear man, I’m amazed at how calm and peaceful they are when confronting this awful situation. The faith they are exhibiting is extraordinary, even through the fear and sadness.

When any of us receive a scary diagnosis, our reactions can vary. I’ve observed, and experienced, the different ways we can respond. Responses range from fear, to denial, to anger, to hope and the courage to fight, to acceptance. These are similar stages in the grief process. That’s probably not a coincidence. There is grief with a cancer diagnosis, because you are changed from that day on.

In thinking through this, there’s a quote that resonates with me these days:

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. — Brian Tracy

I want to take a lesson from this person close to me and with how he is living up to that quote. I want to face life with dignity, grace, and no wasted time. That kind of strength only comes from God.

Cancer has taught me many things. Sometimes I want to ignore that I even had cancer. There are times I want to use cancer survival as motivation to spur me on and to remind me that I am stronger than I think I am. But it’s not cancer itself that affects me. It’s my faith and how I deal with cancer that can make a difference.

How we handle life’s difficulties can inspire others or disappoint or scare us and others. I can only hope I inspire like my dear family member is inspiring me…with peace and calmness, and serenity. That in and of itself is a gift.

The Cancer Journeys: Blindsided by Emotions

I’m currently planning a series of blog posts about cancer, called “The Cancer Journeys.” This will be a series of posts about my journeys with cancer that are designed to give someone else hope and courage, no matter what you’re going through.

As I was gathering old journal entries and making notes of my thoughts, my emotions started going all over the place. I stopped, and told my husband, “My brain is full.” I got really sad, and, if you ask my husband, maybe even a bit prickly. 😉

It’s taken me a few days to sort through my emotions, and I’ve come to a startling conclusion: I’m angry! This surprises me, because I’m not very temperamental, and not the anger type.

However, right before Christmas, I had surgery, and from that surgery, the pathology showed I had endometrial cancer. This is my third time with cancer, and all three are different types. With this most recent one, before the hysterectomy, we weren’t even 100% sure that it was cancer. With my other two cancers, we already had the confirmed diagnosis and had an idea of what we were dealing with. This time, we didn’t.

It’s really strange to find out you had cancer after the fact. We caught it early, and no other treatment is required. It was almost over before it began. My first symptom showed up November 1st, and by December 21st, I was in surgery. It happened quick, and before I could blink, I was recovering from surgery.

Now, here I am, just over two months later, I’m recovered, feeling great, and back to my regular activities and life. But emotionally, maybe not so much.

As many of you may know, my husband and I were high school sweethearts, who ended up at different colleges, and eventually to different lives. We reunited and married 21 years after high school. Yes, we’re one of those couples. During those 21 years apart, my husband married and had children, then tragically lost his wife in a car accident.

Over the years, we’ve talked a lot about grief, especially how grief can blindside you. You can be going along, doing okay, then hear a song on the radio or smell her favorite perfume, and bam! Suddenly, you’re a puddle of tears.

I think there’s grief with cancer as well. Please know, I’m not equating the loss of a loved one with the loss of a body part or two. But there is a level of grief and emotion when you’re battling for your health.

Even if the immediate diagnosis, surgery, crisis have all passed, you can still be blindsided. Any traumatic event is going to leave a scab. And sometimes scabs get ripped open again and bleeds.

You know what? It’s okay to be emotional. I’m good at stuffing my emotions and putting on a brave front. But once in a while, you just have to roll with the punches. And this week, I’m acknowledging my anger at a third cancer diagnosis, despite the fact that all is well right now.

I won’t carry this anger around forever – that takes too much energy! But I need to acknowledge it, face it, then put it behind me as best I can.

God has gifted me with a glorious life. It’s time to get on with it!

How about you? Have you ever had emotions sneak up on you from a past event? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you.

Cancer and Survivor’s Guilt

Ten years. Cancer free. It almost seems unbelievable, how fast it’s all gone. I’ve been thinking about this anniversary, and as usual, I seem to be stuffing my inner most feelings. I’m afraid to go that deep. I should have some words of wisdom or some deep reflection about this anniversary, but my emotions seem to be all over the place, so I’m stuffing them.

I don’t talk about my cancer journey often, but when I do, it’s only with the hope of encouraging someone else. Everyone’s cancer journey is different, so I can’t presume to know what another is feeling. But as I reflect on my ten years of being a survivor (or 15, if you count the first time I had cancer), I’m feeling emotions that I haven’t seen much written or talked about.

I think I have survivor’s guilt.

Don’t get me wrong. Today needs to be a day of celebration and gratitude from the deepest parts of my soul. Gratitude to God for providing the right doctors at the right time. For our second opinion doctor about post-surgery treatment, for my husband, children and family  for their continuing love and support. I feel all of that.

But deep down, the emotions are startling to me. If I let reality in, the reality that I could’ve died, the reality that I survived when I know of so many others who have lost their cancer battles, then that will make me crumble.

I want to acknowledge this day, this moment, instead of crumbling. Life is good right now, there are so many blessings of family, friends and grandchildren!  But with all of that comes the question of how can I live up to being a cancer survivor?

I was spared when others weren’t.

This is why my emotions are all over the place. I never thought of survivor’s guilt with cancer. I think I’ve felt this way for a long time. Every time someone lost their cancer battle, I felt guilty for “winning” mine. I know God has a purpose for it all, but it doesn’t make it easy to understand.

So, how do I resolve this?

Instead of putting enormous pressure on myself to do something monumental, perhaps I need to just look at my purpose day-to-day. Maybe an act of kindness every day is monumental. Taking a friend to lunch. Heck, having a nice warm dinner ready for my husband after his long commute home from work on cold, wet roads. Is that enough? Being a good Grammy and loving on my precious grandchildren, is that monumental enough? Is it “fulfilling my purpose?” I say yes to all of the above. Perhaps my big purpose in life may be how well I live my life day-to-day.

For today, while inwardly, I may struggle with the emotions of being a survivor, outwardly, I celebrate. I thank God for giving me these ten years and I pray I’ll have many more. I pray I find a way to live up to being one of the survivors of this horrible disease.

And maybe it’s all that any of us can do. Most of us won’t influence the entire world, but we can influence those around us.

I may never be world-famous or change the world, but I can serve a purpose with the world around me.

 

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?