Monday, October 3, 2016

A Personal Story About Cancer

published in the Chronicle Herald - Oct 3, 2016 and South Shore Breaker - Oct 5, 2016

Imagine your worst personal nightmare. Now imagine it came true. How would you react and what would you do? The answers may surprise you.
 
When I was a young and naive eighteen year old, I attended a one week training assignment with a bank in Toronto. While I was away from home, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be undergoing surgery the next day. The following day I was feeling quite ill while I was on my training course, and was sent to a doctor. It turned out that I had chicken pox and was sent home on a two hour taxi ride because I was contagious and couldnt travel on public transit.
 
Because of my chicken pox, I wasnt able to visit my mom in the hospital and had to stay away from her for a short time after she returned home. Looking back, I think we were forced to stay away from each other at a time when we probably needed each other the most. Treatments werent as good thirty five years ago, and my mom died just three years later, when I was 21.
 
Losing my mother at a young age impacted me in ways I never gave myself time to deal with. She was a fantastic cook and baker, but I didnt get a chance to spend time in the kitchen with her and learn how to make her specialties. It has been almost 40 years since I tasted pie as good as she used to make.
 
I never got a chance to talk with her about life, woman to woman. She wasnt there to give me advice when my son was born, or when my marriage fell apart. She wasnt there to celebrate with me when I found my true partner and got married quietly at home. I wasnt able to talk with her about the challenges of aging. There is a huge hole in my heart that never got filled.

Then my biggest nightmare came true. When I was 49, a spot was found on my mammogram. Surgery was required, and I found myself sitting in the surgeons office a couple of weeks later hearing the results. I had breast cancer. Numbly, I asked the doctor if we could call my husband into the room. We heard the details together and, not knowing what else to do once we left the doctors office, kept our plans to go grocery shopping and walked around the store in a daze.
After diagnosis, everyone's personal journey is different. My experience was not a fight or a battle, but a quiet acceptance and determination to do everything I could to help myself.
Being diagnosed with cancer is a scary thing and everyones personal journey is different. Emotional stages can include denial or shock, anger, stress or depression, fear, acceptance, and fight and hope. Friends and family may surprise you. Some people who you expect to be solid support are no help at all. And some people who you barely know might turn out to be the best support system you have.

Since my mother died of breast cancer when I was young, and my maternal grandmother also died of breast cancer years before I was born, the doctors were dedicated in screening me from an early age. We thought we may have to face my worst nightmare and we prepared ourselves. For this reason, someone close to me told me that I had brought the cancer on myself by thinking about it. What a devastating comment to make. I will never forget that conversation, and I try to choose my words very carefully when someone tells me about an illness they are facing.

Conversely, someone I had only met briefly contacted me and offered to meet with me. She invited me into her home and told me her personal story. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and passed along her experiences and advice to me, something she had no obligation to do. Her kindness and information helped me prepare for the unknown. We all have different experiences, but talking to someone who has gone through something similar is very helpful.

Lots of people don
t visit the doctor when something changes or seems wrong. Many women dont have mammograms because they think it will hurt, or they dont have time, or for a variety of other reasons. My advice is to suck it up and be brave. A few moments of discomfort just might save your life.
After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt it was important to stay positive. I used my photography and writing skills to put together inspirational images.
I faced my worst fear and the world didnt end. I couldnt control the disease, but I could control my reaction to it. My experience wasnt a fight or a battle, it was an acceptance and determination to do everything I could to help myself. I had the support of family and friends. I faced surgery, radiation treatments, and went through five years of drug therapy.  I try to believe in the positive and treasure each day. That is truly something good to focus on.

1 comment:

sybil said...

What a disappointing headline for an inspiring story.

You are an inspiration.

I'm biting my tongue about the person who said you brought it upon yourself.