Today’s blog needs little introduction. So, I will just say thank you to my new cyber friend and fellow TWRP author, Mackenzie Crowne.
Though it’s not a four-letter word, it sure conjures up a lot of them. Fear, sick, pain, loss, hell, dead, you get the drift. I can’t tell you the first four-letter word that popped into my mind when I got the call diagnosing me with stage-three breast cancer. My mother would wash out my mouth with soap.
At the time I was a healthy forty-seven years old. I’d been married to a great guy — since about the end of the bronze age — we’d raised two wonderful boys to special men, and I’d just become a grandmother.
It was October. You know — Breast cancer awareness month. Suddenly everywhere I looked there were pink ribbons, and survivors were coming out of the woodwork like members of a secret society, calling to me to enter into the fold. But I didn’t feel I belonged. I wasn’t anything like those women. They danced, victorious on the other side of an abyss, while I staggered under quiet disbelief.
I’m normally a, the glass is half-full, kind of woman, but these circumstances weren’t normal. My glass had dropped to the floor, shattering into a thousand different pieces, a thousand different emotions. I was overwhelmed, and no amount of superglue, or duct tape, was going to put my glass back together.
Some wise person once said, ‘Life happens. It’s time to pull on your big girl panties and deal with it.’
Big girl panties in place, I took those first, staggering steps toward survival. Three life-altering years later, I have somehow found my way from cancer patient to survivor. I didn’t do it alone.
My family and friends were there for me as I went through double mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous reconstructive surgeries. They were there for me when I was scared, when I hurt so badly I cried, when I lost my hair, and when I was too sick to stand. I can’t express how blessed I am to have them all in my life.
Having said that, the one thing they couldn’t do was fight the battle for me. I had to do that on my own. In an effort to remain sane in the midst of insanity, I relied on many different internal forces. There are too many to mention here. The following are the top three on my list of lifesavers.
Number one is my faith.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to belittle the many doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals I’ve become acquainted with in the past three years. I’ve met some very talented, very dedicated people. But even as well-trained as they all are, what they do is not an exact science. They couldn’t give me assurances. The best they could do was increase the odds of my survival. I needed those assurances. I found them in my faith.
I can’t tell you how many times I climbed into God’s lap, spiritually speaking, to rest in the confidence of His love. I think of the practice as slipping into Scarlett O’Hara mode.
‘I can’t think about that right now,’ Scarlett said. ‘If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.’
Scarlett, I know the feeling.
I was Scarlett so often during the past three years, I may as well have been wearing a dress made out of drapes. I think I even started to speak with a southern accent. As long as I didn’t have any cancer related appointments on my calendar that day, I handed future stresses to God, and considered myself on cancer vacation.
Thank you, God, and thank you, Scarlett.
Number two is remembering to laugh.
|Chemo days- Mac with her granddaughter.
Many of the things I heard during my battle were ridiculous. Like the day I was asked, ‘When would you like to start chemo?’ Um, let me think. Never? Others things were downright funny. Believe it or not, I am a woman who was once asked the question, ‘Where would you like your nipple?’
Then there was the day I was changing clothes in front of a mirror and noticed a dime sized blood-blister at the center of one of the incisions from reconstructive surgery. It was on the side where I’d had radiation, and my first thought was, Oh crap, what now?
My daughter-in-law took one look, and said, ‘Mac, that isn’t a blood blister. That’s your implant!”
By ten that morning, I was booked for emergency surgery. I’d already spoken to the doctor, the hospital, and my insurance company when the phone rang. The call was from my plastic surgeon’s office assistant.
‘We have a problem,’ he said.
He went on to explain that the implant contact at the hospital was on vacation, so he hadn’t been able to procure the new implant I would need. They had implants on hand at the office, but with the doc in surgery all day, he wouldn’t be returning there before he was to meet me later that afternoon. A courier could be called, but we’d be cutting it close, time wise.
‘So, you want me to come get the implant?’ I asked.
‘I can’t believe I’m asking this, but yes. Would you mind?’
I could have said no, and let a courier deliver it, but hey, how many woman can say they’ve driven across town with their boobs in the passenger seat? So, I walked into the hospital with my new boob, and two spares, in a box.
‘What have you got there?’ the registering nurse asked as he led me back into pre-op.
‘I picked up the new implant from the doc’s office,’ I explained.
He opened the box and looked inside, the looked up, confused. ‘There are three in here.’
“Yeah, well,’ I said. ‘I think the doc is planning to make me into a Picasso.’
Remember to laugh.
Number three is the keeping of a journal.
As a writer, I suppose writing down my thoughts was a natural thing for me to do, but I’d never actually kept a journal before. The daily focus helped me deal with the wild swing of emotions I was experiencing. It also had an unexpected benefit.
Shortly before I began chemotherapy, I read back over my entries from those first few weeks. I was concerned at what I found. The entries documented my nearly complete absorption in the diagnosis. It was as if my real life, the one that had come to a screeching halt with that fateful phone call, had all but disappeared.
My words described the thoughts and fears of a victim. I had become a woman with a dark present, and a bleak future. Externally, I was waging battle. I had chosen the most invasive of surgeries, and the most aggressive of treatments, but internally, I seemed to be embracing defeat.
In contrast, interspersed throughout the dark entries in my journal, were a handful of positive memories that stood out like bright beacons of light. I was drawn to them. They were glimpses into the soul of the woman I used to be, before the diagnosis had left me paralyzed.
Disgusted, I made an effort to find more of those moments; like my wonder at the rainbow off my back patio one morning, or the beauty of the hummingbird that visited the feeder several times a day, or my laughter at some silly comment my granddaughter had made.
If you’ve received a similar diagnosis, I know what you’re thinking. Really, lady? You’re telling me to look for rainbows, hummingbirds, and silly comments from a toddler? I’m facing having a chunk of my breast removed, or the whole of it, and having toxic chemicals shot through my veins until I’m so ill I can hardly stand.
Yes, you are, and I’m the first one to agree, that sucks. But if you’re going to beat breast cancer, treatment is an inescapable fact. There’s no getting around it, and no matter what protocol is prescribed, some of it won’t be pleasant.
The next year, at least, is going to be jammed full of cancer related appointments, constantly reminding you of your diagnosis. The cancer battle can easily become a vortex, sucking you in, until nothing else exists. It’s debilitating and demoralizing, and human nature being what it is, it’s very easy to let yourself come to be defined by your cancer.
But by definition, fighting cancer is a battle. I didn’t want it to be my cancer. I wanted to defeat it. I wanted it gone.
It may seem insignificant to focus on the flight of a hummingbird in the midst of mastectomies and toxic treatments, but amazingly, focusing on the world beyond the vortex reminded me there was a whole existence out there that had nothing to do with cancer. It was a turning point for me. Thanks to those little blips of joy life delivered, I began to claw my way back from the dark, and I was able to take those first tentative steps toward the other side of the abyss. Toward victory.
As I write this, it has been almost four years since I found the lump that changed my life. It’s been a long and arduous adventure. I’ve experienced a range and intensity of emotions I never expected, and if you’ve received a similar diagnosis, you will as well. If you’re like me, you’ll know disbelief and fear, anger and frustration, but you’ll also know humor and hope.
Yes, being diagnosed with breast cancer is devastating. Yes, it’s frightening, and the treatment is horrendous. And yes, my life has changed. So will yours.
Keep in mind that not all changes are bad. Facing this kind of illness strips you down to the bare bones of life, and forces you to focus on what is important. In my case, that change has been a positive development on so many levels.
It goes without saying that family and friends come first, but since my diagnosis, I’ve also learned to allow myself my dreams. These days, I treat my love of writing with more respect. Five manuscripts later, six actually, as I finished another just this week, I’m seeing results. GIFT OF THE REALM, my first published novel, will be available this spring through The Wild Rose Press, with more to come.
I’ve met many women who have gone before me, and many of them faced this disease without the incredible medical and technical advances that we have at our disposal today. If there is one common characteristic I’ve seen in all the survivors I have met, it would be strength.
If you are just beginning your walk through this frightening disease, you probably don’t feel strong. Don’t beat yourself up if that is the case. You’ll get there.
Remember that everything they throw at you is doable. Take cancer vacations as often as possible. Allow yourself to take things one-step at a time, and try not to stress over what comes next. It will come whether you stress over it or not.
Remember to laugh, and try Scarlett on for size. She not only dressed well, she was a smart woman. Lastly, whether you know Him or not, God knows and loves you, and hears your pleas. His lap is always available.
|Mac today, posing with a good friend.
So, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take that first step toward conquering the abyss. I’m dancing on the other side. I’ll see you there.
And coming this spring, her first published novel,
Gift of the Realm will be available from The Wild Rose Press.