Monday, February 13, 2017

Journaling the Journey

How can a six letter word wreck your life in a heartbeat? You might not think it could, but I assure you it can. When I heard the word CANCER, my life, as I knew it, was turned upside down and inside out. I knew from that point forward nothing would ever be the same. It’s been 984 days since I received my initial diagnosis and it still feels like it was yesterday.

I can still feel –

…the crispness of the white paper underneath my legs while sitting on the exam table
…the weakness in my knees as I walked out to my car
…the wetness of tears staining my cheeks as I cried all the way home
…the tremor in my voice as I shared the news with my husband
…the icy cold gel poured onto my breast as the ultrasound tech prepared to test
…the horror at seeing the mass on the screen
…the sharp needle piercing my skin as the first biopsy was taken
…the excruciating pain radiating across my chest after surgery
…the uncomfortable pulling from dangling drainage bulbs at my side
…the shock and disbelief as I looked at my mutilated body in the mirror

And over those 984 days, I’ve experienced more than I ever dreamed I would. I’ve seen and felt more than I can say. It seems like another lifetime ago but it will only be 3 short years this June since I heard the dreaded words, you have cancer. Some of my feelings and experiences are very fresh in my mind and others I’ve carefully tucked away. Some too private and painful to share but others I think might be helpful to those newly diagnosed and that’s one reason I’m so thankful I began recording my journey on the day my life changed.

It started out as a way to process my feelings. I needed a safe place to share my thoughts, a place where I wouldn’t be judged or criticized. I started writing daily in journals but soon that became tedious. I wanted a more creative outlet so I began blogging. It was much easier to sit at the computer and type up my thoughts. I could add photos, media, and tags to my posts. If I wanted to share them I could. If I didn’t, I could mark them as private.

After the first couple of weeks, writing on my blog became cathartic. I realized, when I was blogging, it was like talking to an old friend. I looked forward to recording my thoughts and feelings.  At the end of the first year, I read back through my posts. I was amazed at the rollercoaster of emotions my life had traveled. I’d had so many bad days but the good days seemed to have outweighed the bad. I tried to be open and honest in my writing. I wanted my children to read through my posts one day and understand how I’d learned to deal with the hand cancer dealt me. I wanted them to know the reality of my pain but also the joy of my triumphs.  

I made a point to chronicle my treatments and used my cell phone to document tests, take photos of facilities and medical professionals. I always made sure to ask permission before taking photos of doctors or nurses and made sure they were okay with me posting the photos on my blog. I didn’t meet any resistance, in fact, all of medical team wanted to be included in my online journey! I was grateful for their willingness to participate and laughed as they made sure I captured their best side in the photos.

Keeping a record of my cancer journey was extremely important to me. I never thought it would be anything other than an online place for my personal notes and a place for my family to check for the latest updates on my medical care but, I’ve found it to be much more. I’ve recently been contacted by people from several countries asking for help or advice with their cancer care. They’ve read articles I’ve posted about various things I’ve experienced or alternative therapies I’ve tried and they’ve reached out. It’s blessed me to know things I’ve struggled with on my journey have helped others.

Journaling, blogging, and even video blogging (vlogging) have become very popular among the cancer community. Some find it a helpful way to keep records of surgery and treatment while others use it as a means of keeping friends and family updated. The breast cancer community is wonderful about sharing helpful tips and advice with the newly diagnosed. By keeping records of our journeys we not only help ourselves but help others.

Sharing personal information in an online format isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t want to share such private things with others and that’s understandable. For those not wishing to share, perhaps keeping notes in a personal diary or journal would work best for you. For those who find blogging a creative outlet, as I did, there are many websites hosting free web pages. For those more skilled at social media, or those who enjoy keeping a video diary of their journey, there are also places to post free vlogs on the internet.

Everyone has their own way of coping with a cancer diagnosis. Journaling may not appeal to you. But I needed to blog. It was very helpful to me. I continue blogging about my journey today. When I was first diagnosed, my blog was and as I began to move out of the treatment phase of my journey and back into life, I moved my blog to another site  At the end of each year, since beginning my blog, I’ve had my blogs printed into hardback books (offered as a service to bloggers from another online site). These books are now a permanent record for my children and grandchildren. It is my hope, that one day, they’ll take the time to read every entry and realize cancer was the most difficult time of my life, but also the one that taught me the most. 984 days, and I’m still here.  Tomorrow will be 985!

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