Saturday, March 28, 2020

A new "new normal"

Since the Corona Virus came to town, everything has been weird. Nothing makes sense. Overnight people got sick as the virus spread. And then some began to die. That's when the President decided it was serious. He closed our borders.

We watched the news listening intently to reports on China. My heart went out to those dear people. I'd been there. I had invested time in the lives of many students there when I had the opportunity to spend time teaching them English as a Second Language. It was hard seeing the devastation.

Emotions were on edge. Along with the fear at it reaching our country, many were angry at China. Many conflicting reports made wild insinuations. We had no idea what was really true and what wasn't. We were in the dark.

And that's when many of us grew to know a new normal.

As a survivor of breast cancer, my first time hearing the words "new normal" were as I'd completed treatment. Several of my "pink sisters" told me I'd soon face a different world, a world where nothing was familiar and everything had changed. They were right.

It didn't happen all at once. It happened slowly, but over time, I learned to adapt and adjust to being a breastless woman. I learned to navigate a world of pink, a world of learning unfamiliar medical terminology, feeling like a human guinea pig as I endured treatment, the ugliness of mastectomy bras, prostheses, lymphedema and lots and lots of bills.

I had many ups and downs, and still do. It's hard adapting, but I do it because I have no choice. I want to live and this is the lot I've been given, so I heed the words of a wise sage who once said, "Suck it up, buttercup!"

When television reporters and newspapers started to use the familiar cancer terminology, I felt a little betrayed. New normal belonged to breast cancer, not a paranoid world of people fearing a contagious virus. But somehow, the phrase stuck and media outlets are using it often. Oh well. Those of us who've been through breast cancer know what new normal really means, it means a whole lot more than what the general public think it means.

The current new normal revolves around lots of hand washing, disinfecting, sanitizing, and social distancing (another new terminology thanks to the Corona Virus). Businesses have been forced to close, the stock market is unstable, people are filled with fear and rightly so. No one wants to die.

But the President has a plan to boost the failing economy. He's presented a big stimulus package that will give adults in our country a check. People are happy about that. But it's a bandaid that won't really fix the problem. The new new normal will probably be around for a while.

If you ask a breast cancer survivor how she feels about all this, you might be surprised at the many different answers you'll receive. Each of us has a different perspective. But since this is my blog, I'll give you mine.

I think we learn to adjust and adapt. Humans have an innate will to survive. We do what it takes, always have, always will. And those who choose not to usually don't make it, although some don't have a choice, especially where cancer is involved.

Those of us who've survived cancer know what it takes to embrace change. We do it second by second each and every day.

I hope our country takes their new normal seriously and maybe, when things calm down a little, they'll pay more attention to the next person with cancer who tries to explain what living life post diagnosis feels like.

And that's all I've got to say about that.


Friday, February 28, 2020

A Change Is Gonna Come

The old Sam Cooke song, A Change Is Gonna Come, has always made me feel nostalgic. I love listening to his smooth, peaceful voice. For some reason, it reassures me that everything's going to be okay.

For the past few weeks, I've felt a stirring in my spirit. It feels like this year is going to be a year of great change.

It seems I've been stuck in a rut since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I've jumped through all the hoops and have done everything I was supposed to do. It hasn't been easy. There have been many ups and downs, but I can finally say I feel an imaginary door closing behind me.  Maybe it's false hope or maybe naiveté, I am unsure but I'm both grateful and afraid. How does one move forward?

Navigating cancer isn't easy and everyone's journey is different.

For the past 6 years, it's all I've known. I am thankful to be doing so well. Honestly, I am more than thankful.

I have so many friends in the thick of the battle right now and I have one who's just about to embark on her journey. I try to offer love and support to those who are fighting. That's one of the things that meant the most to me when I was in active duty. But for the one who's just about to begin her time in cancerland, my heart breaks. I want so badly to give her a heads up, to let her know what to expect, but I don't want to scare or discourage her.  She's so optimistic right now.  I am afraid I'd burst her bubble.

But what's our responsibility toward the newly diagnosed? Should we share our knowledge or should we keep quiet?  It's a fine line to walk.

As a survivor, I've found, the days post diagnosis come with no guidelines or rules. It's a challenge to figure things out on your own, but that's what's required of us.  And day by day, change comes.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Reflection

As I continue working on my book, God is reminding me of His faithfulness throughout my cancer journey. Reading back through old blog entries stirs something deep in my soul as I relieve the memory of my first steps on the breast cancer path.

It's been difficult to remember the initial pain and feelings I faced right after surgery. Though it was almost 6 years ago, it seems another lifetime ago. I wonder if I'll ever be able to forget breast cancer. I don't imagine I will.

Sometimes I wonder why I'm even trying to write a book about my experience. It's a daunting task. But if I can reach one person through my story, it will have been worth it.

Daily, I make myself sit and write even if for only a few minutes. The mental process of going through those first days again is traumatic.

I've put it off for almost two years now but I am determined to complete the book manuscript by year's end. I believe in God's perfect timing, so I will trust all of my procrastination has been part of the process.

I'd appreciate prayers as I go forward. Writing a book is hard and I have no idea what I'm doing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Annual checkup yields good news!

Yesterday I went to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America for my annual check up. For those unfamiliar with the cancer treatment center, it's an integrative facility that provides services for the body, mind, and spirit.

My day began in the survivorship department. While there, I met with the doctor and was asked about how I'd been feeling both physically and emotionally. We talked for about half an hour. The doctor and I had a few laughs and it was probably the most pleasant visit I've ever had. Instead of making me feel that she was the doctor and I was the patient, I felt like we were old friends just having a good chat. It was refreshing and I left her office feeling very optimistic.

Next was the port lab where I have my blood drawn. It's always a challenge there because I always have to explain about my lymphedema and why it's necessary to have blood drawn from my hand instead of my arm. You'd think, after 4 years of being a patient there, they'd remember or have put notes on my chart to remind them, but they don't. And it's always interesting that I am the one to point out exactly where the butterfly needle needs to be inserted to find blood, but I'm glad to do it instead of becoming a pin cushion for a newbie.

After the bloodwork was done, we had a 45 minute wait until the next appointment so I gave my husband a tour of the facility. We went upstairs to visit the library and the pool room. I showed him the chapel and the medical records department. We stopped by the inhouse wing where those in long term treatment are housed and we visited the cafeteria, gift shop, and the imaging department. When we'd completed the tour, we found a quiet corner and took time to enjoy our books.

Next stop was the oncology department where we waited another 15 minutes before I was called back and then, I waited about 20 more minutes before I heard a tap at my exam room door.  Instead of my oncologist, a nurse practitioner came in and explained the doctor was extremely behind and she would be helping me. She was very pleasant and I enjoyed my time with her. After a physical exam, she went over my labs and gave me the good news that I'm still in remission, although I prefer to use the term NED - no evidence of disease. To me, remission sounds too much like the cancer is lurking around just waiting for permission to come back. I don't want to even think about that.

As soon as she gave me the news, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. I didn't realize it until then, but I'd been extremely stressed wondering what the blood work would show.

We left the cancer treatment center and went out to dinner to celebrate. It was a wonderful evening and I was so very thankful.

God has been so good to me. I am blessed and highly favored! Now, I can breathe a sigh of relief and get busy living my life.

It seems it's been so long that I've been able to focus on anything other than cancer. It feels good to feel good and to know I'm cancer free.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Beautiful sunshine

Today was such a gorgeous day! The sun was shining and what a difference that made in my mood. The past few weeks we've had nothing but overcast, dreary days and it was beginning to cause my S.A.D. to flare up.

S.A.D. is seasonal affective disorder. Basically, a person's moods are affected by the weather. Those who suffer from the disorder find themselves feeling more blue and depressed when the weather is dismal.

Phil and I worked in the yard some trimming underbrush. It was good to be outside in the fresh air. I realized, I've been cooped up in the house too many days and wondered if perhaps my Vitamin D level had dipped dangerously low again.  Since my cancer diagnosis, I've had trouble keeping it regulated. The doctor has prescribed 50,000 i.u. per week but it doesn't always bring the level up to normal. Being in the sunshine is one of the fastest ways to absorb natural Vitamin D, that's why I'm happy when the sun is out.

I've noticed more bodily aches and pains lately. Sometimes I wonder if it's just because I'm getting old or if it's a combination of age, Fibromyalgia, and the effects cancer has had on my body. In any event, I do my best to push through and keep going. Some days are more challenging than others.

Hopefully, as we enter the month of February, we'll see more sunny days than rainy ones. I'm ready for an early Spring and so is Mr. Groundhog according to the Pennsylvania critter.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Spinning my wheels

Ever have a day where you just feel like you're spinning your wheels? It seems lately all of my days are going that way. I wake up with good intentions and a list of projects in hand but as the day goes on, I end up accomplishing nothing. My inability to focus is scaring me. I flit from one thing to another continually. The smallest of things overwhelms me. Take my email inbox for example.

Today, I sat down at the computer after failing to complete several other tasks. My one goal was to clean out my email inbox. When I opened up my Gmail account, I was overwhelmed at the amount of mail in each of the three categories - primary (where my important mail resides), social (where YouTube subscriptions, etc. reside) and promotions (where most of the unsolicited junk mail resides).

As I stared at the folders and the amount of mail in each, I felt frazzled. In the first place, how did I get so many emails in one day? It was insane, so the first thing I did was delete everything in the promotional folder. I didn't bother to read a one, just hit delete. Poof! They were gone. That felt better. Then, I was on to the social folder.

Those took a little more time. I wanted to glean emails I wanted to keep, so I had to go through them one by one. After doing that, I deleted the rest and made a mental note to unsubscribe from as many as possible tomorrow. I couldn't handle it today. Tomorrow would suffice.

On to the primary emails. These were the priority. These would need careful attention. I didn't want to accidentally delete any of the ones I needed. As I worked through them and read or deleted, more would pop up. It seemed they were coming from out of nowhere. How could I feel ambushed by something as simple as email? That's when it hit me. I'm suffering from post cancer PTSD.

For some time now, I've been struggling in different areas. Loud noises, sudden movements, and unexpected changes freak me out. I don't like feeling this way. I've always been one to be in complete control. Some days are worse than others, but it's definitely problematic. When I return to the cancer treatment center for my next checkup, I'm going to mention these issues to the doctor. Hopefully, he can recommend something to help.

I can't keep going like this, spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. It just won't do.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

It's so hard to understand

My inbox was full of messages. As I was going through the process of deleting the unnecessary ones, one in particular caught my eye. It was an update from a pink sister. I'd subscribed to her blog and she's subscribed to mine. We tried to keep up with each other and often compared stories. We were both diagnosed in the same year. We both had the same type and same stage cancer.

At first, it was comforting to know we were in the fight together. At each small success, we encouraged and cheered each other on, but recently, things have changed. Her cancer has progressed. She is now stage 4 and as far as I know, I still remain stage 2B.

This week, she'll start again with chemo and radiation. The treatment will be aggressive. She's scared, and rightly so. I'm scared, too. The prognosis doesn't sound good.

It's so hard to understand how two people, with such similar health diagnoses, can have such different paths. We're both Christ followers and have trusted Him to guide us on our journeys. And while we may not always understand His ways, we know He is Sovereign. He has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives. He works all things out for our good, even painful trials like cancer.

My heart hurts. One friend is nearing the end of her journey and another is just beginning hers. On February 11th I'll find out where I stand. Would you please say a prayer for J, M, and me? We sure could use your love and support.

Cancer is such a difficult trial. We still hope for a cure. Perhaps one day, there will be one.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Four words


She reached out via Facebook Messenger, this friend I'd met last year. We'd bonded during our trip to Israel. I'd come to love and respect her. We just clicked.

But when the news came, I wasn't expecting it. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. What could I say? What could I do?

I didn't want to discourage her by sharing my story, but I wanted to let her know I cared. Instead of offering my heartfelt sympathy, I typed four words, "I'm here for you."

And that was that.

But it wasn't really...

My heart hurt. Everything in me was churning. I could feel the anger rising up within me. When hot tears poured down my face, it felt like they were scalding. I didn't want her to have cancer. I didn't want anyone to have cancer. I wished I could wish it away for her, but I couldn't.

In the next few days, she'll meet with the surgeon to discuss her options. I'll be praying for her to have wisdom. And if she reaches out again, I'll be there, to offer love, support, and comfort.

The hard will come, I know it. She doesn't know about the hard yet, but soon she will.

And I hate it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Finding my tribe

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt alone and lost.  It didn't feel like anyone truly understood what I was going through. Oh, my family and friends did their best to offer their love and support but they just didn't get it. There was no way they could truly understand what cancer felt like because they hadn't gone through it themselves. I needed a tribe, a group of women who understood. A group of women who would be willing to accept me just as I was without needing me to pretend to be someone I was not. And so, I went in search of them.

I got on the internet and joined several breast cancer support groups. There were so many and I wasn't sure which ones were better than others, so I randomly selected a few. As I began reading the posts submitted by members, I was surprised. There were women who were feeling the exact things I was feeling. There were women who were struggling to find their identity. There were women who were overcome with emotion at having to fight a battle they never intended to fight. These women got it! Though they had never met me, they were embracing me with virtual hugs and love. It was so nice to be understood and to think, these complete strangers were being so kind to me and so welcoming, it was indescribable.

But some of the groups were filled with negativity. I tired quickly of reading their rants and their complaints so I left those groups. I focused on the other groups for a while but when I found faith based groups, I dropped all others. It was comforting to share a bond with sisters in Christ. Not only could we talk about our breast cancer journeys, we could also talk about our faith.

In one of those groups, I "met" a woman who was willing to come to my house. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before me and she wanted to help me understand what was ahead of me on my journey. I was so grateful for her willingness to help and we became fast friends until she moved farther away and our friendship dwindled.

But God brought other women into my life, more tribe members! I "met" other ladies through articles I'd written for a cancer magazine. The women reached out to me one by one. The contacts came through Facebook Messenger and most of the women wanted to learn about my experiences with alternative therapies for fighting cancer. As I shared my trial and error experiences, they wanted to stay in touch. We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses, and even physical addresses. Though most of the women lived out of state, we found a way to stay in touch. My tribe had grown and was flourishing!

Each one of these women have met a special need in my life. God knew exactly who to send and when. I may never have a chance to meet any of the newest members of the tribe in person, but hopefully they'll know how much I value their friendship.

In the breast cancer community, tribe is everything. Sharing our experiences, we also share a commonality that binds us tightly together.

I never thought I needed a tribe, but I've found I do. If I hadn't taken time to reach out and risk rejection, I would never have found acceptance.

Breast cancer has a way of stealing a person's identity but with a tribe of us, its often easier to understand who we are...we are strong and brave. We are warriors who don't give up or give in. We need each other to be reminded we're never alone.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Could it be cancer?

Today I've had trouble breathing.  Just doing ordinary household chores has taken my breath away.  For the past few days this same thing has been happening.  I haven't mentioned my secret fear to anyone.  In the back of my mind, I keep wondering, could it be cancer returning?

Recurrences can happen anytime after a person is diagnosed, but since I'm a little over 5 years from my original diagnosis, I've felt like I was safe. But that might not be the case.

I have an oncology appointment in early February.  At that time, I’ll have routine bloodwork and see the doctor in the survivorship program.

It's always scary when I go for those annual checkups.  I try not to be fearful of the big "what if" but it's hard.  I don't know what I'll do if I ever face that day.

In the meantime, I'm going to listen closely to my body.  If I keep having those feelings of being unable to get enough air, I'm going to call and move my appointment up a few weeks.

I don't want to think about the possibility that cancer could return. I don’t want to think about it concentrating in my lungs, but it's hard not to think that way when every symptom I face could be a signal that something is wrong.

With cancer, you can't never always sometimes tell...

A new "new normal"

Since the Corona Virus came to town, everything has been weird. Nothing makes sense. Overnight people got sick as the virus spread. And th...