5 Things I Have Learned About Myself
I've learned a lot about myself during the eight years I've been living with metastatic breast cancer. Too many to count but these are the five things I feel are worth sharing.
1. Insist doctors treat your whole person; not just your disease
There was no way to ever prepare me to hear that word, cancer. Even if I had suspected it; when those words were said, out loud, giving them life - it was like a nuclear bomb blowing that blew up my life; my world as I knew it.
I was told many times that I was strong. I had a mental list of who and why I needed to buck up and be the face of strength. My husband, my son, my family. I WAS strong. For a while. Though when I was alone with my thoughts several words screamed in my mind were: STOP, I CAN’T, MAKE IT GO AWAY!
The only things that quieted the noise in my head were talking to a counselor trained in working with oncology patients and the right combination of antidepressants. Yes, there are other things like meditation, exercise, acupuncture and they all have their benefits. I did all of them. It took me, five years to recognize that I need help. Once I did, I was able to find a light in the darkness I was in. I am now able to cope better than I ever have. Doctors forget that metastatic breast cancer isn't just a physical disease, it's also an emotional rollercoaster.
Once you've had time to sit with it; wrap your mind around the gravity of your new situation you absolutely must make it clear that your whole person - body and mind - be treated. Do all the things that make your mind/emotions feel good, but do NOT rule out a good therapist & antidepressants.
2. Shut out the bullsh*t
I've gotten to know hundreds of people with the shared connection of having or have had cancer. I have learned something from every single person I have had meaningful interactions with. They have also enabled me to get to know more of who I am. The people I became the closest with, I wanted to protect. When someone needed help with something (or someone) it was time to “rally the troops” if you will & solve the issue. That's what you do for your friends. Right?
Four or five years ago I said yes every time. But it can be a lot and not every situation requires the whole army. I learned to separate the emotions from the issue - and insert logic. When I was finally able to take a breath before acting, the decision to stay silent or do the more unpopular thing and say; this is not a fight I need to have, I felt lighter. We all have so much we deal with daily. Getting wrapped up in every situation or getting mad at things that don't matter is exhausting. If it took time away from the things that give me joy, I now swipe left.
3. Grab every good day with both hands
Do you have days that you just can't? I did and I still do have days I just can’t. When I do, I Netflix and forget it. The days I feel good, I shower, get dressed, put some makeup on and DO something. A day trip, going out to lunch, baking, or just walking my dog. I do the things that make me happy every single time because I know someday I won't be able to. Saying “There's always tomorrow” doesn't fly anymore.
4. Don't change who you are to make other people comfortable
Cancer sucks. Everyone thinks they know but unless you are in it or have experienced it up close and personal, trust me, you don't know. To be blunt, the thick sugar coating around Breast Cancer needs to be replaced with a clear coating of the truth. Every time I spoke my truth regarding how I felt or what I was going thru at that moment, I was met with: No one wants to hear THAT. For a while, I edited myself as not to “offend.” I saw things all the time about who was stuck in traffic, whose boss was terrible, or who spilled their coffee. No one else is choosing their words carefully so why am I? I can't help that cancer is now part of me. It's not the only thing about me but I do live with it every day and all of the collateral damage it creates. Sometimes you gotta vent or speak your truth.
I don't mean to imply firing back on someone having a bad day and one-up them or keep a chronic feed of pessimistic negativity. We are all entitled to have bad days.
I reached a happy medium, I created a blog, started writing. The muzzle came off and I felt a kind of freedom. So, when I am feeling some sort of way, I will probably talk about it. It may end up on social media or I may blog about it. I know it won't be embraced by all but I won't accept that I should keep it to myself or sugarcoat my words. You shouldn't either.
5. Look to the future
Hear me out. In the thick of treatment, cancer can feel like a full-time job. It's exhausting and monotonous. A never-ending cycle. That's why I try to have something fun planned or set a goal that I can look forward to; especially after a scan day. Having something on my calendar that has nothing to do with cancer helps me to stop playing the “what if” game in my head. Being able to mark the days off until the next trip or goal keeps me focused. I try to do something every day that is concentrated on that thing. Booking a hotel, comparing travel costs, looking at where to eat - it all enables me to get out of my head for a while.
The one common thread in all of these is that they are all things that have helped me not to fall off the edge that cliff cancer put me on. They all won't work for everyone, but I hope that there is at least a nugget of advice that works for you.
Do you have a caregiver or are you a caregiver?