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Check Out My Most Popular Article at CURE.

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Letting Go Of Certainty

In these matters the only certainty is that nothing is certain. Pliny the Elder

The first casualty of cancer is certainty.

Of course, I’m only speaking for myself. And, as someone who had gone through five years of miscarriages and infertility before cancer, I should have already known that life doesn’t always go the way you expect.  

Still, I walked into the breast center 15 years later without a doubt I knew the drill: remove everything above the waist, put on a robe, let the technician flatten a breast between panes of glass, hold my breath, repeat, get dressed, leave and, a few days later, open the letter confirming all was well.

I made it to the leaving part, but the letter never came. Instead, a nurse from my gynecologist’s office called to tell me that my mammogram was “suspicious.”

At that exact point, I was no longer certain of anything and fell into cancer’s black hole.

Over the next four and a half months of appointments, tests, biopsies, phone calls, internet searches, and crying jags, I was desperate to find firm footing. At first, I clung to every word uttered by my medical team, believing that everything they told me was guaranteed . . .  

Read more at CURE.

Has cancer made you more aware of uncertainty and the risk of having expectations? Leave me a comment and we'll talk about it.

Survival > Existence,

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Giving Back to Help & Heal

I had my mastectomy on a Wednesday. I think it was Friday morning, when the anesthesia finally wore off, that I had my breakdown. 

Not being in my right mind, I could be wrong.

What I know for sure is that cancer had been eating away at my emotions for the past six and a half months, and I was completely devastated. It didn’t take much for all those tubes and bandages, and a missing breast, to push me over the edge.

I was no longer able to cope. Worse, I was terrified I would be discharged into the void and left to face my mental, emotional and physical recuperation completely depleted and alone.

Suddenly a nurse walked into the room and introduced herself as my patient navigator. She sat beside my bed and told me about cancer support services available to me even after I left the hospital. (It was the first time in six and a half months that anyone discussed support services with me.)

As we talked, I went from hopelessness and isolation to connection. After I left the hospital, I started showing up for every support service I could. I signed up for support groups and rehabilitative exercise classes. I met regularly with my patient navigator and committed to seeing a therapist once a week for a year. 

My cancer center became my home away from home. I was filled with gratitude and found myself saying “thank you” a million times a day. But, as time went on, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to give back and needed to do more.

Which didn’t come easily.

Read more here.

Is giving back been a part of your healing from cancer? Tell me about it in the comments, I answer every one. 

Survival > Existence,

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Working Through Cancer Anger

After a short break, I'm happy to be back!

Unfortunately, I wasn't very happy after my mastectomy and experienced my fair share of cancer anger. In my latest article for CURE I write about anger, a common emotional response to being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. 

Working Through Cancer Anger

A few months after my mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction, I had it out with the light fixture in my walk-in closet. 

Like me, the bulb was burnt out. Removing the cover to replace it was easy, but I couldn’t get the cover back on for the life of me.

As I struggled, I got more and more frustrated. I didn’t want to give up and ask for help; I wanted to make it work.

Suddenly, my brain made a hard left turn and all I really wanted was to smash the darn thing onto the floor.

Which I did.

The cover hit the floor and exploded. Shards of plastic sprayed everywhere. It was a moment of violent, beautiful clarity that shocked me awake.

I was a cauldron of red-hot anger, and I hadn’t even realized it until that moment.

You can read more about my struggles with anger and how I worked through it at CURE.

Are you dealing with cancer anger too? Let me know in the comments below. I answer every one.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of Andrew West

Comments

Ronny 's picture

I'm working on a blog about 'rage' which sone people think is a side effect of a type of cancer known as Carcinoid (a type of Neuroendocrine Tumour). Some people have said it is a physical issue rather than emotional but I'm sceptical. I suspect any cancer patient is going to suffer a mix of anger, depression, anxiety and to varying degrees. Have you heard of 'carcinoid rage' ?

Debbie's picture

Ronny:

No, I haven't heard of "carcinoid rage." I agree with you that any cancer patient/survivor can (but not all do) experience anger as a result of living with cancer. I wish you all the best with your blog and thank you for visiting me at WhereWeGoNow.

 

 

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Monday Morning Motivation

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Worry. Worry. Worry.

Worrying and cancer go hand-in-hand. It’s possible to take a step back from excessive worrying and give yourself a break.

Worry. Worry. Worry.

A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work. John Lubbock

I admit it. I’m a worrywart.    

I’ve worried about little things and not so little things. When big worries have me in their grip, it’s hard to fall asleep and, if I finally pass out, I’ll probably find myself wide awake again in the middle of the night with no hope of getting back to sleep.

I also can't eat when I’m really worried.  

I’ve worried over cancer through exhaustion and back around again. I’ve done stints of long-term worrying (six and a half months from my first worrisome mammogram to my mastectomy) and intense, short-term worrying (15 harrowing minutes waiting to discuss a post-mastectomy mammogram.)

To validate all this worrying, I try to convince myself it gives me control. Perhaps by running through every possible outcome I’ll be prepared for any eventuality. Maybe I’ll find a solution if I just keep thinking it all through. Of course, mostly I just end up exhausted and hungry.

Cancer brought me to the pinnacle of worrying and forced me to search for relief. In a panic about my upcoming mastectomy, I found a guided imagery CD, Preparing for Surgery: Guided Imagery Exercises for Relaxation & Accelerated Healing. I put it on my iPod and, at least once a day for weeks, let Dr. Martin Rossman focus my imagination away from worries and onto relaxation. At night, guided imagery calmed my nerves and got me to sleep.

When the day of my surgery finally arrived, I was nervous but ready. I took the iPod with me into pre-op and continued to listen to the guided imagery exercises until I actually went into surgery. That CD made a huge difference and helped get me through a horrendous experience. 

Read more at CURE.

Survival > Existence,

 

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Searching for Someone to Talk To

I've struggled with miscarriages, infertility and breast cancer. Each trauma isolated me from others who couldn't possibly understand my experience. The pain of cancer's isolaltion was the worst. In my latest article at CURE, I share my search for someone to talk to:

Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care. Jerry Cantrell

The lead up to my mastectomy was a time of crushing anxiety. But, never once in those six and a half months, did I find anyone I could talk to about what it really felt like to have cancer.

It’s not that I didn’t try. I looked to friends and family, but backed off when guilt at causing them pain collided with my intense desire to protect them from that pain. And, in truth, there was just too much I couldn’t explain and they couldn’t understand.

Of course, they kept trying to support me emotionally and I’ll always be grateful they did, but there was only so much they could do.

At one point, I reached out to the only other person I knew who had cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and her drug treatment caused permanent, disabling side-effects.  

We didn’t know each other well, but she shared her struggle with being sick and “feeling like an old lady” in her forties. She grieved the job her disability forced her to quit. As a wife and mother, she wrestled with guilt and anxiety as cancer wreaked havoc on her family.

Read more at CURE.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of Dan Mason

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What it Takes to be a Good Patient

Between infertility, miscarriages and cancer, I've had my share of health issues. When it comes to figuring out how to be a good patient, I'm still learning because cancer, as we all know, is never really over:

What it Takes to be a Good Patient

It’s not easy to be good at something you hate, especially when it comes to being a patient.

Having lived through two miscarriages and infertility before cancer hit, I had basic skills. I knew how to show up (on time) for appointments, wait patiently no matter how long it took, honestly answer questions and listen intently.

But cancer took being a patient to a whole new level. There was a new language, not much time to learn it, and much more on the line, like the husband and two children we now had to worry about. 

Being older and more experienced than I was when we struggled with infertility helped. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was somehow able to stop my breast surgeon as she explained the “how” of my mastectomy to insist that she go back to the “why.” To prepare for an intelligent conversation about reconstruction with my plastic surgeon, I did research on the internet at credible sites.   

I tried to ask questions, speak up and be my own advocate. As time went on, however, cancer wore me out and I had less and less energy to assert myself.

Read more here.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of Scott Robinson

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