One Year on Chemotherapy…
Anniversaries can be bittersweet events. On one hand a wedding anniversary, for example, can be a celebration of undying love, patience and steadfast devotion that says “Hey we stuck it out, through good times and bad, through temptation and frustration but we persevered – and we made it work. Here’s to us!”
On the other hand, the anniversary of a loss – whether it be of a loved one, a beloved pet, a career – can be a time when a nearly healed scab gets ripped off to reveal raw, painful emotions which were thought to be finally under control.
I am celebrating an anniversary of sorts myself today: I have been on some form of chemotherapy for my cancer for one year now. 365 days. I have mixed emotions about this, but when I weigh it all out, I conclude that I am truly grateful to be able to celebrate this particular anniversary.
It was a little over 12 months ago when I was diagnosed with a challenging cancer; I was actually unsure at diagnosis if I would be around to celebrate another birthday. Thankfully, I passed that milestone this last week too, and in pretty good shape, all things considered. For this I am extremely grateful.
When I reflect back on this past year, I can’t help but observe a few things about my cancer journey that I feel I should share with others in a similar situation, especially those just recently diagnosed. Maybe someone without cancer can benefit from these pearls as well.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Really. I know it may sound like a cliché, but I speak with some authority here. Most of the stuff we worry about on a daily basis never materialize. Most problems that we anticipate have a way of sorting themselves out before they ever present themselves to us. Worrying about a bunch of stuff that you can’t control only serves to stress you out and shorten your life – stress hormones are a bitch on your body.
- If you don’t already, you’d better learn to appreciate and respect your family. They are the ones that will be with you through the miserable times, the chemo, the radiation and for some, the humiliation of having someone take care of basic hygiene for you when you’re physically unable to yourself. Believe me, not many of your work buddies will volunteer to come over and flush your PICC line for you (or worse). I have seen it first hand in my own family and experienced it myself; Parents, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins literally coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to the plate to assist. It may not be in the way you always need, but they’re trying and doing what they can. They’re there for you. They have a sense of commitment that most others can’t fathom.
- Along those lines, a cancer diagnosis has a way of revealing who your true friends are. Close friends who you thought would be there for you and thought actually gave a crap mysteriously become unavailable, stop calling or emailing, Perhaps they can’t deal with it, perhaps they don’t know what to do, or say – I am not sure the reason. On the other hand, friends and co-workers who I would have considered mere acquaintances suddenly extend themselves in ways you couldn’t have anticipated and really come through. Close friends become closer and consistently show love and altruism beyond comprehension It is truly amazing.
- Stop to appreciate the simple wonders around you. As westerners in the dawn of the 21st century, many of us seem to have our priorities all screwed up. We race around like crazies, trying to multi-task during every waking hour of the day (and sometimes when we’re not awake), feeling very industrious yet not really moving forward. My suggestion is to take some time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature around us (even in a crowded metropolis, a city park can be a wonderful sanctuary). Technology has certainly made our lives easier in some respects (ease, speed and access to unfettered communication), but it has also isolated us from each other. If you’re so pre-occupied with being entertained 24 hours a day that you must wear i-pod headphones everywhere you go, you’re really missing out on a lot of potential fascinating interaction with others. Texting is not a high form of interpersonal communication. Turn the technology off for a few hours each day and enjoy the wonders around you – you may learn something in the process.
- Hopefully a cancer diagnosis will not have to be the impetus to do something meaningful for others. Volunteer, help a neighbor, reach out to a recent grad and give them some advice, see how you can assist someone less fortunate. I’ve found that by changing my focus on others it has allowed me to tolerate my cancer and the various adverse events that come with both the disease and the treatment much better. Not an easy thing to do when you tossing your cookies after chemo, but at the very least, it takes your mind off of your own problems and helps to put things in perspective, especially when you’re helping others who have it much worse. Believe me, there is always someone who has it worse.
- Finally, try hard not to let your diagnosis control your life. Easier said then done at times, but trust me when I say if you let your cancer control you and what you do, then you’ve already lost the battle. You have to fight like hell to beat your cancer. Be your own advocate, research treatments, push your medical team, make up your mind to control the disease, don’t let it control you. I know it must be tempting to use a cancer diagnosis as an excuse not to do things, to give up, to submit. If you do, you’ve begun to let the disease control you, instead of controlling the disease.
Well that’s my sermon for today! Ha Ha. Some of my regular followers probably wonder what’s gotten into me, since most of my posts tend to be resource or issue oriented advocacy posts, and not your typical blog fare. I promise to be more diligent in posting research and resources in the near future; I’ve been busy living. In the meantime, Happy Anniversary to me. I’ve got a life to live.