It’s that time of year again. I have a 3-D mammogram appointment in the morning, just in time for breast cancer awareness month in October. I’m a little terrified; therefore, I’m utilizing the coping skill that has never failed me…writing. I’m also taking you with me for the ride. This post will serve a couple of purposes: 1) to give myself a pep talk and 2) to give you some light lessons on how to cope with life’s beautiful messes.
Three years ago on 9/28/16, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer) and my life changed forever. Some beautiful and strange things happened in 2016. We had to forego a trip to Jacksonville, FL for my cousin’s wedding in May because my husband came down with an illness we had never heard of (hydrocephalus) that resulted in brain surgery.
In July, I spent my 25-year high school reunion in Ocho Rios, Jamaica with 60 of my classmates, but more EPICly, with two of my dearest friends. Then, my friend and I’s departure flight was canceled so we had to stay in Jamaica an extra night. That SNAFU ended up being the best part of the trip because the airlines arranged for us to stay at a 5-star luxury hotel and we spent quality time together.
My mom visited me in September for two weeks and she didn’t seem to be doing well in that she was very agitated. Later in the month, (the day she flew back to Chicago, IL), I was diagnosed (D-Day) with breast cancer. The treatments in the form of two surgeries that occurred a week apart were in November and included a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy and breast reconstruction. My mom (my biggest supporter) came back to Austin, TX, a month after she left, for my surgeries. By December, I had started radiation therapy. What a year!
You’d think that was the worst part, but it was not. I was prescribed an intense radiation regimen for a truncated time frame because the math said my body could withstand it. I attribute it to how healthy my body was prior to diagnosis. I was very healthy…oh, with the exception of the breast cancer and my compromised immune system (see below). My breast cancer was Stage 1 because it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and the tumor was small…about an inch, but almost two inches by the time I had surgery (rapid growth per my oncologist). I took my radiation treatment daily, over 3 weeks, like a CHAMP. Radiation treatment is like a slow cooking process. The worst part of the treatment are the days following the last treatment because the radiation has built up over time. The burning was deep and painful.
I slowly got better. My kids seemed to be okay. They didn’t seem too affected. My husband was still recovering from his brain surgery, but seemed to be getting better. However, he got laid off work. My dear friend took me on a rejuvenating spa weekend retreat, which you can read about here. A few months later, I received a promotion. Two months later, my mom passed away. By the fall, I could really see my husband’s health was declining. I tried to work with his doctors, but they weren’t listening to me. The day after Christmas, I took him to the ER and he subsequently spent 17 days in the hospital. Shortly after, he underwent 4 months of cognitive, physical and speech therapy. He couldn’t do much, not even drive.
The Come Back
Despite my husband’s brain condition, he is a fighter. Who am I kidding? I’m a fighter too. In the midst of taking care of everyone, I maintained my appointments with two oncologists, two surgeons, my primary care physician, my endocrinologist, my gynecologist, and my urologist. I did have to let my neurologist go. He treated me for optic neuritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that happens to be a precursor to multiple schlerosis. I had been seeing him, but he never diagnosed me with multiple schlerosis. He had me on a regimen of a high dose of Vitamin D. I had more pressing health issues anyway…cancer. I also maintained all my husband’s appointments with his therapy team and doctors (neurologist, neurosurgeon, and primary care physician). Not to mention our kids appointments with doctors and school.
My husband has been slowly getting better, but his symptoms fluctuate. He was eventually released to drive again. He’s taken more control of his health by exercising every day and eating better. I’m not the only health guru in the house anymore, which I like. My number one priority is to keep my health in top shape because I have people depending on me. I can’t afford to get sick and I rarely do. I now even get flu shots (please don’t send me articles).
Although I still see my oncologist every 6 months, my primary care physician annually, my gynecologist annually, and my endocrinologist (just saw her today) annually, I no longer see the radiation oncologist (no longer required) , surgeons (no longer required), or urologist (she was a luxury in the list of priorities). As you can imagine since our diagnoses, we have incurred massive medical bills, so I’m only seeing doctors who are absolutely necessary.
Again, our kids have been TROOPERS! My son did have some difficulty his senior year, but he graduated high school. We’ve all been through so much and we have each other. Just by writing this post, I can appreciate our progress because things are getting better.
So how do I manage my beautifully messy life. Here are a few pointers that I think you will find useful:
- Rein in
- Lean on your support
- Don’t be so hard on yourself
- Ask for what you need
- Eat and sleep well
- Move every day
- Do things that bring you joy
- Do nothing
These are my go to strategies that immediately come to mind. You may have more or others.
Something about cancer is that once it’s in your life, it never really goes away despite the treatments. There’s always the underlying fear of re-occurrence, no matter how positive of an outlook you have on life. Once you’ve had cancer, you become more susceptible to other cancers and illnesses. I take an oral medication to prevent the re-occurrence, but there are risks.
Going through the mammogram exam takes me right back to the day I learned of my diagnosis. It was traumatic hearing the words from my doctor. I had a scare in 2017 where they found some scar tissue on a mammogram they weren’t sure about, so I had to get not one, but TWO biopsies! I was mortified, but got through it.
My faith tells me I will be fine. For reassurance, I’m leaning on my support and have asked my husband to accompany me so I won’t be alone. I’ve also mentioned to at least two other people that I’m nervous about it. I’m also sharing my story with you.
The light lesson here is life is a beautiful mess. Joy is interwoven with pain. Life is also short. It’s too short to spend time worrying about things that don’t matter. It’s too short to not enjoy the little things. It’s too short to not fulfill your dreams. It’s too short to wish you had somebody else’s life. It’s too short to spend trying to be perfect because there is no such thing. It’s too short to not take charge of your health and demand the best care for yourself and your loved ones. It’s too short to not love on yourself and the people you love ALL day, EVERY day.
What tools do you use to manage life’s beautiful messes? I’d love to hear from you.
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