A young woman’s promise
Three years ago today I started chemotherapy for my third cancer. It was heart-shattering. Scary, anxious, frustrating. What got me through it? A young woman’s promise almost 25 years ago.
Juggling treatment….and opinions
My initial diagnosis of early stage breast cancer didn’t include chemotherapy. However, after my lumpectomy and discussion of other scenarios, adding four rounds of two different chemo drugs lowered my long-term recurrence risk to almost zero. I wanted to ensure I did everything possible to make sure that my third cancer is my last.
Despite believing it was the best decision, it wasn’t an easy decision. Facing breast cancer after osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and melanoma was incredibly tough, not just physically. I often felt so drained emotionally and mentally. Still do at times.
It didn’t help that I was judged for (and sometimes still am):
*Being too positive during treatment (truth)
* Being too active (yep)
*Trying to save my hair with cold capping (it worked; read about it here)
*Not getting a mastectomy for breast cancer (didn’t need one, would not have changed any outcome)
*Not protecting my ability to have children or seeking other alternatives (seriously; read about facing infertility after treatment)
Many of you will be shaking your head reading these, but, alas, it’s true. I’ve even been judged recently for the precautions I take to protect my health/body from Covid-19. I’d like to say I only heard these from people who have never gone through treatment so have no clue, but….I even heard it from fellow cancer survivors. I know that these judgements are people’s reflections of their own fears and emotions. It hurts at times but I’m learning every day to stay focused on my own joy, resilience and truths. At the end of the day, my health matters mostly to me. So taking care of my body is my first priority.
You can be so much at once
People often mistake being positive for not feeling other, or ignoring, emotions. Or assume positive people don’t live in ‘reality.’ Nope, definitely living in this crazy reality. Ok, I admit to sometimes daydreaming of sunshine, mountains, ocean, horses and my own Prince Charming. Even I need to escape reality at times!
I absolutely feel a range of emotions. I’m human. And for all of humanity’s faults, one of our greatest strengths is the amazing ability to feel more than one emotion. I appreciate the range of emotions, even the heavy ones. Because these make me aware of what’s causing them and address it. It also allows me to appreciate lighter emotions more. After feeling sad, happiness feels so good. After feeling nervous, confidence brings me comfort. Being disappointed makes excitement and optimism so welcome.
I certainly went through a range of emotions three years ago as my mom and I drove to the cancer center for the first of four rounds of chemo (followed by 20 doses of radiation). Nerves, anxiety, sadness, frustration, impatience, optimism, hope, faith. Even though I had been through chemo during bone cancer treatment and had some foundation to help, these were different chemo drugs and life was so different than being a 21 year old college senior. But you know what got me through those days a few years ago (and still does)? My faith in….me. More specifically, my younger self.
Facing cancer at 21
I often think of that 21-year-old young woman, on the cusp of graduating from college, ready to be a positive change in the world, who was stunned with a bone cancer diagnosis. And so annoyed at the idea of postponing life for a 13-month treatment. She had the naïve innocence of a young adult still well-protected by parents and feeling slightly invincible as young people often do. Then more than a year of an aggressive chemo protocol, bald for 15 months, femur replaced with titanium. Everything was forever changed, including her body and soul.
And yet….she focused. On the good, laughter, sunshine, hugs, love that surrounded her. She refused to give up, would not be pulled down into the scary abyss that cancer brings. She picked herself up, learned to walk again (literally), and promised herself that she would seek joy in each day, learn to be brave so she could stand with other brave souls willing to change the world for the better, willing to BE the change when needed, and most importantly, she wouldn’t take one day for granted. No matter what knocked her down, who judged and told her to stop being so joyful. To those people she would smile and say thank you.
In the 25 years since that promise to myself, a LOT has happened. Much good, but also much heavy testing that mindset. However, when my heart shattered upon learning I would be clearing a third cancer, I remembered a young woman’s promise. So I found joy three years ago and every day since.
Cancer is ugly, but, oh my friends, life is so beautiful. You simply have to look through a lens of joy and love to see and admire it. Decades ago a young woman’s promise to be brave and joyful changed the trajectory of my life. I’m going to keep moving forward. Will you join me?