I have to admit that Breast Cancer Awareness Month makes me nervous. My cancer keeps poking its head out of the little compartment I keep it in most of the time. I wonder if it's coming back and I feel around for lumps and bumps that shouldn't be there even though I shouldn't be worrying and I shouldn't need any more treatment.
That said, I am truly grateful for the outpouring on behalf of myself and my fellow survivors. I am grateful, as well, as odd as it may sound for what cancer has taught me.
Ironically enough, maybe, I learned my first lesson from my Dad who died from a particularly nasty cancer - pancreatic cancer. He faced what we knew in the back of the minds would ultimately be a losing battle with courage, dignity and with humor - up until the end. He also never quit living his life even when he was dying. I didn't know then, of course, that I'd be facing my own cancer journey, but as he had done throughout my life, he taught me well. His story, Without Hope We Have Nothing was a good reminder of not only the value of hope, but of how much worse the outcome of my story could have been.
What else have I learned during the almost a year since that first biopsy and the five surgeries since then? The most important thing is how many people care about me and there's more after that:
Love, Caring and Kindness. I read a story in the NY Times a while ago about a young man with cancer who said despite the medical treatments and living with a potentially deadly disease that he wouldn't have not had it, given the choice. I wondered why at the time, but after realizing the good that has come out of all this, at least for me, I can understand. You never really know how much people love and care about you until you're in a position when they are worrying about you. That's worth a lot. From my husband who took care of me through all those surgeries, to my family, my friends, and my colleagues - I couldn't have done it with your support.
Cancer is a Journey. Cancer isn't an end. It's a beginning. It's a journey. A kind operating room nurse told me at the beginning of my journey that we all die from something and it might not be what we expect. After all, anyone of us could be hit by a truck tomorrow. Speaking of nurses, all those surgeries gave me an opportunity to meet wonderful and interesting doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and to hear some great stories about their lives and careers.
Get Over It. I've heard of too many people who, after their diagnosis, moped and worried and spent all their time worrying about what was going to happen next. I think I did a pretty good job of taking it one step at a time and keeping the impact to a minimal. I never stopped working - I love my job. I am probably a bit crazy, but I laid around for a day or so after my mastectomy and then it was business as usual. That return to normality helped keep me focused on the real world, not the breast cancer world.
Don't Stop Living Your Life. I spoke to another breast cancer patient last week who told me she was putting her life on hold until she was done with her last surgery. For me, that wouldn't have worked. I was blessed in that I was able to schedule my surgeries around my life. Being married to a ski writer means being on the road for much of ski season and I think Mike only missed one trip. We went to Florida for our after ski season-get warm trip, tissue expander and all. We celebrated our 25th anniversary, which happens to be today, early with a road trip to California and Nevada. I wouldn't have wanted to miss seeing the bear at Yosemite or the sea lions on the beach in California for anything. I attended my first movie premiere last week. We took a side trip to Moab and I was awed by the beauty of Arches and Canyonlands.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - Or the Big Stuff. In the big scheme of things the little things that I used to worry about, and still do sometimes until I catch myself, don't matter. Many of the big things don't matter either. They will work themsevlves out and they aren't worth stressing over. They really aren't.
Chuckle at the Wandering Eyes. Don't forget to laugh. You can find humor in almost everything and we were able to laugh at a lot. Even at my feeble attempts to deal with my mastectomy drain and what the heck I was supposed to do with it in the shower. One thing that I still find funny are the wandering eyes. A not very tactful family member asked which boob was chopped off. I am not making that up ;) Most people though sneak a peek and pretend they aren't looking, but they can't help themselves from trying to figure out which is the real one and which is the fake.
Be Helpful. By offering to help other patients with their journey, I've met some wonderful people who have helped me as much as I've helped them. We're all in this together and we can learn from each other - patients and caregivers alike.
Today. The most important lesson I think I've learned is that all we have is today. None of us know what's going to happen tomorrow and yesterday is the past and it's over. So make the best of it and don't dwell on whatever it is that's bothering you. Instead - be grateful for today and live, laugh and love.
Thanks. Finally, I am also grateful that my prognosis is excellent and I don't need any more treatments. My hope for the future, and part of the reason that Breast Cancer Awareness (and every other cancer awareness) is so important, is that everyone who is diagnosed with cancer will be as lucky as I am. Early diagnosis (thank goodness for mammograms) made all the difference in the world. So, if you or a loved one have put off getting a mammogram, call to schedule one today.