On October 31, 2007 I finished treatment for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Today, October 31, 2018, I celebrate eleven years of survivorship. Thank you for being with me for Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2018
Finishing treatment for cancer is like falling off a mountain after your climbing rope has been cut. Well-meaning folks are cheering wildly, encouraging the celebration of such a monumental event. Some who have been there during the days, weeks, and months of the ordeal are frankly relieved that it is over and life can “return to normal.” As you plummet toward what some call “returning to normal” or “the new normal,” you realize that you are free-falling into some primal place of uncertainty, with no sense of where you are. You look up at the top of the cliff and see your doctors, nurses, and all of your caregivers waving kindly and a bit tiredly as they turn from you to face the next newly diagnosed patient. You’re on your own; you hope you land in a safe spot. You might ask, “Hey where’s my parachute?”
Well, I didn’t get a parachute … No one handed me a map or installed a GPS when I left the treatment room. It was 6am and barely light, I had radiation every morning at 5:30am because I needed to work. There was no fanfare, I didn’t know quite what to do. The radiologist I had spent the last 5 weeks with turned away to take the next patient without even saying goodbye. So I just got in my car, drove to a bakery, purchased several pounds of pastries, and went home.
Wow … I’m on my own …
And so began my personal journey of cancer survivorship. I felt confused, frightened, lost, and still very sick from the aggressive treatment that I had endured and stumbled back out into the world.
As of this writing, it’s been eleven years since I finished treatment for cancer. I’m having a pretty good run. I’ve seen my son graduate from middle school, high school and college. In 2016 I celebrated 25 years of marriage and five months later lost my husband to a massive heart attack in less than 5 minutes.
As a psychotherapist I am now known as someone who specializes in working with cancer patients and their communities. I call this “the specialty that chose me” and, believe me, I did not plan on this one! I have met and worked with courageous cancer patients and their families and collaborated with amazing providers, all of whom have taught me profound lessons and given me far more than I have offered them. I have been privileged to attend to the needs of underserved communities whose struggles must be understood and honored.
I have published two books on cancer.
I’ve learned that not everything makes sense and that EVEN I cannot change that.
I no longer worry about what people think of me. Another point that EVEN I cannot control.
I now believe that “what the hell” usually is the way to go . . .
Alan Watts said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” I don’t know why I became one of the statistics that no one wants to be. I don’t know if cancer will come back and grab me, or if one day I’ll simply nod off with a dribble of cream of wheat running down my wrinkled, ancient chin. What I do know is that I am grateful to be given the chance to change, to stick around plunging into the next unknown moment. I’m glad I still get to join in the dance, even though it’s not always pretty or sexy. I’ve had to dance for my life, and so have you. I know that I’ll keep on dancing and speaking my story for the rest of my days, and I wish the same for you.