Since 2007, my typical day on August third usually starts the same way.... I am grateful for being alive. This year I am grateful that I have had nine additional years, and counting, to see my three daughters grow and flourish and to spend with my family.
It's World Cancer Day. It has also been awhile since I have written a blog. It hasn't necessarily been intentional. It a mix of the job I presently have that requires a fair amount of writing, and my explorations and continued evolution as a cancer survivor.
I have been ironing out my authenticity. Attempting to quiet my mind, at some point in the day, so that I can tap into me. Learning to love myself, even though being a cancer survivor is a constant reminder of the inadequacies I used to have in the self love department.
Going within is hard, but essential work.
But today is a celebration of survivorship, and a day of remembrance for those who succumbed to this disease. It's a day of recognition for those who endeavour to raise funds for future research, as well as the researchers who are making inroads and inching nearer to a cure. It's also a day to recognize the thousands of survivours who participate in the variety of clinical trials that will enable the medical specialists to understand the state of this dis-ease.
It's heartwarming to see the advances we have made in treating not only the body with the symptoms, but the mind and the soul. Lifestyle, it turns out plays an important role, as does the state of our mind.
I lost another family member to cancer last month. It is to my Uncle Norm that I dedicate today's blog. Once he started radiation and chemotherapy therapies he lost his ability to swallow. Although he was told this was a temporary situation, he never regained the ability to swallow, and lived for the last nineteen months of his life with a feeding tube; unable to eat. As someone who loved good food and enjoyed a nice beer or a glass of wine, he did not lose his optimism or his sense of humour, and, although I'm sure he was frustrated from time to time, he never showed it.
He left us way too soon. But in the face of adversity, the true personality of a hero comes out. And that hero lives on in each of us.
I remember a day when my pivot nurse, Dail Jacobs asked me to speak for the annual "Girls For a Cure" campaign back in October 2011. Back then I was a four year cancer survivor and I remember her saying that it was important to have a keynote speaker who had not just completed their treatment. At the time, I didn't see or maybe understand her reasoning. I felt that people just completing their treatment for cancer were very passionate about life and moving forward. They were on a "high" of having their body back in "ease". They succeeded at showing their families and loved ones that they could survive.
So as a keynote speaker at a few all-girl schools, my audiences were groups of high school aged girls between the ages of 12 and 17. I spoke about my experience with breast cancer; particularly as a mother with three daughters around the same ages as the girls in the audiences were. It was a really wonderful and rewarding experience, which leads me back to Dail's point.
Dail was right.
I wouldn't have realized it back then, but I do today. There are also stages of survivorship. There's the, at times, very emotional stage of just completing treatment, where passions run high and the thirst for life is supreme. It's as if the survivor get a super boost of steroids and has tons of adrenalin that provides them with lots of energy.
Soon after this initial stage the survivor settles in to a stage that is a little longer. For some, having chemotherapy meant losing your hair. In this case the peach fuzz appears and the regrowth begins. I have to say that was an exciting time for me, as to lose one's hair is one of the more difficult consequences of treatment. During this time the survivor settles back into "normal" life, or what they perceive as normal life. In this phase I mourned the fact that I wasn't seeing my doctor all the time. Although I worked through my treatment, I wasn't as "busy" with medical appointments and related treatment. Family, friends and caregivers go back to their regular lives, and celebrate the fact that you're cured. I felt abandoned during this phase, as I wasn't getting as much attention as I was while going through treatment. Learning to lead a "normal" life again was an adjustment .
The next phase brings you back to reality. Most survivors have moved on with their lives and various activities. The memories of the dis-ease that invaded your body are further behind you, and, although you worry and fret before each semi annual check up with the oncologist, cancer becomes less of an occurrence in the daily thought process. As a cancer survivor, you are much more objective. This is the phase I was in when I was a keynote speaker for "Girls for a Cure".
Of course there are periods of time where there are moments of panic scattered through your daily lives, as, for example, there are problems with some test results, or other tests needed by your oncologist or other specialist. Perhaps there are weeks of waiting on pins and needles for that result to be as "fine" as it can be. This is, after all, the new reality of any cancer survivor. It's something we will live with for the rest of our lives.
And while life goes on, there are also more phases of survivorship. Or at least the one I know now. As I was spring cleaning last week, during some time off of work, I was going through my books. I'm an avid reader, and I read about a wide range of topics. During my cancer treatments I read a variety of books about breast cancer, breast cancer treatments, healthy eating for cancer survivors. One of my favorite books was Kris Carr's "Crazy Sexy Cancer", which now looks extremely well read with many pages dog eared.
Anyways....while I was sorting through them and deciding which books I was going to pass on for others to enjoy, it suddenly dawned on me that all those cancer books, that I had been holding on to for dear life, were no longer needed. Just like that my decision was made.
My semi annual appointment is coming up in early April and I will but a pretty ribbon around those precious books and donate them to the oncology ward at the hospital where they will certainly help other patients.
I couldn't tell you how many other phases to survivorship there may be, but I think I will enjoy this one.
Life is what we are dealt. It's how we handle it that makes us who we are. A colleague and friend sent me this earlier today. Another colleague and also a dear friend has been going through some very difficult times at work. The three of us share e-mail laughs and words of encouragement every morning. I am reminded that the world is a great place, and that the poor actions of one person; even if it's someone in a leadership position, should not be the game changer of life.