A year ago today was my first meeting with my oncologist at Sloan. Before that, on December 29 2016, I had the meeting with my surgical team to go over the results of my pathology. It was overwhelming and although I already knew I had lymph node involvement (we were told as soon as I woke up from my mastectomy on December 16), it did not really compute, you know? I mean, I knew that meant I needed "chemotherapy" but I had not a clue what that meant at all.
Ah, ignorance really is bliss. I knew it was big and I knew it was something I had never ever envisioned myself doing...like ever. I think, though, this is true of all of us no matter our family histories or our backgrounds, "risk factors" or lack thereof, etc. No one expects to be told they have cancer and no one WANTS to get chemotherapy. No one.
I felt my oncologist's pain as she sat with us a year ago today for almost 2 hours (or more maybe) going over all of the ins and outs of what chemotherapy I would be getting, why I was getting it and about the side effects and how to help/manage said side effects. She wrote everything down for me in amazing handwriting, filling pages of information for me. It was an amazing appointment and one that without the written notes she wrote down for me, none of it would have sunk in.
At this point, I was working full time as a teacher, I even went back to work early after my surgery to be back to "normal" as soon as possible. It was a relief to have the cancer out of my body and I knew deep down that this whole chemotherapy thing was going to stop me from being "normal" and I was scared shitless. I had no one really to commiserate with other than my angel, my sherpa, who Sloan connected me with who quite frankly saved my life with these --> tricks-for-treatment.html for chemo.
You see, chemotherapy breaks you down. It strips away your hair, your dignity, your brain, your ability to "do anything" so that your body can ironically heal. It is quite confusing and I know there are a lot of people who are pressured from family and friends to forego chemo and instead to lick a unicorn but really, chemotherapy is one of the best tools out there to hopefully kill cancer cells.
When I began chemo a week after my first meeting with my oncologist, I was prepared and yet totally unprepared. You see, no one knows how their body will respond to these drugs. As someone who rarely took an advil, who didn't drink, who never took drugs, well, this was all uncharted territory for me. (And yes, I know I'm a square... I don't even drink coffee... what a dweeb. I mean, if I knew I was going to spend the big 4-0 getting pumped full of all kinds of shit, I would have imbibed a hell of a lot more.. .or period lol).
I survived chemotherapy and I worked full time during it but I could not do much else. I was not able to care for my children, to cook, to clean, to really move beyond that school bell at 3pm when I went home from work and just became a vegetable.
It was hard as shit. I was told I would have support, that everyone would be there for me but the thing about chemotherapy is that it strips you down to nothing. No matter who is "there" or not, you can barely notice. You are just functioning at the barest minimum. Still, I worked. I got up each morning, put on my wig, my lipstick and went to work. As a teacher, I was exposed to germs, the flu and more. Luckily, I did not run a fever during chemotherapy. I did learn how people can be nasty and heartless. I let it go here --> an-open-letter-to-me.html.
If you are here, at your first oncology meeting where I was a year ago today, you got this. Trust in your self, in your body. Do what you need in order to survive this process. God willing, you will never need to do it again ever. Remember, though, our sisters and brothers for whom chemotherapy is an endless routine to keep them alive. Pray for them. Pray for us, all of us, that a cure will be found. In the meantime, drink lots of water. Rest. Listen to your body and read and share my post about treatment tricks (link below). This is what I do in the time between...
I have noticed lately that there is this huge improvement in the way I just manage life but I will never thank cancer for anything so I am just going to chalk this up to me being this “new and improved retro weight me”.
When I was diagnosed and in the middle of the worst shit anyone with cancer can explain to you I still kept things positive, laughing, smiling and just overall being like, “This sucks, but it could always be worse.” People constantly told me how amazing my attitude was and how they were in awe of how I chose to be and I was always surprised because as I told them it was not a choice; it is just who I am. I have spent a lot of time in my life making lemons out of lemonade, I guess.
I never ever expected to get sick, though. Like really sick. I guess I thought I could keep being SuperWoman forever, keep bottling up my feelings forever, keep moving at the speed of light forever. Now I know those things are not what I want to be, not how I want to live. I want to enjoy life, to be present in the moment and to be more than just “mom” (although it is the best title I ever have had, I know this time is fleeting and that the kids are growing and I am sitting here with many years of being the only caregiver under my belt and it is time to expand the operation).
I hate the idea of people pitying me. I mean, I get it, it sucks to have/had cancer but it can suck more and for people out there who think, “Oh man, I am so sorry for her. I am so happy it is not me.”--> I can just say I used to think this way, too. I used to think this whenever I heard someone else’s bad news. Now, I do not think this way anymore. Instead I think, “What can I do to help that person.” And then I do it.
This is why pity is a useless emotion. It makes you feel as though you “did” something when in reality all you did was think for that moment how much more lucky/blessed/happy you were compared to that person and then a few minutes later, the dog crapped in the house and you forgot all about that other person and how you should be happy you don’t have to deal with what they do.
I think everyone on hearing someone else’s bad news should just be like, “What can I do to help.” instead of internalizing that shit right away and forgetting it.
My superpower is that I know life is precious and worth every god-darn moment and that there are no do-overs. When I accidently pop an extra sudafed, I do not give a shit anymore because I know I have had poison pumped in my veins for fun. I am the person who will try to help you no matter what. However, I, too, have my limits. I have learnt the hard way that being superwoman is not so fun. It means everyone depends on you to do everything and you cannot get a moment to rest.
With my new superpowers, I can figure out what is important and put my energy on that. For me, what is important is love, laughter and the hard work that goes into being a well rounded person. It is hard to balance all of the different pieces of me and the things I want to do. Sometimes, I feel so many emotions at once I cannot manage them all so I need to decompress, meditate, exercise and do what I need to do to take care of me. I can do that all now, too.
I also know that worry and fear are useless. Having all of that fear in my life did not stop anything bad from happening - the bad happened, I got cancer. I know, too, that even though I got cancer that does not mean all I get know is pity and sad faces. I am me, I am irreverant and will tell you all about my fake boob and make totally wildly inappropriate jokes about random things. It is infinitely better to laugh at life than to take it too seriously. There is no “why me” over here just a constant laserlike focus on getting healthy and kicking cancer’s ass one day at a time.
What is your superpower?
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