Just a Spoonful of Sugar

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write. What better time than when procrastinating the night before a midterm?

The dreaded Shitty Anniversary has come and gone, of Valentine’s day in 2014 when I discovered a lump in my right breast. It’s a private scary anniversary that I usually don’t share with anyone else because it was just my lump (remember we named it Barnard? HA) and me in the shower alone, that morning, and there really isn’t anything to celebrate. I mean, I guess I could buy myself some chocolates, or better yet, cheese to mark the occasion…

Funny thing, though, this year I actually forgot. Do you know how buzzingly amazing that feels, to realize that I accidentally sailed through the day without a dark thought in my head? In fact, I was just coming off an all-nighter, heading to bed at 5am after working on a research proposal for one of my classes, when I bumped into my furry man who had an armful of red roses and a sweet arts and craft project he had made with his own hands (and his hands bore proof of his battle with the glue-gun – just covered in dried strings of glue). I was woozy from sleep-deprivation and so bowled over with love that I didn’t take the usual moment to link Valentine’s Day with Doomsday 2014. And for the rest of the day, I was either sleeping or running around for my night class; just too busy to think about anything else.fullsizeoutput_76fe Maybe because we decided to celebrate our romantic dinner that weekend due to work and school or maybe because life seems so full and busy now that I don’t have the time to ruminate…whatever the reason, I never connected my bad memory to my new reality this year. That is, I didn’t connect them until tonight.

I’m taking a health psychology class and every week we cover health issues that have some kind of psychosocial aspect to the preventative, treatment, and post-treatment sides of care. Last week we studied substance abuse and addiction and I didn’t really feel a connection, even though I was a child of two chain-smoking parents for 18 years. Cigarette smoking makes me angry and being a hostage to second-hand smoke didn’t do much to contribute constructively to my discussion that week. This week we are studying cancer and other chronic life-threatening illnesses. My assignment tonight? I posted it below. It’s an informal assignment posted to our discussion board online, so we are free to personalize. The page numbers in parentheses are references to our text, please excuse them. Writing this little post for class brought back some bad memories that brought a lump to my throat. The difference this year is that the bad memories feel so far away as to be almost blurred by time. I’m so glad I took the time to record what I was feeling as I lived through that journey – it’s good for me to re-read it sometimes to remind myself that I’ve still got that strength within me. GANBARU, Friends. And I give thanks for the sweet return of the true meaning of Valentine’s day.

 

Chapter 11, Question 3: Use what you have learned in this chapter to write a checklist about positive ways in which people have learned how to cope with cancer. This checklist could be a valuable resource for someone you know (or even for yourself) one day.

  • Be your own best advocate and strengthen yourself with knowledge. Read about your specific cancer, making sure to use your critical thinking and using .gov, .org, reputable websites for information. Www.cancer.org  (Links to an external site.)and www.cancer.gov  (Links to an external site.)are both excellent sources of information and have links to support groups and forums where you can meet others in similar situations. As a supplement to your local support system, this can be a great way to pass the time when you are up all night worrying about what’s next (p.340).
  • Be informed about your treatment options and don’t be afraid to ask your doctors and nurses to explain anything you don’t understand. If you learn as much as you can before doctor visits, discussing treatment plans won’t feel as overwhelming and you will feel less helpless and more in control (p. 339). Cancer might have control of part of you, but you have control of choosing many different ways to kick its ass.
  • If you have many friends and members of your family offering their “thoughts and prayers” and asking you what they can do to help, swallow your pride and honestly tell them what you need, even if it’s help picking up the kids from school or lugging heavy baskets of laundry in your house. If you’re lucky, your social support will include genuine people who just need you to tell them what you need – sometimes that is simply the comfort of having them come with you to your doctor appointments. If you have a significant other, include that person from the very beginning of your journey – be honest about how you feel while remembering they may be as, if not more, scared as you are. You’ll be stronger if you can lean on each other (p.340).
  • If your cancer treatments do not include mental health therapy, ask for referrals to a therapist who is experienced with helping recently diagnosed patients with traumatic diseases. Your emotional intelligence is a major factor in your survival (p. 336). If you aren’t already self-aware and able to regulate your emotions in a healthy manner, it is important that you find an expert who can help you learn. If they offer guided imagery and mindfulness-based stress-reduction strategies, take them up on their offer – they can go a long way towards improving your quality of life (p. 341).
  • Don’t forget to eat well and to be as physically active as you are able. Your body is fighting its biggest battle and it needs the fuel and the strength to win. The protein, fruits, and vegetables will help you heal after surgery and the exercise will keep your heart strong while helping to combat depression and anxiety (p. 178). But remember, as well, that your body also needs rest to fight and heal. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you might need to nap or that you are tired and would like to just sit and do what makes you happy.
  • There are going to be many times when you will feel overwhelmed and anxious. The American Cancer Society has a hotline open 24/7, manned with supportive people who can find resources for you and help you cope. 1-800-227-2345
  • Not everyone has friends and family who live close by. It can be some of the more tiring parts of dealing with cancer, trying to field all the well-wishing phone calls and emails asking for updates on your progress. I kept in touch with mine by blogging my journey (suelinhess.com (Links to an external site.)). As I faced the unknown,  fought through the ugly realities of several surgeries, and even when I passed the danger and found good health, my writing helped me. It can be cathartic, pouring out fear or grief (p.342). After a short time, I began to find things to laugh about on the journey, and my stories became lighter and more hopeful. In the end, seven of my friends reached out to me separately, to let me know that through reading my story they were compelled to go in for their own mammograms. Four of them found very early stage breast cancer or DCIS (early stage growth that can possibly develop into carcinoma) and only had to have minimally invasive treatments to beat their cancer. Helping myself ended up spreading awareness and helping others – it made me feel stronger and encouraged me to continue pushing forward. This kept my attitude positive and may have helped me increase my post-traumatic growth (p. 338).

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