Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One Day At A Time!

While written within the context of cancer, this blog has a much wider focus. I usually don’t get religious with my writing, although most everyone reading this already knows where I stand. I don’t feel led to write blogs about God, about what He has done for me, and how each day is lived for Him. These things go without saying, even if a person knows me casually.

I have been through a few “tragedies” in my life; that is, according to some people. Death of a loved one by suicide is not something we plan, neither is an automobile accident that leaves a loved one disabled for life. Other “bad stuff” is just the stuff of life, which at one place or another, we all go through. Frankly, even if I die from cancer, I place this illness and its results in that “bad stuff” basket. My family will learn from it, and they will go on. I will truly be in a better place.

Once upon a time, I remember someone talking about a “life verse,” in the Bible, which is THE most important book and influence in my life. I never thought about doing this—there are so many fine, memorable ones. This was supposed to be a verse that spoke to you personally, or became your guide (although they are all supposed to be our guide). Eventually, I landed on one, and it described my life to a T. It is First Corinthians Chapter Ten, Verse Thirteen.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ESV (public domain)

There have been many days that I have been tempted. There have been many times that I have felt personal pain, and pain for others. However, there has never been a time that there was “too much at one time.”

I have dozens of testimonies that I could share, but I don’t have all the permissions and it would get long and bore you. The one that always stands out to me is the time period when my (older) younger brother had an illness, but no diagnosis; and he just went round and round and it affected us all. Doctors, employers, the US Army, and a sister who worries about everything.

However, on April 3rd 1991, at 2:00 PM he was released from the VA Hospital in Chillicothe, Ohio, with a diagnosis and HOPE of treatment for schizophrenia. He wasn't cured, or even out of the woods, but we had a road with a map.

Not 10 hours later, my (younger) younger brother was injured in an automobile accident which left him a quadriplegic. This was life changing for the entire family. It was heart breaking, it was the first time my daughter remembered her mother crying (and we are talking about bawling here!) and it did change the world my immediate family and my extended family lived in. My intent is not to write a blog about that process, but there was a process in rehabilitation, physical, psychological, and every “al” you can think of.

My point is that there was no overlap. God gave me enough worry for each day, and no more, and no less. (By the way, that was Wednesday-Thursday. My aunt died on Saturday. It was quite a week!)

Every example I could use has the same underlying theme.

So, as I think of my cancer situation, the first thing that comes to my mind is “I am so glad that this is 2013 and not 2012!” We had a BIG shindig scheduled for New Year’s Eve and although I have not lost my hair, maybe I have put on a couple of pounds; but my fatigue would not have boded well with birthdays, showers, holidays and finally the big shebang on NYE itself.

I am so grateful to God that I didn't have to deal with cancer too. But He knows…..

This year I had time to handle it. My husband had time to handle it. My employer has worked with me.

I can face the future confidently that in all things, I will not have to face more than I have to at one time; or if (it seems) I do, God in His infinite grace will give me the strength to bear up under the challenge.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Too Much Pink?

First and foremost, I much encourage anyone to donate to walk, run or just plain donate to breast (and other diseases) cancer research. I am very well aware that without it, I might not be here. Well, I might be here right NOW, but ignorantly unaware of what was growing inside my body, which would take my life within a couple of years. I am FOR breast cancer awareness. I am especially thankful for those who have walked in my name.

That said, it’s about the middle of the month, and I have mixed emotions. I am still struggling with regaining the life I knew, and working through the fatigue and compromised health that are side-effects of radiation treatment. All around me, I see pink. As someone who does not consider myself a “survivor” yet, it’s a constant reminder of what I am dealing with. I hesitate to use the word “fight.” I am not fighting cancer. I am fighting the effects of radiation treatment.

Right now I am watching a football game on TV between Missouri and Georgia, and I couldn't care less who wins this game. But there are “breast cancer ribbons” painted on the field, and the cheerleaders have something on their uniforms. The players might too, but I can’t see them. I just read a newspaper full of “advertisements” for every product in Springfield, Ohio and many of them are pink. Of course, my Facebook feed is full of pictures.

As a patient, it’s a CONSTANT reminder, and I wonder if other breast cancer patients feel as I do. I am not ready to do any walking, and I would if I were feeling up to normal. However, I still need to see the orthopedic surgeon about this torn meniscus thing. Cancer patients frequently have something else fun going on too; from carpel tunnel syndrome to arthritis, and just about anything else you can think of. After all, how many of us are actually dealing with ONLY ONE health issue, small as it may be? It’s the same with the cancer patient.

A diagnosis like cancer puts it on the front burner. I have some other calls to make this month and next, as I now am at the place where I need to have some conversation about some other issues. I actually called the colonoscopy doctor—how many people do you know who ask for a colonoscopy?—but I am not on that list for two more years. However, being in 100% insurance-pay, I might as well do everything!

Back to my subject though: the saturation of breast cancer awareness in October. The good news is that it does raise much needed money for research. We need this so badly. I am so grateful for it. I don’t know that I hope for a cure; but I hope we find the place where we have treatment and it NEVER RETURNS AGAIN! Ever.

The bad news is that it’s a constant reminder for those battling; and for those who are cancer-free, but (hear me, now!) the possibility of return is always in their minds. Always. Every October, the patient or survivor is faced with the prospect that “it might return.” 

It’s a dichotomy of feelings. I never want to be seen as dissuading breast cancer fund-raising and awareness—and while we’re at it, for every other disease out there! However, please be aware of the media assault and saturation that the cancer patient is feeling. Who was that cartoon character? “It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!”

That’s how I feel at the moment. Tired. Overwhelmed; and I cannot get away from it! Will I feel this way every year?

If you are a cancer patient, or survivor, do you ever feel the same way? Or am I just incredibly selfish?

P.S. I ran this by three breast cancer patients before publication, and in one form or another (I am not going to details with each of them), they all pretty much agreed with me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

I've been in this place before. Ten years ago, when I had breast reduction surgery—which, by the way, I believe saved my life. This tumor was so close to the chest wall, that 2.5 more pounds of flesh, tissue, etc. might have kept it from being seen until it was larger.

Ten years ago, the doctor, a MAN, told me I could go back to work in three weeks and be back to full capacity in six. Try eleven weeks; mainly, because I only took three weeks off. Had I taken six weeks off, it might have been a different story. If you are considering breast reduction surgery, I want to talk to you. I'll give you the straight story. I'd still do it, I just wish I had known more of what to expect before I did it.

This time, I really had no choice. I was going to have surgery. That was clear to everyone. I recovered from surgery in 7-8 weeks and I was fine. I worked 5 of those weeks. I adjusted and I was OK.

I tolerated radiation well and thought I would be the poster child. Then, in the sixth week, I hit the wall. It was in the middle of the night, and this was different from tired. It was "How am I going to get to the bathroom?" tired. For the first time, I knew I had no business behind the wheel of a car, and had my husband drive me to the next morning’s treatment. Then I went to work for as long for as it took me to make phone calls to people I was to see that day, talk to my ED and then come home. At that time, it was day-to-day. However, I did improve.

The professionals told me that I would be good about three weeks after radiation was over. I kind of expected that. We planned a vacation, or replanned one, I should say. It was not the original plan due to the fatigue I KNEW that would come.

So radiation was over and I was back to full speed at work, but I was not well. I came home and dropped in the chair. Most of my weekends were in the chair. This didn't seem right.

Instead of calling the doctor, I called other women. One had radiation for breast cancer and one had another type of cancer. Although I don't know about the doses, the length of treatment was similar. One was my age at treatment and the other was younger. One worked (the younger) outside the home, and the other didn't. Both agreed that I wouldn't be even close to myself for three months, and both agreed--from their different age perspectives--that it would be more like six months.

Then, there was the issue of radiation killing white blood cells, which keep us from getting every germ that comes down the pike. I was NEVER told to make adjustments in my work and life to keep myself from going into compromising situations. I am a social worker. I go into places that are not clean and neat. There is not good ventilation and I am exposed to lots of things.

Well, I wish I had known this sooner! All of my expectations and plans would have been different. I would have made different choices.

So what am I going to do to keep up with life? What can I control?

1. I am going to talk to the gym about freezing my membership again.

2. I am going to talk to my employer about reducing my hours for the next three months and maybe, for the duration of my employment, if necessary.

3. I am going to talk to my husband about helping more. He's been great, truly, but once women get up and around, men seem to get the idea that they are 100%. And every female reader is shouting "Amen."

4. I am going to lower my expectations of myself.

I was able to get into my nurse practitioner at 7:30 AM of the morning we were to leave for our vacation. We were at the drug store as it opened with a script for an antibiotic. We went on our vacation, and certainly did not enjoy it as we would have; because I had no strength. I will say this, I slept well, EVERY night. I enjoyed the therapeutic effects of the hot tub to my respiratory system. It was good REST.

And when I returned home, I took care of numbers 1 and 2 above. I am working on 3.