An Amazing Weekend . . .

23 Sep
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This past weekend I got to go AWOL . . . I attended a retreat for women who have had cancer, called: A Way of Life After Cancer (AWOL). It was an amazing experience. I can’t even really put it into words. But, I will do my best, since I have been asked to share about this experience.

But, I think before I can write about the retreat, to explain why and how it affected me so profoundly, it makes sense to describe how cancer has affected my life. So, a few words about cancer.

I got the news of my diagnosis over the phone. My doctor called me with the results of my biopsy. I had already seen the mammogram with a star like pattern all over my right breast and I was unusually tired . . . so I guess I should not have been so shocked at the news. But, I was . . . in shock.

Your life is never the same after you hear those words. Nothing feels the same again and nothing is the same again. Having said that, it is not all bad, but, it is (at least for me) all different.

I remember so clearly the day that I was diagnosed, the day that my life changed forever. When I think back to that day it is like I am watching a movie of someone else’s life. A friend was with me when I got the call . . .

“I’m so sorry, Lisa”

I was numb, shaking, weak, afraid.

“You will get through this”

Still numb, nothing, hopelessness. Overcome with fear. How would I tell my family, how would I break my parents’ hearts?

“You are strong, you will get through it”

I never felt so weak. Could I even stand?

And then my friend said something that I will never forget as it affected me profoundly:

“Lisa the next year and a half will be the hardest and worst time of your life. But, you will get through it, you will be okay.”

NO. No, it will not be the worst time of my life. I will not allow it to be.

For some reason those words stirred me up, woke me up, I was determined not to allow it to be the worst year and a half of my life – cancer will not take my life from me even if it kills me. No. No. No.

And so began the crazy blur of those early days of a cancer diagnosis . . . there were tests and scans and consults and first and second opinions and research and decisions, lots of decisions, to make. You make your way through it all in a type of fog . . . a cancer induced haze that is like a dream . . . a very, very bad dream. You work your way through it, going from appointment to appointment, to treatment. You learn to research, to prioritize and to lean on people (I leaned on so many). You learn to ask for help, you learn to live a different way and you feel removed from your life, your friends, your family . . . just a bit . . . because you have cancer and thankfully (THANKFULLY) they do not.

There is something that happens to you when you are diagnosed with cancer. You immediately feel alone. No matter how many people come to your aid, no matter how much love surrounds you, there is this loneliness that can take hold of you. I realize now, after this past weekend, where this loneliness comes from and in making this discovery, I feel less of it.

So back to the AWOL retreat. I think the best way to describe it is to say that it began a type of healing I have not felt until now. It is hard to explain. But, in spending time with so many women (amazing, smart, funny, witty, courageous, strong women) who have been through cancer, are going through cancer, I felt the least lonely, the least alone that I have felt post cancer.

I not only made friendships that I will always cherish, I learned that I am not alone in how I feel about things, my body, my fears. It is quite a powerful thing to learn you are not alone in how you feel; that other women experience the same things and manage.

I know that I will never say that I am glad that I had cancer. I can’t imagine ever feeling that way. It took so much from my body, my life, my family and it continues to wreak some havoc today, still. But, I am glad for the people I have met. I am glad for the love and support of my friends and family (truly amazing). The depth of that support and love has been incredible and I am so very grateful for that.

I have worked hard to take back my life, as many pieces of it as possible. Part of taking back my life has meant pretending. Pretending that I feel up to something when I don’t, pretending that I feel well when I don’t, pretending that I am not afraid, pretending that I am not sad, pretending that I am over it.

This weekend I did not have to pretend about anything. It was okay to feel sad, it did not burden anyone. It was okay to talk about the pain I still feel and the worry it causes me, I was understood. And in hearing the stories of other women and their challenges and how they still manage to smile and laugh and live – I have a renewed sense of hope that I desperately needed. The weekend was full of laughter, acceptance, hope and new friends.

Here is a link to “From Crysalis to Wings” and their “A Way of Life After Cancer Retreat. What a wonderful organization. I am so grateful to have been able to go on this retreat. I owe a huge thank you for the amazing volunteers who worked tirelessly to provide such a wonderful experience.

Love and peace,

Lisa

13 Responses to “An Amazing Weekend . . .”

  1. Beth L. Gainer September 23, 2011 at 5:01 AM #

    Beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes, as I recalled being diagnosed with breast cancer. Yes, unfortunately, one feels so alone, even if there’s an outpouring of support. Good for you for not allowing cancer to ruin your life. After all, we only have one life on Earth, so we must make it a great one….cancer or not.

    • cancerfree2b September 23, 2011 at 7:51 AM #

      Thank you Beth. There are definitely days where I feel that cancer has ruined my life 🙂 But, I work hard to have less of those days and more of the days where I am happy. Pain and limitations make that a challenge sometimes. But, I hope to have more good days than bad. Right now I am trying to shake a headache I have had for over a week and giving into the reality that I have to tell my oncologist about it . . . ugh. Hoping that it is just a headache and not a sign of something worse.

      That worry can have a pretty strong grip on your life.

      Thank you for your comment. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

      All the best in health,
      Lisa

  2. nancyspoint September 23, 2011 at 7:45 AM #

    Lisa,
    What a great post. I find myself relating to so much of it. Like you, I received my diagnosis over the phone. Like you, I was stunned and in shock, but yet not surprised. Like you, I felt alone. Like you, I heard the words, “you are strong,” but felt incredibly weak.

    Life is forever altered in so many ways after you hear the words you have cancer. How many times have we heard that, but still it’s so true and worthy of being said over and over.

    So glad you enjoyed your retreat. And isn’t it great to be in a safe place where you don’t have to pretend? Thanks for sharing about it and thanks for your blog.

    S

    • cancerfree2b September 23, 2011 at 7:55 AM #

      Thank you Nancy.

      Like meeting you and the other amazing women bloggers online, meeting the women at the retreat made me feel less alone. It underscores for me how much I rely on the connection that is made between those of us who have heard those words. Your blog is a gift to me. Your writing has always made me feel less alone . . . so thank you.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

      All the best to you,
      Lisa

  3. AnneMarie September 23, 2011 at 9:10 AM #

    O dear Lisa,

    I do believe every single woman who has faced down a breast cancer dx and journeyed through that maze you so eloquently described is sitting like I am right now, with tear stained eyes (or, in my case, a flooded keyboard). What a beautiful gift. I absolutely want “in” on the next one. Let the true healing begin. It’s been five years for me and I think I’m ONLY NOW beginning to heal my soul. It’s a sadness that too many of us can understand. I send love.

    AnneMarie

    • cancerfree2b September 23, 2011 at 9:42 AM #

      Awe, thank you, AnneMarie. Didn’t mean to make you teary-eyed though. Yes, do go to the retreat! I included their website and I will keep you posted on anything I learn about next year’s retreat. I hope you will attend.

      And lots of love right back to you!

      Have a wonderful weekend,

      Lisa

  4. Stacey September 23, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

    Lisa, great post and exactly right on target about so much. I think I could have written your description of diagnosis and those early days. I remember feeling just like you, alone and worried about telling my family. Then finding the right support among others like me. It took a while to find, but I’m lucky to have connected with a great group of women and not to mention, our online community. We all get it. I’m glad you had such a nice time.

    • cancerfree2b September 23, 2011 at 9:45 AM #

      Thank you for your comment Stacey. Yes, we do all get it, don’t we?

      I had so much support, so much love and it made all the difference to me during treatment and now. But, there is something that takes the understanding that comes from another person who has gone through it that is so helpful.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

      Thank you again for your comment.

      All the best,

      Lisa

  5. Sandy September 23, 2011 at 10:54 AM #

    Lisa,

    I’m so happy that you went on this retreat! You sound refreshed and revived. 🙂 Also, thank you for sharing that you sometimes pretend to be up to something when you’re not. Those of us who (thankfully!) haven’t had cancer, can’t understand what it’s like. And even though we know we don’t understand, we still miss important points – like you trying so desperately to take back your life that you overextend yourself at times. This is information those of us who love you need to have! Thank you for your courage in being so honest. I promise never to be offended if you’re not up to accepting an invitation from me. And I promise to keep asking. 🙂

    So… when are we going to SuperMex?

    Love,
    Sandy

    • cancerfree2b September 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM #

      Sandy!!! How wonderful to hear from you. I miss you, my dear friend. Yes! Supermex . . . next week?

      And for anyone out there reading this, Sandy drove me all over the place, to doctors, to treatment, sat through treatments with me, and was one of a group of amazing friends who stayed at my side and took care of me when I could not take care of myself. I am forever blessed.

      Thank you again Sandy (for all of it, including holding a bucket . . . sorry, hope your not about to have lunch) 🙂

      And on the topic of lunch (or dinner) if you are able to, let’s go next week?

      I start a class tomorrow (wish me luck). We are video taping so I have actually get some sleep tonight and look semi-decent tomorrow! Ha, ha, ha 🙂

      Can’t wait to see you!

      Much love,
      Lisa

      • Sandy September 23, 2011 at 3:33 PM #

        Dinner next week sounds great! Let me know what day works best for you. I’m good any day except Tues. Shall we invite my other half or have a girls’ night out? Your choice! 🙂

        Love,
        Sandy

  6. Brenda Coffee September 25, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

    Lisa,
    You’ve captured what so many of us feel. A few days ago my best friend, since we were 15, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s feeling the same way you did and I did, and I hate that. I was hoping that I would “take the hit” for all of the women I love, that they wouldn’t get breast cancer, but cancer doesn’t work that way.

    BTW, another great Retreat is US Oncology’s Life Beyond Cancer Retreat at Lakeway Resort & Spa in Austin in November.

    Brenda

    • cancerfree2b September 27, 2011 at 10:34 PM #

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you for commenting on my post. I apologize for not seeing your comment until now (for some reason wordpress put your comment in my spam folder).

      I am so sorry for the news of your best friend. Cancer sure stinks. I will be thinking of her and sending positive, healing vibes her way.

      All the best to you and to your dear friend,

      Lisa

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