Thanks, but no thanks, cancer.

25 Jun

A great (and highly relate-able) post from Phillipa at Feisty Blue Gecko 🙂

Feisty Blue Gecko - a tail of the unexpected

There are so many different ways of handling a cancer diagnosis.  There are more ways than there are people who have or have had cancer, in my view.  As each one of is individual, each approach is unique.  It might be similar to many others, but it is essentially unique.  Why more ways than people?  Because this varies even within ourselves.  Much depends on where we are in the cancer experience.  In the three years eight months and 22 days since I learned I had cancer, I have veered between the “WTF – Cancer??” to “warrior” to “cancer rebel” to “advocate and activist” to “inspiration” and many more.  Each is valid to the individual and to where they are in the experience.  What is not valid is suggesting that one approach is right and another wrong – each must be respected even if it very different to our own approach.

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4 Responses to “Thanks, but no thanks, cancer.”

  1. Sandy June 25, 2013 at 1:07 PM #

    It’s interesting, as she states, how we each react so differently to cancer. I watch my medication side effects with a sort of interested curiosity. I don’t enjoy them, mind you, but I don’t mind them, either. I’m still here to experience them, after all, and that’s a win in my book.

    Maybe it’s the 14 years of daily meditation practice I had invested in myself prior to my diagnosis, but I’ve been able to bring a level of equanimity to the whole process. I’ve never been bitter, and I’ve never asked “Why me?” I never asked “why me?” when I married the man of my dreams or found a career I love, so it made no sense to start with cancer.

    To be honest, I did cry over my diagnosis. Twice. Once when I had that “oh god I might die” moment, and once when my hair fell out in the shower. Neither lasted very long, and I felt better both times for the emotional release. I also realized that neither dying nor losing my hair were the end of my existence, as I understand existence to be.

    I believe that, to a very large extent, the way we choose to react to cancer is a choice. I choose to be happy. I choose to find moments of sheer delight in each day. I also choose no longer to put up with certain behaviors I used to tolerate in order to be considered polite – and I’ve found courteous ways of extricating myself from those people and situations now that it’s important enough to me to do so.

    My 82-year-old aunt, who is a current cancer patient, says the first thing she does each morning when she wakes us is put her elbows out to the side. If she doesn’t feel the wood of a coffin, it’s going to be a great day!

    • cancerfree2b June 25, 2013 at 3:42 PM #

      Well put. I definitely “chose happy” . . . BUT, the trouble is maintaining that sense of happy . . . not that I am not happy, not that Phillipa isn’t happy (you should check out the traveling and amazing experiences she has throughout a given year, unbelievably beautiful sights and travels). My frustration is that after so many years there is still pain, new pain and until recently, no let up in the pain at all.

      But, I wake up every day in less pain now than I did even a few weeks ago. And, when I am in pain, I know that I am going to feel better at some point in the day – usually the sooner I start moving 🙂

      It is the unpredictability of it all that I think many who are out three and four years find so frustrating. I am so grateful for every day. But, managing my life post cancer – finding time to do both work and anything else – well, it is a challenge.

      It is a constant editing process for me – each day is new and different. Some days I am amazed at all that I CAN do and other days I am in a bad way with respect to it – the one thing that can never be edited out of my day are the responsibilities I have taken on with my clients – that is where the real challenge lies for me. I get it done, but the cost is that I may not be able to do anything else for days or weeks.

      By the way, the less pain thing that I am experiencing lately has coincided with a major diet change that I decided to take on. I went back to juicing greens a few weeks ago and for the very first time since 2009 I woke up without any pain. Unbelievable. It is quite a different experience to be pain free when I wake up – it definitely changes my day for the better. 🙂

      I have had a few weird episodes (a really crazy leg cramping thing that woke me up in the middle of the night – truly excruciating – I assumed it was from a rather extreme dietary change – perhaps not getting enough calcium – but it could be a Tamoxifen side effect, who knows) 🙂

      I had only juice for several days – and loved it. Then had to go back to eating other foods (no meat or dairy though) and now I am doing both (whole foods, nothing processed, little to no sugar – although I do eat fruit, but more veggies than fruit) and all organic. I have really never felt better (post cancer, that is). It is a great feeling to have the ability to make such an impact on my health and the way I feel everyday.

      I find it kind of addicting – the juice. Anyway, for me, I think this is a good option. I still will eat out from time to time, but as a steady diet I am going to stick to this at least for now. I feel so much better.

      I am glad that you have adopted the choice to “no longer put up with certain behaviors I used to tolerate . . . ” That has been really important for me. We definitely have the choice of how we perceive our day and we also have the choice as to who we spend it with and what behaviors we allow in our lives.

      My biggest challenge/frustration, is that beyond work I don’t get to do a lot – at least not yet. It is very difficult to plan things because I never know how I will feel after I get my work done (and, on many days, I have no idea anymore how long getting that work done will take).

      Other than that I am doing pretty good.

      Still want to get to Supermex with you (or any place). I hope to see you soon!



  2. feistybluegecko June 29, 2013 at 6:56 AM #

    Thank you so much Lisa, for re-blogging this post and thanks to you and Sandy for your very considered comment. There is such a lot in what both of you say and this has given me a great deal of food for thought. Unsurprisingly, this is taking shape in the form of a follow up post, but here are some of my thoughts (many of which will form that very post!)
    I love your aunt’s approach, Sandy – what an inspiration to us all! Humbling, and a reminder that often our troubles are so often pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things.

    I completely agree about choosing “happy” and from the outset in this cancer experience I have always reminded myself that there are many things which are not in my control, but many which are. And how I live the cancer deal is one of those in my control. I would rather be flippant, feisty and poke fun at cancer than stagnate in the doldrums and constantly grump about my lot.

    Your point about meditation is also so helpful. There are so many tools and practices at our disposal which can make such a difference. My husband is Buddhist (from one of the Himalayan ethnic groups) and I have learned such a great deal as part of his family. Recently I wrote about the approaches to death and bereavement, which helped me a great deal as I try and live through the very recent and raw grief of losing my father.
    Interestingly, the “why me” question has never been something which resonates with me. There are many others which do. It just is what it is.

    However, being happy does not mean that we are not allowed to have off days, and times of frustration or anguish. I have been adjusting to these side effects of these meds for some time, and been gradually sinking into greater pain and discomfort. Finally, I lifted my head out of the sand and realised that there are so many things which physically I can no longer do, and that is when I reached that tipping point and this post took shape. I feel better for venting, but nothing of course changes the physical deal, the side effects are still there, and I still have difficulty walking. I realised this week that the break I have booked for next month will be far more physically challenging than I have prepared myself for and that is beyond frustrating. Aspects of my work, such as field visits to our project sites are increasingly difficult – I used to hop on and off of boats, sit on the floor in villages and walk for long periods in the Himalayas. Much of that is now too painful or unsafe. But it is what it is. I deal with it. I get on with it and adjust as far as possible. Mostly with a smile, but sometimes, it just gets too much and I weep. Not often but sometimes.

    I was struck by such an interest and response to this post, and was at the same time reassured that I am not alone in the physical and emotional space, but also frustrated that so many are struggling. Often silently because we do not want to appear ungrateful or to upset family, friends and those around us.

    This past few weeks have been tough ones for me, and the prospect of more of the same (at least in terms of side effects) is not easy, but I do work hard to balance this and make the most of what I DO have, and carpe that diem.

    Most days I have to pinch myself as I recognise that I have been able to realise my dream and ambition to live and work overseas. I have now been in Asia for 13 years, and am humbled and moved by the incredible experiences I have been through and the wealth of inspiring and amazing people I have known. I love my life, and I have no significant regrets. There are of course a heap of things I still would love to do, but I have so much to be thankful for. Even as I sit here, looking out onto the lush garden, the wind whispering in the trees, frogs croaking as more rains approach, I still have that sense of naïve wonder and fresh enthusiasm at being in such a place. But sometimes, even us positive folks just need to rant! Thank you for listening, and for giving me such a lot to think about ☺

    • cancerfree2b July 3, 2013 at 12:42 AM #

      Oh my Philippa, such wise words from you and from Sandy. Thank you for sharing all of this, it really resonates with me and I so appreciate your insight. I too love what Sandy’s Aunt has to say and I too “choose” happy. But, the reality of today (of my today) is that happy is measured and tempered by a gritting through things, overcoming things, physically forcing myself through things that were once things I gave no thought to being able to do. These limitations visit in ways that I can not always predict or know will arrive. That night I described of the incredible pain I experienced – really shrieking out loud pain that lasted for hours – was simply not something I thought was going to be happening some four plus years out from being diagnosed with breast cancer. And, when it subsided, and the remnants of it (that lasted a few days) were gone, I felt relief and gratitude.

      I too am so grateful. But, you are right. We need to vent sometimes and especially for (and because of) those who suffer in silence. Your post relieved my suffering, helped me in ways I am still processing. I had no idea that anyone else experienced these symptoms. I am so sorry that you have had to endure what you have had to endure. Your sharing of it is so powerful. There is a real loneliness and separateness in pain – we each experience it the way we experience it. And, I guess when I feel pain I sometimes feel very isolated – and, I feel like for my family and friends’ sake that I need to pretend it isn’t happening. This can be tough and what can happen is those around us are left not understanding why it is we can’t be somewhere, be there on time, be there at all, keep commitments, etc. I am much better now at assessing what I can and can not do – but, what that really means is that I do not commit to anything more than what I have to – which means my work comes first and then the rest of things – well, it just all depends.

      Sandy’s point about meditation resonates with me a lot as well. I used this more during treatment than perhaps now – I found it to be very helpful and it is a good reminder to re-incorporate meditation back into my daily routine.

      So much to ponder.

      Thank you again for all you have delivered – both in your post and in your comment – it has helped me immensely.


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