Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One Year Canciversary

One year ago today I received the official diagnosis of my breast cancer, and a mad whirlwind of treatment began. It was chaotic, frightening, sometimes confusing, often stunning, and almost always overwhelming.

Everything happened rapidly so I could begin treatment as soon as possible, and then, of course, once treatment began, so did the side effects of treatment (in my case, Adriamycin and Cytoxin), and pretty soon I was too darned tired to do anything except try to get through each day as best I could.

I barely was able to register that I had cancer; I certainly didn't have energy to process what was happening to me, how it would impact my life, and what it meant to me.

Now I'm a year out from the initial diagnosis and a couple of months past my last treatment. I'm still dealing with some of the side effects, most notably fatigue, and will be for some time, but I'm slowly getting better, and for that I'm deeply grateful.

And now I have time for the cancer diagnosis to really register with me.

My initial response and attitude throughout treatment, apart from all the emotions, was that this was simply something that I had to get through, and I would. 

And I did.

Of course, it's been so much more than that.

Although I learned several years ago when I was a caregiver for a friend with terminal cancer to not sweat the small stuff, my own cancer was a reminder not only to not sweat the small stuff -- but also to not sweat the big stuff. And to not take on what isn't mine, including what people may try to make mine.  People often project their own fears and feelings onto others -- we all do that -- but with a cancer diagnosis, it seems to stir up things people may not want to face.  Instead of looking at those unpleasant thoughts and feelings as theirs, they tried to give them to me.  Fortunately, I know when something is mine, and when it isn't.

Early on in my treatment, my own cancer was a reminder of how important it is to process whatever feeling I was having – to respect that feeling for what it was telling me, let it be there, and then let it go. This is especially important with feelings that, let's face it, we'd all rather avoid or never even have, like fear.  Ignoring it, or saying it doesn't exist, or telling myself I "shouldn't" feel it, only denies it and stuffs it down to reemerge later and often with more of a vengeance. My body and my soul send me these emotions for a reason, and I only hurt myself if I don't allow them the same space that I allow other, more pleasant emotions. So sometimes I sit with pain, or hurt, or fear, or whatever is nagging at me at that particular time. It doesn't stop me from living my life, or even from enjoying my life. These feelings are part of my life. Beneath them, they often have a deeper message that I'm open to receiving once I allow the feelings in.  And once I allow them to exist, and look at them and what they mean, they dissolve and leave room for other emotions. Like joy, happiness, wonder. Gratitude. Love.

Cancer has been a reminder to live the lifestyle I want to live, now. Don't wait for better weather, or to lose 10 pounds, or any other future event that may or may not happen.  Do it.  Now.

How does that play out for me?  Since I'm still dealing with a fair amount of fatigue, I'm not going to run any marathons any time soon; but if I get out for walks several days a week, I feel good. I'm eating lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains, and cutting out or at least down on things that aren't good for anyone, but especially people who have had cancer. Eating well also makes me feel good: physically, yes; and on a deeper level, because I’m following a path that’s right for me.

I spend time doing things that are meaningful to me, that bring me joy. I spend time in meditation.  I practice self-discipline in large and small ways. And I spend time doing things that are fun!

I don’t do any of these things because I think they’ll make me invincible; I know there's no magic bullet that will prevent my cancer from coming back, just as I know that doing one good thing won’t counteract doing something that isn't good for me.   But the whole package, doing all these things, gives me an edge. 

And most of all, I do it because I feel better here and now: better physically, because I'm getting regular exercise and eating well; better mentally, because as I feel better physically, I have energy and clarity to let my brain do what it needs to do; better emotionally, because I'm taking care of me, in all the many ways that help me most; and better spiritually, because many of the things I do nourish my soul and deepen my spirituality.

My cancer was a reminder of my values, and how I can live my values. It's easier said than done and will always be a work in progress, but I try to hold certain questions in front of me: will this nourish me? will this nourish someone else? That doesn't mean everything that I do or say is positive or that I won't conflict with others; sometimes it means standing up for what I know is right for me (or, just what is right as I see it), and that can be in disagreement with what others think. But I learn more and more about how important it is for me to listen to my gut and trust it.  And act on it accordingly.

And that's another thing my cancer was a reminder of: how much I can trust myself to know what's right for me. Other people tell me what they think is right for me, give suggestions, offer advice; and I usually listen and take in what they say, but in the end, I know best what works for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks. When I follow my gut, my instincts, whatever you chose to call it, I not only have no regrets, but I end up knowing I've done what is best for me, and I'm at peace with myself.

My cancer diagnosis was, ultimately, a reminder of my mortality. A reminder that (watch out, here come the cliches!) life is short, and whatever I want to do with it, I'd best be doing now. The future is promised to no one. As the bumper sticker says, “Don't postpone joy!”  It's difficult to feel joy in the middle of cancer treatment, but now I'm moving beyond that.  Now it's time to dance with the wildflowers!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Mark Twain

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