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Archive for the category “Reflections on Breast Cancer”

‘New Normal’? No Thank You

Breast cancer has certainly been a journey, but I won’t refer to any part of it as my ‘new normal.’

Throughout my surgeries and my chemotherapy, family and friends, doctors and acquaintances, cancer resource   centers and websites, have thrown this ‘new normal’ term around as if it is somehow a phrase of encouragement.

It’s not. It’s one of resignation – one I refuse to make.

The following things – only a few of many — have happened to me over the years.  Not once did I feel the need to categorize the resulting life changes, as some sort of permanent attack on the person I know myself to be.

My self-concept has remained intact.

My life is still normal.

  • I had a baby.
  • My baby went through distinct stages of her life to become the amazing 20-year-old that she is today.
  • I gained 40 pounds; I lost 40 pounds.
  • I earned a bachelor’s degree raising a young child by myself.
  • I earned a graduate degree; I earned a second graduate degree.
  • I became a first time dog mom (My dogs are family).
  • I have been poor.
  • My first husband abruptly left me.
  • I re-married and, as a result, lived an affluent lifestyle
  • I divorced a second time.
  • I learned to live on MUCH less all over again.
  • I was in an emotionally abusive marriage; I am now not in an emotionally abusive relationship.
  • I was active in my church – I was not active in my church – I became active in my church again.
  • I have had best friends; I’ve lost best friends.
  • I moved from Indiana to Massachusetts; I moved from Massachusetts to Chicago.

Each change provided more depth to my view of life and to my character.  I realize some may view my list as minor, but my point is this: Life is fluid. It is dynamic – we never know what next year will bring.  We all spend our lives in the midst of adapting to change.

This Thursday, my surgeon will do my exchange surgery.  He will exchange the expanders placed during the reconstruction phase of my mastectomy, with my ‘permanent’ implants.  I will be ‘me’ – the same me I’ve always known, but with new breasts. Stronger after all of this, perhaps, but still the same woman with whom I grew up.

To call my life after breast cancer a ‘new normal’, is to suggest that a boundary of ‘no return’ has been crossed.  For me, it has not. I may have new concerns in connection with the cancer, but to have concerns about some part of life at any given point, is perfectly normal.

3 things I’d have done differently during chemotherapy

Beautiful Gemstone Collection  26396 480x320When something like breast cancer happens, it is hard to know how to approach the challenges of treatment.

Here are AT LEAST three things I’d have done differently during chemotherapy:

I’d have limited my number of scarves and wigs – I wouldn’t have purchased all those items. I spent hundreds of dollars on items I never wore.  I wish I’d have bought one inexpensive wig for special occasions, and fabrics at craft stores to make my own scarves.  Many scarves sold to cancer patients are hideous, and some are quite expensive for the quality you’ll get.  In the end, I ended up going with a couple favorites and donated the rest. Avoid the ‘pre-tied’ scarves unless you want to look like you stepped out of a “Little House on the Prairie’ episode.

I’d have avoided negative online discussion threads – Forums are scary places.  Most people, I learned, visit the threads to vent.  I read one horror story after another. None came to fruition in my own experience, but terrified me nonetheless, into the deep hours of the night when I couldn’t sleep. The vast majority of people recover and don’t post tales of victory.  They put the experience behind them and simply live their lives. No time to post.

I’d have indulged more in life’s little comforts – I’d have found peace in the company of friends, candles, soft sheets, music therapy, and services such as massage, counseling, make up classes and yoga, offered at places like the Geneva, Illinois’s Living Well Center.  These types of havens are found in locations across the country.  Generally, services are free to patients and caretakers.

A new journey…

I was in recovery from my ten -year marriage to misery, and just able to stand back up straight after the effects of my poor choice for the antidote: an inebriating, unhealthy online ‘relationship’.

I was finished with poor choices. I was ready to let go of negativity. I confidently embraced the life ahead of me.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I thank God every day that I was on the other side of these ordeals before I had to begin this new fight.  Stress can damage our systems and leave us unarmed.  It can steal our soul and destroy hope.

The National Cancer Institute tells us that that although “psychological stress alone has not been found to cause cancer…psychological stress that lasts a long time may affect a person’s overall health and ability to cope with cancer.

If I had not divorced my husband when I did, I probably never would have. I worry about those who are stuck — diagnosed before they have a chance to break free of a bad situation.

I had bad days through chemotherapy, but I could smile. I could breathe. I could rest when I needed to rest, and take care of myself however I felt best. I could focus on getting better without having to also field the insults, rejection and daily degradation of an emotionally bankrupt man.

For that I am fortunate.

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