I am happy to share that I am now 18 months cancer-free! Wahoo! Yes, I am celebrating...yes, I am grateful...yes, I stop and smell the roses every three months after my blood work and PET scans come back cancer-free. But, I realize in this process (no, it's not a journey, that would be fun and by choice) that there are many areas where I could have done better for myself and my family.
Because I am a lifelong learner and an educator at heart, I always feel the compelling need to share in case someone else out there might benefit from the fires I've walked through. These are just a few tips I wish I had done better during my diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
1. Help: Accept it and keep it coming long after the sutures are removed. I was very fortunate to have a community of friends who delivered meals and offered to grab my three active girls and take them any place while I rested. I was so determined to prove that I was going to be OK, I cut all the help I truly needed short. I told everyone I was all set, and continued on my way, hobbling along trying to make dinners and keep my family entertained over the summer, even though I couldn't participate in our usual summer activities.
2. Time off: If you can take the time off from work, more than just your "vacation week" or if you can survive financially with an extended leave, you should. I missed just eight days of work, including the day of my surgery. This was a huge mistake. I held my head high with my drains hidden and limped my way into work while I fought back tears of pain. No one should have to go through this. My surgeries to remove all the cancer were extensive enough physically. On top of that, emotionally, I was a wreck, seeing my oncologist every week and not knowing when and if I would be told that they didn't get all the cancer, it had spread even further, etc. I should have been working on my healing physically and emotionally.
3. See a therapist/social worker/etc: That being said, my daughter was just recently diagnosed with a chronic lifelong disease. As part of the program that we parents were emerged into to learn how to care for our daughter, we had to meet with a social worker twice: once at diagnosis in the hospital and then just recently to see how things were going now that we were home in "real life." Why this isn't required with a cancer diagnosis is baffling! My first phone call from a doctor was, "Yes, it's cancer...it appears to have spread and we don't know how far. You need to make an appointment with an oncologist and oncology surgeon."
At that point, I knew I was at least stage 3. Talking with someone to deal with all these overwhelming emotions and the technical side of this diagnosis (where should I start my care, who do I need to make appointments with, what does this mean, am I going to die, what do I tell my children) would have helped tremendously.
4. Turn lemons into margaritas: Once you have your own treatment and care plan managed, figure out how you are going to turn this sh*** diagnosis into a positive. Do you write? Tell your story. Do you paint? Put your fears onto canvas. Take this diagnosis and figure out how you can help someone else who might be going through the same as you.
We all just do the best that we can when in stress and turmoil. Don't be too hard on yourself and remember that you are not alone.