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From Brave To Fearless: How Volunteering In Peru Shifted My Cancer Perspective
September 03, 2019 – Linnea Olson

My Confession: I Feel Nostalgic Thinking Back to Cancer Treatment

BY Joyce Wigler
PUBLISHED August 08, 2019
I have a confession.

I'm a two time breast cancer survivor. I've had a lumpectomy, radiation, then a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and multiple attempts at reconstruction.

But that's not my confession. My confession is that when I think back to the six-month period that included several surgeries and four months of chemotherapy, I feel nostalgic. It's a good memory. I know, weird. But let me explain.

First the bad part: In 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. As a single mom I had to figure out how I would survive medically and financially. Teaching in a preschool classroom is not compatible with a compromised immune system, major surgery, recuperation and the side effects from chemo. I had a mortgage, car payments and no savings. I also didn't know if my lymph nodes were involved. How advanced was my cancer?

Okay-enough negative news.

Now on to the joyful portion of my cancer diagnosis. First of all, I was lucky enough to have excellent health insurance. All surgeries, treatments, medications were 100% covered! Then I learned that my fellow employees were donating sick time to me so I would have six months with full pay. My lymph nodes were cancer free!

I started feeling jubilant at this point. I was going to live through this nightmare and all I would be missing were my breasts (which were not that great anyway). My daughter accompanied me to my first chemo treatment and we had five hours of uninterrupted time together - my dream come true! I had no side effects and had two weeks until the next treatment. Two weeks to sleep in, to read, watch TV, go to Marshall's and receive get well cards and gifts - all good things.

I was totally prepared to lose my hair. I already had a wig waiting in the wings. I was told that with the chemo I was being given my hair would fall out on the 16th day of treatments. To be proactive, I cut my hair as short as I could on the 15th day. When I woke up the next morning, I started pulling on my hair but it was not coming out! Now, I looked like I just escaped from an insane asylum with a crazy chopped up haircut.

What if my hair didn't fall out? I was so relieved later that day when I noticed stray hairs on my pillow that I felt celebratory. I actually looked forward to my next chemo session. I scheduled my treatment to start at 9:30 a.m. Why you ask? Well at 10 a.m., a volunteer came around with snacks and patients were encouraged to take whatever our stomachs could tolerate. I grabbed the package of Oreos to eat now and chips for later (I never experienced nausea). At noon another volunteer came around taking our sandwich requests. Should I choose tuna, turkey or egg salad? At 3 p.m. there were afternoon snacks. My chemo ended around 3:30 p.m. so I was there for it all!

I felt spoiled (warm blankets, individual TV's, nurturing nurses), well fed and free of any stress. I was encouraged to pamper myself. Being naturally lazy I could relax on the couch all day with a book and be praised for doing so. My freezer and refrigerator were filled with meals other people cooked and delivered to my door. Packages arrived with soft pajamas, magazines, fancy bath products and DVD's.

I attended Relay for Life and people stood and applauded as we, the survivors, walked around the track. We were given free chair massages, prizes and a catered dinner. I was a hero just because I had a disease. I did nothing but survive. And I loved every minute of it!

I keep my mouth shut when I'm in the presence of other cancer survivors. I nod when they talk about the horror of the poisonous chemo that we had to have pumped into our bodies. I sigh when they describe the horrors of the side effects that still linger. I know I'd be shunned if I ever admitted that I've been more miserable with a bad head cold. I know if you're reading this you might question my sanity. Trust me, I had a really good time. But, please no more good times.
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