Cancer Forced Me to Learn to Be Sick


I was never sick before cancer, so my diagnosis made me learn how to be ill and accept the kindness of others.

I never got sick, maybe a mild cold here and there but never really sick. The only exceptions were the nausea and morning sickness I had throughout my two pregnancies. In fact, I had so much sick time accumulated at work, I was able to retire early using my banked sick time to pay for health insurance.

That all changed in September 2021 when I was diagnosed with stage 2A breast cancer, HER2 and estrogen positive. I never felt sick, no one could feel a lump, but luckily, the tumor was spotted during my annual mammogram.

So, I had to learn to be sick from treatment, including a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy infusions, 20 sessions of radiation and one year’s worth of targeted therapy infusions, which will end in November 2022.

Oh, and I have been sick. I have had to take a multitude of medications to mitigate nasty side effects. I have been more tired than I ever thought possible.

Severe vomiting and low sodium levels landed me in the hospital for several days. I have experienced nausea, fatigue, fungal infections on my face and underneath fingernails, sties in both eyes, constipation, diarrhea, lymphedema in my breast, itchy skin rashes, COVID-19 … and the list goes on.

And then there has been the mental anguish of losing my hair, feeling unproductive, having little energy and diminished stamina, restrictions due to my immunocompromised condition, dealing with grief over having cancerand the uncertainty of my future.

How humbling this year has been. My ego has taken a hit. I have gone from the stoic, “I never get sick,” to facing my own vulnerabilities and limitations — all from a small tumor I could not see or feel.

I have had to rely on others, especially my husband, to be my caretakers. Friends, family and neighbors brought me food, care packages, flowersand plants. The number of cards, texts, emails and phone calls have been overwhelming. Women who experienced breast cancer reached out to me. A local hair salon gave me a free wig. A breast cancer organization provided meals, house cleaning and most importantly, a patient partner who continues to provide advice, encouragement and hope.

I have learned how powerful a community of support and prayer can be in helping the healing process. I have learned how to face my own fears of being vulnerable and having to rely on the goodness of others. I now have more empathy for friends and family members who are going through their own cancer journeys or other life altering illnesses.

I have learned how human it is to be sick and to never take good health for granted. And while there are no guarantees that I will be “cancer free” for the rest of my life, I am still learning how to accept an unknown future with confidence and faith.

Finally, I am learning to be joyful and grateful for the good days and the restoration of my health.

This post was written and submitted by Martha Gelhaus. The article reflects the views of Martha Gelhaus and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice. 

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