Sometimes after a diagnosis of cancer, plans and attending events can become elusive due to symptoms and treatments.
I drew on my eyebrows (that I lost during chemotherapy) with an eyebrow pencil. I then applied loads of mascara to my remaining eyelashes (also victims of chemo). I am going out today! Finally! My cancer support community is treating us to a fall foliage antique train ride in a historic town nearby and I couldn’t be more excited to be going out and joining my sisters.
I have one biological sister but have found that I now have a new family of breast cancer survivor sisters. While I am very close to my familial sister who I love greatly, there is much to be said about my new family of women who I have more in common with than anyone else. Cancer tears our lives apart, but fellow survivors and patients bring us closer in ways that I could never have imagined.
Sometimes it’s a word or a glance or an understanding nod that makes you realize you are not alone in your suffering. Your fears are validated and are shared by people who were once strangers who know exactly how you are feeling. Some of them are brand new to the diagnosis (I weep for them at night). Others are seasoned survivors who I have come to rely on to help me navigate the world of oncology and cancer treatments.
I am proud to say I am of a Polish heritage with my mother and grandparents coming to American after WWII. Polish was our primary language that we spoke so we could communicate with our grandparents. Being bilingual was just a natural part of our lives.Little did I know that decades later I would become fluent in another language when I was diagnosed with stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It truly is a language unto itself when you have a cancer diagnosis. If it weren’t for my new family of sisters who have taught me this new way of speaking and understanding in this new situation, I would most certainly be lost and probably huddled up in my chair at home weeping in utter confusion of my new world.
I love my family. I love my friends. But there is something special about bonding during a monthly support group meeting or going out on an outing like today with women who are going through exactly what you are going through. The comradeship with this group is amazing and touches your heart with compassion and acceptance and most importantly – hope.
My excitement in being able to go out today stems from a month of disappointments. All year I have been waiting for October; breast cancer awareness month! I bought new T-shirts for the occasion. I signed up to attend numerous events. Some local and others out of county. There were media interviews scheduled to talk about upcoming events, breast cancer awareness, and pink walks. I could barely contain myself with all of these wonderful things to do and plan and attend.
Following one of these events at the very beginning of the month I came away with something dreadful and something I have been successfully avoiding for years – COVID. I also came to understand that COVID and Cancer don’t mix. I was sick and miserable for weeks. I had to temporarily stop going to physical therapy and found myself extremely deconditioned and in pain. Besides what seemed like relentless unending horrendous symptoms, my entire month of plans and events were wiped out.
There I sat with a tissue to wipe my tears of disappointment in one hand and Wite-Out® in the other erasing all of the events on my calendar, cancelled interviews and presentations I was scheduled to appear at. I had quite the pity party of one for those awful COVID weeks. My heart broken from this forced confinement and quarantining myself at home against spreading this horrible condition to others.
I reflected on how many other events I was forced to cancel, attending or participating in back when I was first diagnosed. Once I started chemotherapy, I was no longer physically capable to teach my beloved weekly Qigong ancient Chinese exercise classes to the members of my community and at personal care homes. Teaching and bonding with my students for 4 years came to a halt as abrupt as my heart stopping when I heard, “you have breast cancer”.
While I can dwell on dealing with the disappointment of this last month or this past year, for now, for today, I am not. I am going to put on my “We wear pink in October” t-shirt and strut myself onto that train with my sisters and enjoy a “family” ride looking at the fall foliage because today I can!
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