Learn from a cancer survivor who wasn't proud of how she handled cancer the first time.
I was a bad sport about my first cancer. Please learn from me.
At the time of my first diagnosis of breast cancer at age 46, I was very scared and became extremely self-focused for many months. Looking back at that more than five years later, I am not happy about it. I am not proud of it. At the time, I was blessed with faith, family and friends, but I still wasn’t gracious about having cancer.
My lack of grace about my breast cancer hurt my teenage daughters and husband. I am truly sorry. I regret it. I had choices about how I handled things, and I wish I had done some of them differently.
I was diligent. I researched. I chose my medical team carefully. I followed the doctors’ instructions in a way that was almost obsessive-compulsive. I ate healthfully and I even exercised through chemotherapy and radiation. I tried to earn my “A” as a cancer patient, even though that now strikes me as a totally bogus objective. Now I wish that I worked to earn my “A” as a person. I had to learn ways to better cope emotionally with cancer because at times, it felt like it was eating me up from the inside out. But just out of the gate, before I learned those methods, I didn’t behave well.
What have I done about it? I spoke to my grown children and husband and apologized. My apologies don’t fix the past or make things right, but they are what I can do at this point. I have also resolved, with the help of my faith and my lessons painfully learned, to be a better life and death role model going down the road.
What would I have changed? More often, I would have vocally acknowledged the fear of dying, instead of holding it inside and sometimes acting out. I would have explained to my daughters that the emotional outbursts, that happened more often than I wish I had let them, were a combination of fear of dying and emotions that resulted from hormones that were messed up by steroids and chemotherapy treatment.
Cancer didn’t excuse my behavior, but maybe tempering it with explanations and keeping my upsets more private would have helped my family. I don’t like what I modeled, or rather, failed to model.
If I could go back in time, I would do it differently. Everyone is going to die. Some of us are going to have life-threatening events before we die. It is a careful line to walk. Going back, I would still have gone through my cancer authentically and I wish I had used my words to better express what I was experiencing. When I got the second cancer, melanoma, I behaved more calmly. I couldn’t pretend it was my first rodeo. I knew the drill and what questions to ask about the pathology report — kind, stage, grade — and how to make a plan. I also knew that I was allowed to just let myself feel what I was feeling, and I could choose to make better choices about how I behaved.
I wish I had been better prepared to hear my first cancer diagnosis. Is that even possible? I don’t know.
What do you think? I am not looking for comfort to excuse my poor behavior here. I would just like to know other cancer survivors’ thoughts and to ultimately hope that some good for other survivors can come from my mistakes.