Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.net
Cancer survivors need to keep up with the news. However, reading about a new study or risk factor might make us worry about past choices and/or current options, in a way we can't quite control.
As this new year dawned, I felt a thrill and a lightness of spirit. Later this year, I will celebrate the tenth year of my cancer diagnosis. I will celebrate because the diagnosis gave me life. Without it, I would be dead. I remain eternally grateful for caring professionals and modern medicine.
Then, I began to wonder. I woke up one morning wondering if I would ever stop thinking if I am living on borrowed time. Will I stop wondering if I have used my last ten years in a meaningful way? Will I stop reading as much as I can about cancer to try to understand what happened and/or to hope (especially hope) that it will not happen again?
I am fortunate cancer did not give me PTSD. It gave me, mostly, a lightness of spirit and an ability to smile through ordinary ordeals. If a plate breaks, I clean it up. If I am stressed at work, I go for a walk and breathe the air. And yet, sometimes I brood.
I think too much. I am the sort of person who needs to get wisdom as much as she needs to get understanding. While this wisdom-seeking nature comes in handy most of the time, it also makes me obsess about genes and oncogenes. It makes me not only guard against current carcinogens, which is a good thing but wonder about those of the past—and that is not a good thing. I need to let some of the water flow under the bridge.
Just this week, I got bogged down by a new study released by the SWOG Cancer Research Network. It reports that we should not take antioxidant dietary supplements or such supplements as iron, B12, and Omega-3 during chemotherapy because of the potential of increased risk of, of all things, death. Multivitamins seem to be okay. Still, I immediately took inventory of supplements I took during treatment.
I knew then to avoid supplemental vitamin C and antioxidants. A book a friend recommended, "Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment" by Dr. Keith Block, provided helpful tips but maybe I was not diligent enough. A multivitamin I took included B12 and C. I also took supplemental turmeric, which gets mixed reviews. I opted to believe then the advice that turmeric would help. Did it? It can reduce platelets, which also happens in cancer treatment anyway, but other things went well.
Water under the bridge, right? That was then. This is now, 2020. Hindsight is 20-20.
I need to learn to let go of thoughts that I might have done something wrong to become more susceptible to cancer or recurrence, despite risk factors and the HER2 overexpression. At the same time, I am open to learning more about the implications of supplements for cancer survivorship. Meanwhile, I need to think of each day as a gift and move ahead with the hope that surviving cancer can give us.
Cancer gave me both a lightness of spirit and, at times, a curious mind. Learning to survive with grace means working out that relationship between mind and spirit in order to move forward.