Out on a Limb!


"I’ve been out on a limb for the past eight years. I can tell you firsthand, it gets lonely out there… and scary."

As you likely know, life can throw you a curve when you least expect it or want it. You struggle to find ways of coping with the inevitable woeful events. It’s like reaching for a tree limb that hangs low while struggling to keep afloat in a rough current.

I know what it’s like. I’ve been out on a limb for the past eight years. I can tell you firsthand, it gets lonely out there… and scary. There may be helping hands around you, but they can’t quite reach you. The depth of your distress is beyond their perception. It’s a simple dynamic: your life hangs in the balance, theirs doesn’t. They can’t be faulted. No one can know what its like to be in your shoes, or more literally, in your cancer damaged, chronically painful, surgically scarred and incurably diseased body, nor in your deeply tormented psyche.

Recently, someone asked me what it’s like to have Stage 4 cancer. In my case, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread extensively to bone in eight locations. I replied:

“Living with metastatic breast cancer is like being suspended over a canyon with a raging river below you. Eventually, the ropes will snap and you’ll fall in and die. But you don’t know when that will happen. So, you struggle on with whatever strength and resolve you have left. But the crude ropes restrict your freedom to do what you used to do, and long-range planning is gone… forever.

“You dangle there, shaking inside, while trying to overlook all the discomfort it causes you. You hurt all over and you’re tired, more tired than you have ever felt in your entire life. But you’re not giving up…not yet anyway! Impossibly, you hang onto your faith and the slim prospect that someone will come along with a way to rescue you!”

Still optimistic that a rescue may be in the offing, I remain open to new discoveries, research leading to new drugs in the pipeline, and successful clinical trials. I look around everywhere — that is, everywhere but down. I don’t want to jinx my ‘longer than expected’ survival of eight plus years. Looking down could lead to going six feet down. Personally, I feel rather strongly that an important aspect of survival is the state of your mind and your spirit.

As for my predicament, I have always been afraid of heights. So, being out on a limb with no net beneath me is the ultimate anxiety-producing place for me to exist, even if it’s just in my head. Outwardly, I generally appear strong and steady, leading the charge. Looking that way has helped me to feel that way! I feel better when I adjust my mind in a positive direction.

While a positive attitude, strong faith and an impenetrable spirit won’t cure cancer or guarantee your longevity, it can help your remaining time to be more tolerable, if not actually enjoyable. I still love to laugh and enjoy life, despite pain or physical restrictions. A current article in CURE magazine cites a study on the impact of faith on serious illness. The author claims that people with cancer who subscribe to a strong spiritual belief system report a better ability to cope.

Another study by Heather S. L. Jim, PhD, in Cancer, states that physical, emotional and social health are all interconnected. These patients tend to live longer and experience delays in their disease progression due to having a belief system in place.

It doesn’t necessarily mean going to church, praying, or even meditation. What it comes down to is a feeling of having a connection and having a purpose in life. Those who are, for the most part, isolated seem to suffer worsening physical, social and emotional health.

So, I’ve definitely opted for empowering myself to hang on in spite of my precarious position. I’ll dangle for as long as possible. When I look up, I see a spirit smiling down on me saying ‘I believe in you’. When I look around, I see loving family and friends who want me to prevail. I’m fortunate to have latched onto that branch, for it keeps me alive!

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