Lessons From My Cancer Adventure

Get Healthy Before You Get Sick

I was no Miz Universe before I was diagnosed but as I began treatment I was grateful for every bead of sweat I expended at my Jazzercise classes.  The Cancer Adventure is not for sissies and if you start strong you will bear the treatment better than if you begin from a deficit.  The fatigue is surprising and all that much harder if you’re toting around extra poundage.  Radiation (I am told) is much harder on the skin of obese women.  If you have an exercise habit you can maintain through the tough months you will recover faster.

Medicine is Toxic

Let’s face it.  Cancer therapy involves pumping toxic substances into your body.  Doctors seem to know how to take you to the absolute edge of endurance.  See above.  And see a naturopath.

Medicine is a Miracle

I am grateful every day that I am experiencing cancer in 2010 and not 1910.  My cancer was detected extremely early by amazing methods.  It was treated by sophisticated machines that produce marvelous results.  The miracle helps me to overlook the toxicity.

Intimates are Crucial

My heart breaks for people going through this alone.  You absolutely need one or two people with whom you can be your crabby, sobbing, exhausted self.  On those days when I was craving a cup of tea but just going downstairs and making it seemed daunting…those days Susan brought me tea and a muffin.  The times when the waterworks started up for reasons I could not identify, Susan was sympathetic and comforting.  She took up my normal jobs so that all I needed to do was be nice to myself.  Bless her forever.  Because it is hard to be a caregiver.  Really hard.

You May Get Practice on Familiar Work

Whatever it is that challenges you in daily life?  You’ll get extra practice with it during the Cancer Experience.  If you have trouble accepting help, you will need to learn how to do that better.  If you are independent, you will learn to be dependent.  If you are impatient (hmmmmm), you will get practice learning patience.  As if this whole thing isn’t hard enough!  Above all, you will be compelled to practice better self-care.

Love is There for the Asking (and you have to be OK with asking)

I have been overwhelmed by the love and thoughtfulness of my loved ones near and far.  The notes on this site, the cards, the flowers, the meals, the attention and prayers  sustained me.  Community is vital and I am blessed with an amazing community.  I am grateful to all of you.

Abducted by Aliens!!!

Those of us who have received radiation treatment find it an alien experience.  Really alien.  Almost as if we’d been abducted by aliens.  So, here is my homage to the process:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vztfuVdljTA]

Lavender is Magic

My sunburn is beginning to be annoying.  I just saw my doc and he’s giving me two days off (Friday and Monday) so that my skin gets a break.  Sheesh.   Fortunately, my BFF Janet told me to put lavender on the burn and it is helping.

I’m usually so careful in the sun…ironic to get such a burn indoors!

5 twigs

Treatments completed: 23

Treatments to go: 5

Heartfelt Thanks

It’s one week today since I had my surgery.

I am happy to report that I am healing very well.

The day after surgery last week I was feeling waaaay better than I’d anticipated and took myself for a walk to the park.  I got about two blocks and realized that was ambitious.  Slowly, I walked back home and rested.  Turns out I am human and I have required lots of rest and painkillers.  Thanks to Janet I had an excellent supply of DVDs and had myself a little Colin Firth film festival.  I listened to The Help on my iPod and just rested.  Not too horrible.  Kind of nice really with the meds.

Now I am off the vicodin (sigh) and beginning to use my brain again.  Yesterday I started learning how to do cryptic crossword puzzles (devilishly clever those!).  I spent a little time in my studio…mostly tidying and organizing but made good progress on a bookbinding project.  Slow and steady recuperation.

Above all, I feel grateful for all your support.  In so many ways I have been wrapped in your warm wishes and love.  I know it is helping.

Thank you.

Laughter is Good Medicine II

I really enjoy chats on Windows Live Messenger.  Although my BFF, Janet, and I see each other often we enjoy the efficiency and focus of an online chat.  Here is a reenactment of a recent conversation:

Maggie: I’ve read that it’s important not to hate your body for having cancer.

Janet: True

Maggie: So, I’ve been trying to appreciate my breast.  I’m patting it, thinking positive thoughts.

Janet: Bet that gets you some attention on the Max

Leaving Ambiguity

It’s has been quite a week of doctor appointments but progress is being made.  I have my surgeon, Dr. Nathalie Johnson, and a tentative surgery date of June 8th.  All of a sudden that feels really close!

I’ve started listening to soothing guided imagery recordings to prepare.  If you don’t know about Health Journeys and Belleruth Naparstek I encourage you to investigate.

Tomorrow I am having a BSGI scan to confirm that the cancer is as localized as the mammogram suggested.  Why on the Saturday of Memorial Day?, you might ask.  Well, this was my only opportunity for many weeks to come.  The scan uses some kind of nuclear isotopes that are currently in short supply in the United States.  Apparently, the volcanic ash from the eruption in Iceland disrupted delivery.  Talk about systems theory!

The next decision is what kind of radiation therapy.  There are three options.  I am still gathering data about them.  All in all, it’s been quite the medical education.

I’ve been surprised at how overwhelming it is.  Tuesday, after two long appointments I just hit the wall and had to be put to bed for a nap.  Some days it feels like an alternate universe.  Fortunately, I have dear friends who have already cured their cancer and they have been reassuring voices of experience.

Now if only if this darn rain in Portland would cease!

Happy holiday weekend to all the Americans!

Nice ‘n’ Easy

First the very good news: the BRCA genetic test came back negative.  HUZZAH!  This is good news in a number of ways:

  • It simplifies my treatment choices because the possibility of cancer popping up in the other breast is not as high
  • It’s excellent news for my family; Matt and Lizzie are unlikely to have it as well

I’ve been making the rounds of doctor’s offices and will visit my wonderful oncologist, Dr. John Smith this morning.  Things are beginning to fall into place.

Meanwhile, I woke up with a swell dream.

My favorite crossword puzzles are the from the Sunday LA Times.  They have light-hearted themes don’t require the kind of ‘intellect that can bend spoons‘ (see David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day for an amusing essay on crosswords).

In my dream the theme was Brand Management.  The clue was something about hair.

As I slowly came to full consciousness I realized it was all about my upcoming treatment.

Clever me, I got the answer right away.

Feeling the Love

You are awesome.  I have heard from so many dear friends and relatives.  I am overwhelmed.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

I was feeling a little sheepish about going public with this news.  After all, my cancer is fairly garden variety.  It’s going to go away.  At Kristy’s urging I AM going ‘to kick it’s ass!’

Anyway, I shared this sheepishness with my lovely friend Tabor Porter, an extremely talented artist who has faced his own hardships.  He wrote back:

My friend. Don’t be embarrassed. Never underestimate your supporting community. Their love can be the biggest catalyst to healing. My community has saved me more than once.  Embrace the power of many. They really are magic.  It all is.
Much love.

I agree Tabor.  I am stronger for all your support.  And I have tucked away all your loving messages for the times when I am feeling puny.

First Thing I have Learned in This Adventure: Love is there for the asking.  All I have to do is open up and receive it.

Huigging Janet at the Pink Party
Hug from Elizabeth
Hug from Michele at Birthday Party
With sweet Tally at Cannon Beach

Laughter is Good Medicine

My first laugh of the day came courtesy of Tory Brokenshire, one of the funniest and most talented women I know:

…You know how I feel about hugs and all this existential thinking stuff, but perhaps you didn’t know I believe in making sacrifices to anyone’s preferred deity. I know of a few active volcanoes and my husband has a very annoying little dog that has the occasional accident in the living room, well by now you know what I’m driving at so all you need to do is say the word and I will put my best effort into helping you anyway I can. I’m thinking of you Maggie, your friend Tory

(Photo Source)

Thanks Tory but I couldn’t accept such a generous offer.

Really.  I just couldn’t.