The following is a special article written especially for Sena Foundation and for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, by a very courageous lady about her own personal battle with breast cancer.
Cancer Creates an Urgency
Cancer. I always thought it would be horrible until I had it.
Tuesday, January 23, 1996 - Mammogram revealed lump in left breast.
Wednesday, January 24, 1996 - Lump removed for biopsy. Malignant.
Thursday, January 25, 1996 - Bone scan. Clear.
Friday, January 26, 1996 - Lumpectomy and 33 nodes removed. 1 = +
Seems fast. It was. But that was OK with me then, and basically still is. My only regret is the removal of so many lymph nodes, which compromised the lymph drainage system in my left arm. However...if Iím still alive in ten years, Iíll have no regrets.
Cancer is a Great Teacher
I learned more about myself and my connection to all things during this experience than during any past event. I learned about patience because the process started on January 23, 1996 and did not end until August 6, 1996. The patience is extended even more by the fact that I will not be considered cured until I have been cancer-free for five years. I learned that thoughts donít have to be connected as they proceed through my mind. If they jump hither and yon, I can simply relax and go with them. I learned that the rest of the world will go on, even when I take a "time-out" from everything except myself. I learned that it is OK to be compassionate; and itís OK to be self-centered. Itís OK to be sad when everyone else seems happy, and OK to be happy when everyone else seems sad. I also learned that sometimes people are really sad when they seem happy; and thatís OK, too.
Catching a Wave
and Having No Option
Except to Ride
I can remember considering ways of handling my situation and deciding
that I was just going to sit back and go with the flow, sort of like Pooh
in Benjamin Hoffís The Tao of Pooh. I did not look back; I did not
anticipate; I lived almost completely in the moment, because I believed
that was the only way I could deal with everything that was coming my way.
I also knew that the only way I could handle the whole process was to have
the support of as many people as possible. The only way that I could have
the support of people was for them to know what was going on; and for them
to know, I had to tell. Consequently, I told everyone. Or, everyone except
the stranger in the street. And, that was good. At least, it was good for
me. The combined strength and support of everyone helped me ride the wave
I had caught.
Cancer is Very Personal
I had a mammogram first, then was told that they needed to do an ultrasound.
While I was waiting for those results, I can remember three thoughts which
went through my mind.
1. "I may die."
2. "How terrible that would be for my children and my husband!"
3. "My death is about me. It is not about my children and husband.
I can react to the possibility of my death in any way I choose, because it is about me."
AC(After Cancer) I am not sure how selfish those thoughts were or whether or not it makes any difference if they were selfish or not. I only know that they were what initially freed me to be comfortable with my disease. It never entered my mind BC(Before Cancer) that anyone could feel comfortable with any kind of a serious disease; but I did. And, that was good. It allowed me to think in terms of the benefits of chemotherapy. And so, I made a calendar; and I drew beautiful hearts on the days I was scheduled to receive treatments, because they would make me well. I spent a lot of time talking to my body in the days before my first treatment; some of this was vocal and some of it mental. I explained what was wrong, and what was needed to "fix" it. As I learned anything new, I took time to pass it on to my body through this self-talk. Immediately before each treatment, I tried to visualize healing light coming into my body with the chemotherapy. I believe that as a result of all of this I was able to continue working throughout the whole process, except for one week spent in the hospital to get rid of an infection.
I can remember saying that several times and to numerous people while I was taking chemotherapy and afterwards. Throughout the process I believed it was very important to give free-rein to my thoughts and feelings. Consequently, when my body was extremely weak, I often said "Chemo sucks!". When I think back on it, I wonder how it is possible for it to suck. And, thatís easy. It sucks your energy, sucks your short term memory, sucks your appetite, sucks your ability to stay focused; and it even sucks your concern about your ability to stay focused. It kills all the fast growing cells in your body (which causes you to lose hair and compromises your digestive and immune systems); and believe me that sucks. So, AC I reckon I still believe that chemo sucks.
If You Survive Chemo, You Burn
Radiation therapy goes on, and on, and on... I had it five days a week for seven weeks. And, it burns, and burns, and burns... Unfortunately, it burned up my thyroid, which is another story for another day. Hopefully it also burned up any of the little buggers that did not get removed by the surgery or poisoned by the chemotherapy.
Putting the Fun Back in Cancer
I have always believed that humor is an essential part of living; and
cancer is no exception. I had my husband shave my head so that I would
not have to deal with hair on everything. Itís amazing how much fun you
can have with a razor, hair gel, colored hair spray and an imagination.
My only regret is that we did not take pictures. (I crocheted and wore
berets, instead of a wig.) I made a poster entitled "The Benefits
of Chemotherapy" which I took to work for people to write on. Benefits
1. You donít have to bikini wax.
2. You never have a "bad hair" day.
3. You have a good excuse for being a bitch.
4. You save money on hair cuts and shampoo.
These are just a few; but I hope you get the idea. We all had a lot of fun with he poster. AC I was also told that checking the poster gave some of the people a reason to come by every day to check on me. At the time I was so involved with my disease that I rarely considered that some people are not comfortable with any disease, especially not cancer. My family also got in on the fun side. My sister-in-law in Texas mailed me a stone to carry in my left hand so that I would not walk lop-sided after my lumpectomy (My lump was in my left breast). I have always believed that humor makes life easier; and it proved to be the same with cancer.
On Cancer and the Family
My husband was incredibly supportive; more so than I would have ever
believed BC. I was in training for a new job three hours from home during
the entire process. He would call and remind me to take my medicine (short-term
memory problems), arrange to take me for my chemotherapy treatments, call
at least twice a day, talk with doctors when I could not, and on, and on.
The list is endless. My son took me Christmas shopping and made sure that
sales people helped me for as long as I needed help. My parents met me
for breakfast every Monday morning, which was about a two hour round trip
for them. My daughters stayed in touch with me and gave me endless emotional
support. One sister-in-law sent me a card each week for almost a year.
Maybe I would have made it without all this support; but I could not have
remained as balanced and comfortable as I was with my disease. The connection
to family seemed to give me an inner strength that could carry me through
On Cancer and Spirituality
At times when I was weak from the chemotherapy, it almost seemed as if I were able to draw strength from a universal supply. At other times it came from a hug or a smile or a pat on my head. I only know that when I needed strength, it was there. I donít remember many of the dreams I had during my chemo days; however I vividly remember one experience I had. During one of my dreams, my doctor appeared and told me I needed to start taking an antibiotic the next morning. This had absolutely nothing to do with my dream; and I told him he needed to leave. He did not leave; he continued to tell me that I should begin taking antibiotics. I tried to ignore him; but he refused to leave. Finally I decided the easiest way to get rid of him was to listen to him. He proceeded to tell me that I had an infection developing in my gut and needed the antibiotic to cure it before it got out of control. I told him I would start the medicine the next morning; and he left. The next morning I took the medicine and told my husband about the dream. By early afternoon, my temperature was over 101. I continued to take the medicine; and my temperature was normal by the following day. This dream allowed me to know that I had a spiritual connection that would help me as long as I remained open to it. Another experience I had was even more comforting to me. When I was in the hospital with an infection (another one that I did not receive advance information about), my doctor was trying to find a sub-clavicle vein to put a needle into for my IV. After 2 or 3 unsuccessful attempts, I realized that I could help him with the procedure. I knew that if I could fill myself with white light, the light could guide the needle for him. I immediately started relaxing and allowing the light to fill my insides. Before this could be completed, I heard him say that he was only going to try once more. This was attempt number 5 or 6; and it was also unsuccessful. By this time I was ready and asked him to try one more time. He easily put the needle into my vein. Both of these experiences were quite literally beautiful and everlasting.
Cancer and My Future
So, the way I understand the doctors is;
If Iím alive and cancer-free in 5 years, they will declare me cured.
If Iím dead in 5 years, they will tell my husband I was not cured.
Just some more of my sick humor; however in essence it is true. My odds are supposedly good; but what difference do odds make if you die. In the meantime, I consider it my obligation to enjoy life, provide support to my family and friends as they need it, remain open to my spiritual connection, and live in the moment as much as I can.
Copyright © Dianna L. Ryan, MA. 1997 All rights reserved.
Dianna Ryan is a wife, mother, grandmother.and career woman. She lives and works in the state of West Virginia as a Public Health Investigator.
Tetons by Robert B. Campbell©1998,All Rights Reserved.
Graphic by Maxfield Parrish, "Daybreak"
Sena Foundation..."Sharing the Seasons"ôsince
This site is owned and maintained by volunteers of Sena Foundation © 1997