You gotta be…

I started tapping back into this song (by Des’ree) as a mantra in February when I needed some inspiration. Always a favorite 90s jam, but I really listened to each lyric and found something I needed to hear. It was the perfect setup for what I was about to face in March when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. To say it came as a shock is an understatement. Not really something you expect to find out after having an annual physical with all good numbers and results, & taking no medications. I was quickly submerged in the world of breast cancer diagnosis, and in my nature, researched the hell out of it. In these few short months I’ve read books, scientific studies, articles, blogs, forums, joined in local groups who provide education, and listened to podcasts. I’m still early on in a sense, but I feel like I’ve gotten a handle on what it is and mostly learned how much I really did not know, or that a lot of what is *thought* to be known is misunderstood, until you are patient zero. 

I found my cancer myself thru routine self exam. (PSA: do your exams!) In hindsight, I should’ve gone to the doctor immediately, but due to covid I told myself I was monitoring until my routine annual exam. My doctor agreed further diagnostic testing should be done to rule anything out and so the exams began. I am not a queasy person. I am not overly emotional. I am fairly realistic: I like facts, logic, numbers, and truth. So none of this was really scary for me, just a bit uncomfortable. I am independent, so handing over the reigns to others for my health, the one thing I felt I controlled (as much as any of us can really, which is to say – not a whole lot!), was the hardest part. And let’s face it, healthcare in the US, even with good insurance, still not the best. But that’s a post for another day. So began navigating the system as I did and taking each step to learn more and come up with a plan of action. The waiting in between was hard. Once I had results and I knew what was ahead, it is a lot easier to come around to the plan.

I am a thinker. Always have been. I like to think critically about my own thoughts and ask myself questions of why I think that, and challenge the ways in which I do and see if I can evolve my thoughts all the time. All. The. Time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve mellowed a bit on needing to know every single little thing. I certainly don’t share it like I used to. 

It’s my day job to observe and ask questions, and being a storyteller, I am interested in people’s stories. So the idea that I had a new story to tell was a spark for so much more… I started thinking about what I knew about cancer (very little actually) except for how it relates to people that I know that have had it. And the bottom line is you just don’t know until you know or unless your an oncologist. And even they sometimes don’t seem to really know the things that actual cancer patients know. And it’s not a slight to those concerned, no one wants to be in this club, but it is a gentle reminder in mindfulness that you should approach the subject (ie, the cancer patient) from a place of unknowing. It’s perfectly fine to relate the instances you are aware of, well at least with me, maybe not all people appreciate it, but I can see the difference in meaning well and wanting to connect, versus touting some unverified belief system about cancer. 

I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s words, “what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?” I have to say, even though my diagnosis didn’t warrant it, of course, we all think about our fate. And nothing has changed for me. I feel the same about death that I felt before this. I’ve never been afraid of it. It’s a part of life. And it exists for the purpose of life to go on, a circular motion, it is required. Of course, we all would like to see it be timely and seasonal, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve had the opportunity to live my life the way I truly want. I’ve worked on making my home with my person in life and our 2 kitties. I’ve made mistakes and crappy things have happened sometimes, but it has all led me to a stronger foundation, & a softer perspective. I’ve traveled where I wanted to. I’ve seen things I’ve wanted to see. I’ve achieved the professional goals I have set. I’ve listened to live music I’ve wanted to hear. Not a day goes by that I am not steeped in gratitude for my experiences, relationships and time spent. I literally practice gratitude every day, and more on days I am feeling down.  

What has changed? Maybe it’s too early to tell. There may be a slight perspective shift on letting go a bit more. I am a motivated person, mostly motivated by what I want to learn, see and do in life, and share with others. I think this diagnosis has made me tell myself to relax a bit more. I tend to like things a certain way (thanks Mom!) and sometimes try to bear this unto others, and really, it’s not necessary. I can skip the critique once in a while. Though some* may say it’s part of my charm. (*some is me, I’m the only one that says that ;)) 

So what can you do? You can say a prayer and send good energy into the universe. You don’t have to help me, but help someone. You can make a donation to a worthy cause, these two have directly affected me:

https://www.lbbc.org/

https://uniteforher.org/

You can ask your representatives to support legislation for better, smarter regulations regarding cancer patients, specifically metastatic patients. Some of this legislation relates to research, how data is compiled and where the funding is then routed because of that data; also, what type of disability is accessible and when for people facing terminal diagnosis. This site has more info:

https://www.metavivor.org/

And you can get vaccinated! Vaccination is a responsible choice if you want to be part of an interactive society. Immunocompromised people (chemo patients, transplant patients) are dealing with enough. They don’t need to worry about a pandemic too. Individual beliefs mean nothing in a society that doesn’t exist.