Four years ago this week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And every year around this time, I find myself re-reading my journal from that year.
In honor of those who died, those who survive and all their loved ones, I share some excerpts from my journal of that year with you.
June 17: "Two days later, I'm in Fred Meyer with the girls and the phone rings. It's the radiologist and she says, "I'm sorry. It's cancer." I didn't even have a pen or a piece of paper on me. She gave me the name and number of a surgeon and told me to make an appointment with him. I was in shock. Cancer? Really? That little thing?? Are they sure? Maybe they mixed it up with someone else. Really? I was not expecting that."
June 21: "They say denial is the psyche's way of protecting itself. As if the truth of what is happening were to rush in all at once, it would be too much for us. Denial allows it to seep in little by little, so the mind and heart can absorb reality in a more manageable way."
July 17: "This I know: Things are as they should be even if I don't like or understand them. That I am not alone. God is closer to me than I am to myself. I am held."
"So when people ask how I am doing....sometimes I feel nervous. Sometimes tired or nauseous and frustrated about that. Sometimes annoyed at this interruption to my life plans. But I'm also calm. I am not afraid (at this moment.) Everything will be okay. It already is. I am not alone. I am held."
July 21: After my sister came to visit. "But most of all, she brought me a sense of safety, a deep comfort and peace to what feels very rushed and scary to me at times. She brought her Sister Love - What she's always been able to do for me since we were small. It's as though when I was setting about my course for this life and deciding all the challenges I wanted to give myself, God wisely suggested I also choose the most gentle, faithful companion of a sister to provide just what I needed in those most difficult times. I'm glad I listened and that we found each other."
July 30: "I've been feeling a little flat. Just off. Like I can't quite get my bearings. My routine is all out of whack and Lord knows, I love my routines. I have them for everything. Tonight, I noticed the kitchen floor is dirty and realized it's not part of my nightly routine to sweep it anymore. Haven't swept the floor in weeks. (Someone else has thankfully!) Filling water bottles, heating up my hot pack and lying out my meds is my new nightly routine. Going for a run is usually part of my morning routine. Not so much now. So I shed a few tears and feel sad about what I miss. There's so much for me to learn about all of this, about myself."
"Note to self about a future post: The lessons of cancer."
August 13: "But now, I do not have a shaved head. I have a baldish, chemo head. It's patchy. Mostly gone on the top and sides and thin in the back. It's not cool or liberating. I've had some tears about my new (temporary, I know!) look. But more and more I'm getting okay with it."
August 25: "I'm trying to remember the spiritual principals and practices that seemed so meaningful and vibrant prior to my diagnosis. I rest in the intellectual knowledge that all is the the same even if I feel disconnected. But I long for the sense of peace and well-being that was so present for me before I got sick. It makes me notice how much of feeling physically well, healthy, and active is linked with my positive mental well-being and sense of the Spirit. I am considering other ways to stay spiritually fed that do not include accomplishing tasks and moving my body. I guess I can see this as an opportunity to broaden my spiritual practices."
September 23: "Remember when I was feeling good last week? So crazy how it comes and goes. I just have to take each day as it comes and enjoy it as much as I can. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I'll be thinking today wasn't so bad and I should have been "enjoying" what I had. It's hard to predict and it's crazy making. And frankly, I'm tired of listening to myself talk about it."
October 2: "I was supposed to run the Portland marathon Sunday. I had just started training when I was diagnosed almost four months go. I think I will go cheer on the runners at mile 20 with my new "F*ck Cancer" tee shirt that my sister-in-law sent me."
October 5: "I have had times in my life where I have felt very alone and lonely. I can see more obviously now that it was a creation of my own mind since the opposite message keeps coming my way again and again. I am not alone. I have friendship and support all around me. I just need to be open to receiving it. This is one of those lessons having cancer is teaching me that I want to remember when this is all over."
Regarding my husband: "To be honest, accepting his love and help hasn't always been easy for me. I struggle at times with feeling like I don't deserve it. I am learning this is not only hurtful to him (and others who are freely offering their love and support), but also not actually true. This is another one of those thinking errors that's being challenged again and again since this cancer thing came on our scene. And one new way of being - accepting love freely given - that I'd like keep even when this is behind us."
October 31: "What I did not expect yesterday is that I would burst into tears walking into that office building. I get overwhelmed and emotional at times and walking into that building triggered it for me yesterday. Sometimes the bigness of it all hits me. Chemo was a big deal. Surgery is a big deal to me. It feels scary at times. Fortunately it passes. Adjusting to having cancer has taken me months. I can see that adjusting back to life after cancer will also take some time."
November 13: Regarding my physical appearance: "And for anyone who goes through this themselves or who has someone close to them go through it.... The supportive response to this is, "I'm sorry. That must be tough." Not, "You look great!" Because its not that I think I look ghastly and I need a reality check from someone on the outside. I'm aware I don't look as sick as some. I have good color and can apply makeup with some skill. But this surely isn't my best look. And telling me I look "great" makes me feel like I'm not allowed to be sad about my lack of hair, eyelashes and eye brows. I know it is temporary and I know I should be grateful for what I have. (It could be worse, I know.) But sometimes I just feel upset about it."
"It's another one of those humbling things about cancer. And I'm reminded again that we are who we are on the inside regardless of how we look on the outside."
December 17: "Mentally and emotionally, I feel pretty happy and positive most days. Occasionally, I'll get these waves of fear or dread. Mostly its about the cancer coming back (chemo!) or about dying young and leaving my family. I really have to bring myself back to the present moment at those times and I'm thankful that doing so brings me peace. I tell myself, "I'm just fine today, right now."
"But having those scary thoughts also makes me think about not putting things off; not saying, "I'll get to that someday." Because really. If I don't do it now, when will I? Next year? What if I have a recurrence next year or the year after? What if these are the "good" days right now? In this way it makes me check my priorities all the time. Is this how I want to be spending my time? This is just another way cancer has changed things for me and it will take continued awareness to keep this lesson close."
January 28: "And while I'm eager to focus on other aspects of my life including my work and my relationships, I do not want to lose the many positive changes that have come about since getting cancer. And for that I'll continue to do my spiritual and emotional work. Because it just feels so much better to do so."
February 27: "I'm going to tidy up my desk and bed side of all my cancer stuff this weekend - the books, folders of info, notes, labs, etc. The time has come to put it away. Although I will never be the same as before cancer and am grateful for everything I've received with this life experience, I can feel myself moving on. And that feels pretty darn awesome."