It sucks and isn’t fun but you can do it

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Recently I have said or written those words to two people who I care about very deeply.  You may wonder what occasion would cause me to say “It sucks and isn’t fun but you can do it”.  The occasion would be the announcement that they have cancer. I have been there, done that.  And it isn’t fun but it can be done. I remember a nurse saying to me “well now you won’t have to worry about getting cancer because you have it”.  Really I never worried about it, no one in my family has had cancer so it wasn’t something that was on my radar.  One of the hardest things about having cancer was telling people that I had cancer. Actually I made my sister tell my mom.  I knew I couldn’t tell her. In the beginning I told very few people because until I had a definite diagnosis I didn’t want everyone worrying.  It was December 2007 and just before Christmas I had a diagnosis of breast cancer.  I didn’t tell my daughters until they were home for Christmas.  I wanted to tell them face to face and when we were all together.  It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.  I remember that my youngest daughter and her boyfriend went to pick up my eldest daughter and her husband at Newark Airport.  And while they were gone I prayed and paced trying to find the right words.  Searching the Bible for the perfect verse, the perfect words but the reality is there is no easy way to say it, no way to ease it into the conversation.  So I trusted that God would give me the strength and the words.  I remember that when everyone arrived there were hugs and small talk and cups of tea.  We were all setting at the kitchen table and finally I knew I had to tell them something that I never thought I would tell them.  I think I said “I have to tell you some bad news”.  I remember my eldest daughter reaching for her husband’s hand and I remember not making eye contact with my youngest daughter. And then I just said it – no sugar-coating or easing into it, I just said I have breast cancer.  During my breast cancer journey I had a calendar that I wrote “good” day or “bad” day on.  During that journey of 8 chemo treatments over 16 weeks I only wrote “really bad day” once.  It is a journey that forces you to become the CEO of your own healthcare. Through my journey I learned that medicine is not science it is art.  If you or someone you love is on that journey ask lots of questions.  Do not assume anything. Take control of what you can control.  Cut your hair short before it falls out.  Buy new makeup. Buy a new toothbrush. Purchase Biotene toothpaste and mouthwash to protect your teeth. Sleep on a satin pillowcase and wear a sleep cap.  Let people help you. Do one day at a time and sometimes do 10 minutes at a time and then do the next 10 minutes. Remember no one comes with an expiration date stamped on their foot.  No one can tell you how long you have to live. Pray – I believe it helps but bottom line it can’t hurt.  Don’t listen to other people’s stories about their cousin’s boss’s mother.  Talk to people who have had what you have.  Or talk to their family members. The greatest gift I received as I started my journey was speaking to my friend’s brother whose wife had died of breast cancer – it was a blessing because he had been there, done that. He shared wonderful tidbits and thoughts with me.  And as we ended our conversation he gave me a hug and told me I could do this.  And on a Thursday morning in December of 2008 as the sun was just coming up, there was a rainbow across the sky.  At first I didn’t realize it was a rainbow. It seemed to be random streaks of color. And then I could see a perfectly arched rainbow going across the sky as I drove to my last radiation treatment.  A rainbow a sign of hope and promise. The journey through treatment “sucks and it isn’t fun but you can do it”

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