With any luck, and God willing, this will be my last post on cancer for a while.
Ten days ago, I had a follow-up visit at the Mayo Clinic that went really well. That night, for the first time in nearly two months, I fell into a peaceful sleep.
Fortified with some rest, and fresh off a family vacation, I’ve had time to think about what I’ve learned this summer. The past two months have been a crash course in cancer and challenging genetics, but even more so in the ways of friendship, love, resilience and gratitude.
I truly pray that not one of you reading this will ever have a cancer diagnosis, or any frightening illness. But you may know someone who will.
It’s my hope that what I’ve learned can help you, a loved one, or a friend some day.
You Aren’t Alone
“Welcome to the club no one wants to be in,” a friend wrote upon hearing I’d been diagnosed.
And while no one ever wants to be in the cancer club, I’ve found it pretty darn good company.
Friends, near and far, extended family and even strangers reached out to me to say “Hey, I’ve been there. You can do this. I did it, too.”
Many times, it was the first I’d heard of their illness and the lengthy time they’d been cancer free.
It was heartening.
You’ve Got a Network
We live in a relatively small town, with good, but limited, medical care. Upon my diagnosis, my husband starting working all of his channels (I was too shell-shocked to help). Who did he know in medicine? Where would they go for treatment? Were we making good or bad decisions?
Remember six degrees of separation, the idea (surprisingly, from the late 1920s) that we’re all just 6 “friend of a friend” introductions from everyone else in the world? True or not (and I can think of plenty of exceptions), chances are you are less than six steps away from an expert in whatever has befallen you.
Find those people. And when they open doors, be ready to walk through them.
Go Where You Need to Go
Another friend (I have such wise friends!) offered this advice.
“Find the center of excellence for your cancer and go there. You can figure out how to pay for it later.”
She was right. Given my propensity to worry, I needed to have 100% confidence in my treatment plan and medical team. By going to the Mayo Clinic, I eliminated the need to second guess anyone or anything. There are numerous outstanding facilities in the U.S. and other countries. Find the one that suits you best.
And here’s one more piece of wisdom, from another wise friend, about traveling for treatment.
“It’s inconvenient, but ultimately, it’s a small investment for a huge return.”
Oh, and by the way, check your insurance. You may be surprised by who is in your network.
The Mayo Clinic is in ours.
It Takes A Lot of Talking
A diagnosis is exhausting for the person with the illness and alarming for those around her. A diagnosis brings out the very best in people, however, awakening their generous, caring natures.
This means they’ll reach out to you offering help, support and love. They’ll also want to talk. Talking is therapeutic to a point. Once you reach that point, let voice mail take over.
Accept Any and All Help
I’m a brutally self-reliant person. Or, at least, I used to be. Now I ask for help when I need it. Many people will offer help, but most won’t really know what you need. When you know what you need, ask.
Yes, your friends will be giving you the gift of their time and effort. But guess what? You’re giving them a gift, too, by allowing them to be useful in a time of need.
And someday, probably sooner than you anticipate, you’ll have the opportunity to help someone else.
It’s a Process
There are no quick results or turnarounds when it comes to illness. Working through the preliminary steps takes time. Tests take time. Procedures and treatment take time and then recovery takes time.
As trite as it sounds, the only way I’ve found to make it even part way through the process without totally losing my mind, is “day-by-day.”
Be patient. Let the changes come each day, for each day will be different and trying to control or create an “ideal” day is futile.
Anger, fear, gratitude and self-pity will wash over you, sometimes all in one day or sometimes all in one hour.
Don’t try to hang on. Just let go. The moods you experience aren’t going to make or break your health. Trying to control them however will make you crazy.
Finally, if you’ve ever (like me) been someone who has struggled with what to write on a sympathy or get well card, here’s a suggestion .
Two words: I’m sorry.
Yes, you can be more eloquent (and most of you are). But that simple expression of empathy works wonders. It lets the recipient know that you care, that even if you can’t really relate, you know that they’re hurting, and you’re sorry about that.
The other two words that work wonders? Cancer sucks.
For yes, indeed, it does.
Again, thank you to every one of you who has helped me so much over the past two months. You’ve assisted, inspired and bolstered me and my family in ways you’ll never imagine.
- The Rock in My Way, June 8, 2015.
- The Not At All Brave (Ski) Mom, June 22, 2015.
- Holding You in the Light, July 7, 2015.
- One Year Beyond Cancer and More Lessons Learned, June 13, 2016.
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