Thinking back to the day I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, I shudder, not just because it was such a dark day in my life, but also because it takes my breath away when I realize how far I’ve come from that terrifying abyss!
It’s a place where you don’t want to reside, for you will be alone. You will be cold and frightened and unable to stop the tears from flowing. You think about all the years you’ll miss time with your family and not see your grandchildren grow up. It’s pretty dismal.
It seemed like a lifetime, but about three months following diagnosis, I crawled out on all fours toward the light. I’m so grateful that I finally found my center of strength and clung to a spark of motivation to not only help myself, but to help others. That’s when I began to write about my experience with invasive breast cancer, something I absurdly believed I’d never have.
I didn’t know about dense breast tissue that makes visualization of a growing tumor in your breast tissue impossible. A physician once remarked, “It’s like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.” My tumor was growing for years undetected. If I could go back with the knowledge I have now, I’d tell my pre-cancer self to insist on a follow-up ultrasound or MRI with each mammogram.
It seems I’ve learned many breast cancer idiosyncrasies after-the-fact. This spurred me on to share what I’ve experienced with all those who are unaware as well. I started out small by writing poems that were cathartic, ridding me of regretful thoughts churning in my head. Once they were on paper, I felt relieved.
Nurses at the cancer center made copies, giving them to patients who found comfort in knowing someone is going through the same tribulations. Before long, I found myself writing more poems and prose that flowed quite easily, because I was in the midst of this drama playing out in my life. It later became my first book, Metastatic Madness.
It was followed two years later by my second book, Kicking Cancer to the Curb! Enthusiastic reviews lifted me when people would say that it made them cry, it made them laugh, it helped them to know someone who felt exactly what they were feeling. I knew I was doing my job as a writer to get people to feel these emotions and to express themselves.
I also felt gratified in becoming an advocate for them. I can’t change their destiny, but I can help make it more bearable by walking this tortuous path with them. We are metsisters and brothers … souls who know our days are numbered, who want to live as much as anyone else, but have very little control over our destiny. Most of us have determined we are going to make the most of it. If you have to leave the party early, why not have the best time of your life?
It starts with following your treatment plan that you, hopefully, have been an active part of; and, by making the most of your days. Plan trips, visit friends and family or invite them over. Use the energy you have to do positive things that lift you and ease the suffering or pain.
Listen to music, draw or paint, plant flowers, wear the things in the back of your closet you have put away for special occasions, tell those close to you that you love them, volunteer for activities you can manage, and be good to yourself. My passion for drawing and painting returned and I took on projects I wouldn’t have considered possible before cancer came along. If not now, when?
I have been trying to master watercolors which to me are more difficult in execution than oils or acrylics. I completed a few portraits of friends and, my favorite, my husband wearing the Panama hat I got for his birthday. These aren’t great works of art, but they give me pleasure and fill my hours.
I also like putting together picture puzzles or working on crossword puzzles. When I’m doing these things, I’m focused on them and not thinking about the big ‘C’. My greatest joy was being invited to be a part of the Story Half Told campaign sponsored by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
Due to my growing advocacy for the plight of people with MBC, I was given an opportunity to get the facts out about MBC and help to dispel the myths. The website gives a peek into the lives of five women from across the country who, despite their diagnosis were moving on with their lives. It also offers resources for those just diagnosed or those floundering in a blitz of information and misinformation. It gave me a voice and provided a forum for educating and enlightening caregivers as well as patients.
Looking back over the past six and a half years since my diagnosis, I have met so many people. We connected in such deep and meaningful ways. I have expressed myself in words and with brush strokes with an intensity I never felt before.
I enjoy waking up each day. I glorify in every moment I am given to enjoy life. I thank God for each breath I take. I’m not saying that cancer was a gift or made my life better or more enriched. It’s what I chose to do with the rest of my days that could have been otherwise spent mired in sadness, fear or loneliness.
My inspiration comes from so many places, but it’s best reflected in these words by an unknown author that I intend to live by: Cancer changes people. It sculpts us into someone who understands more deeply, hurts more often, appreciates more quickly, cries more easily, hopes more desperately, loves more openly, and lives more passionately. Vivere! Dare to live!