Life has dips and rainbows. No one can escape life’s dips that start in childhood. My lessons from the dips provided me with a spirited resilience and positive attitude. I learned from my life experiences how to climb emotional mountains; not from a book. In doing so I gained the inner strength to combat the dips to the best of my ability. And, if I was unable to find answers I turned to people who had the tools to help me through the rain. I allowed myself to be vulnerable.
This morning I am sitting at my desk looking out over Lake Michigan. The Sun is as bright as bright can be, and the water looks like it has a sparkling overlay of diamonds caused by the rising sun. Today is my Ultimate Concierge’s birthday, and I have made wonderful plans. They started late yesterday when we attended the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. When I saw Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ dancing across all four walls of the room we were in, I said out loud, “Oh how I wish you could be in this room to see the marvel created by others of your work.” Then, I glanced at my Ultimate Concierge in his red glasses and thought to myself, “I am so happy to be sitting next to you.” I am a Cancer Survivor.
Life Turns to Chaos
I have had several dips in my life. The worst two were widowhood in my forties and cancer. How I was able to survive should be mentioned because the routes I took for my survival were totally contrasting. Truth be told I never thought about this until now.
I chose to go through mourning the loss of my late husband and the father of my children, alone. I asked for no outside help and I joined no groups. As well, I stayed away from people.
Over the course of one year, I relived my life with Michael, alone, on two four-mile daily walks with my pooch, Mahalo. I watched no TV nor read because I could not concentrate. On the last day of my year of mourning, I went to our Synagogue with my daughters, and as I stood holding each daughter’s hand, buckets full of tears that would not stop literally drenched my face. I knew it was a release of my emotions and very healthy. I married my Ultimate Concierge, a widower, a year later, but my mourning went on for a few more years.
A Time of Terror
When I found out I had cancer, my life went from rainbow mode to a life of terror. Only time and lessons learned propelled me over this dip.
It started with a routine yearly trip to the dermatologist for a body check. I left his office with the knowledge I probably had a melanoma on my leg. The biopsy was rushed and the next day, I learned it was a melanoma. That afternoon I saw the surgeon and surgery was scheduled. Surgery meant a chest x-ray and blood tests. I went immediately for both and those tests were rushed. Two days later I learned I had melanoma and a 40-60% chance of lung cancer.
On a Friday night, I called my internist a little after 6:00 pm to leave a message that I had my chest x-ray and blood tests. I was sitting in my bath putting on my make-up for a dinner date with friends when the thought came to me to phone him. Imagine my surprise when he answered. He told me he would look up the reports as we talked. “Your blood tests are great, but I see something suspicious in your lung that looks like broken glass. I am not sure what it is so I will make an appointment for you to have a CAT scan tomorrow morning.
Tests, Tests, and More Tests
The CAT scan led to a body scan to see if the melanoma and lung spot were related. As I laid in that tunnel for over an hour, I was beyond terrified. That test led to lung biopsies and other horrible tests and trips to surgeons and oncologists. My Ultimate Concierge, to this day 13 years later, has never missed taking me to my 9 million (it feels like), appointments!
I was fortunate my body scan was negative, and though the cat scan was not definitive that I had lung cancer, the tumor had to come out. Now I was facing two surgeries. The removal of the melanoma would be first, and half of my lung would be removed a week later.
Weathering The Storm
During the next ten days, I went through two major surgeries. I was lucky in the sense that both the melanoma and lung cancer were Stage 1, which meant I would not need chemotherapy or radiation. On the other hand, I was emotionally wounded and no matter how hard I tried to be upbeat, I could not get over my fear of cancer. And, I did not hide it. This time I did not want to be alone. I knew I needed help to weather this storm.
Oh, I never laid around the house or slept late. I got up, spritzed myself with my favorite perfume, put on my red lipstick, walked my pooch, went out with friends, worked, traveled the world with my Ultimate Concierge, visited our kids, and ya-de-da. But inside my head I was terrified, and every night before I closed my eyes I told Shelly, “I am terrified.”
I think I was somewhat traumatized from too much in such a short time, but I was not too traumatized to know myself well enough that I had to learn coping skills. And so must you.
I know I am alive today because I was proactive about yearly exams. I visited the dermatologist and had a yearly mammogram, I had a visit with my internist, eye doctor, and periodontist once a year, etc. This practice saved my life. If you are avoiding these visits, don’t any longer. No one likes to visit doctors, especially me! But I make myself and I ask people I respect who are the best in each field.
I Never Asked, “Why Me?”
It came to pass four months after surgery that I realized I was always, sad about my plight. I never asked, “Why me?” I did not feel sorry for myself. But I was terrified and sad and that robbed me of my daily joy. One day I visited a friend who worked at Chanel and had lung cancer surgery two years prior. We sat on a couch and started talking as tears ran down my face.
She was so upbeat and her lung cancer was a Stage 2. She told me she had visited a psychologist who helped her. I took the woman’s name, called her office as soon as I arrived home, and set up an appointment.
You see, we all know ourselves. We know what makes us tick, so to speak. Unfortunately, knowing ourselves does not always mean we are good to ourselves. And we have to be. We have to take charge of our health and our feelings. I do. Do you?
Jennifer became my Guru. I saw her for a year, once a week. I told her everything and I held nothing back. In other words, I did not pretend. I let my vulnerable side show so I could learn the right tools that would help me put my terrified feelings into perspective.
One day, months down the road she said, “Life is seldom black. Most things people worry and worry about never happen. I want you to see your cancer diagnosis as the color gray. Why? Because the chance of Stage 1 cancers returning is rare. You never miss your cancer tests and check-ups, you are diligent about yearly check-ups, you eat healthily and workout, and you are happily married. You have taken charge of your situation.” Two words, “Think gray,” was the turning point in my emotional recovery.
I Am Always Proactive
Three years ago I had a tiny cancer in my other lung. My surgeon did not have to remove a lobe, only a little portion of the lung. How did he catch it in time? I was proactive and never missed my CAT scan appointment by even one day…and trust me, I dread going. Jennifer does not know. I did not have to phone her for another appointment because she gave me my tool, “Think gray.”
I hope I have given you a tool. Besides, I am free and you can call on me any time and I will squeeze you in with no wait time.
Are you a cancer survivor or know a cancer survivor? Share your story or questions in the comments at the bottom of this page.
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