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Twist on Cancer: Life has a way of throwing you curveballs when you least expect them and they are not always pleasant. I’m a firm believer that in life there are many peaks and valleys, and without the valleys you will never appreciate the peaks.
You never forget when you hear the words, “You have cancer.” Mine was not the typical journey into this terrifying space because I didn’t know I had cancer until I woke up from surgery. I actually didn’t know I had it until one friend stood beside my bed holding my hand and the other buzzed around the room fixing things. Something was not right. I quietly turned to Deb and asked, “Do I have cancer?” And she held tightly to my hand and nodded yes. And so, it began.
You learn many things as you traverse this new reality. It is a long journey and at times it is incredibly difficult. At 48, I was suddenly faced with my own mortality and so many difficult decisions. Chemotherapy was not something I went into with an open mind and a willing heart. I fought it. I cried during the quiet hours when I was alone. Cancer is hard. Cancer is horrible. Cancer is scary. But there were so many beautiful things that came to fruition during this journey. The most humbling was the love that suddenly enveloped it. It was humbling and awe-inspiring and it carried me through the hard times. And it was during these times that I learned my greatest lessons.
Lesson #1 This wasn’t my journey through cancer. It was our journey. There was not one day I carried the weight of this alone. My friends and family were suddenly facing the possible loss of someone they loved. They carried the weight of that with them as they pushed, dragged and charmed me through the pain, I did not know the body was capable of feeling. The struggle I had with the thought of pouring poison into my body. They were with me for every doctor appointment before surgery and after. They were waiting in the waiting room for five hours as the surgeons unstuck a mass that covered my entire abdomen. Then, the call to learn the hard truth that baby Huey was in fact cancer. They soothed me when I cried and cleaned up behind me when I was sick. They took me to every chemotherapy treatment and sat happily chatting and teasing, as my body drank this cocktail that promised more time. They were at every appointment I was too scared to go to alone after treatments. They shaved my head and they told me I was beautiful. They sent cards full of love and encouraging words. They visited and just spent time with me. Walked my dogs, did yoga, gave me gifts and got me out before each treatment, so I had something to smile about. They slept over on treatment days. They tried to hide the shock of seeing me as more and more hair fell out and never made me feel self-conscious or uncomfortable.
You don’t get over the words, “you have cancer” for a very long time, it turns out. The fear lives on in the deepest darkest parts of you. Every pain has you wondering, are you back? During it all they were always there giving me strength, a smile and a nudge to get to the next day. A little farther down the path on our journey forward.
I know some struggled more than others during our journey. I also knew it wasn’t all about this journey they were struggling with. They were dealing with the loss of loved ones long gone before me and their own journeys during those times. There were quiet moments and shy glances as they worried about me and yet they always smiled. They just loved me. And I absorbed every drop of that love and I will forever be indebted to them. No matter where life takes me, I will forever hold a special place in my heart for each and every one of them. I will carry that love with me until my final days.
I am now in my second year of remission from ovarian cancer. I cannot technically say I am a survivor for five years. My body is now missing a few parts and it shows the scars of a war well fought and won. Since January 23, 2019, I have worried about its return. This past winter I was gripped in the fear of a recurrence that thankfully turned out to be a false alarm. Maybe the lesson in this was to let me experience the deep-in-your belly fear that I was denied in 2019. Through all the ups and downs my ever-faithful friends worried with me and encouraged me to keep the faith. The day I met my new oncologist and she gave me the news I was all clear, I sat outside and I cried for the innocence of good health that seemed to be lost. I was humbled and grateful that once again I was spared. My cancer is a beast and I am luckier than many going down the path I was on. I won the battle my maternal grandmother had lost when I was just eight years old.
From the start, I have heard voices. Like someone whispering in my ear…. Your body knows when something is not right. You need to see a doctor. Make sure you tell the doctor about your belly if something's not right. Did you schedule that test? Did you schedule that test? One day in particular I kept hearing “did you schedule that test?” It drove me nuts. It just wouldn’t stop. Fine! I will schedule the test! It saved my life. It caught my cancer early.
Lesson #2 Don’t ignore your body. It knows when something is not right. So do you. Our journey through cancer did not start the way I have seen it play out in the movies or on TV. There was no great pain, just subtle changes and something strange. It started with the angels above forcing me down a path I did not normally take. I didn’t see doctors. I used homeopathic medicines. They did not stop. I heard them. I ignored them, but they did not stop. I am grateful. I am blessed. My army of angels from above guided me and my army of angels here on earth got me over the hurdles.
Lesson # 3 It’s okay to accept help and never wait to tell someone you love them. So, now as a survivor, I am more willing to take a helping hand when offered. I tell people that I love them just because I can. They stepped up and gave their time freely and until the day I die, I will forever be humbled by what each of them has done. And as horrible as cancer was, it gave me the sweetest gift. It gave me time with friends that I didn’t normally get. So much love.
Cancer does not have to be all horrible. Life lessons are given every day. Sit back and absorb the love that is given freely. Don’t mistakenly look past it worrying about something just around the corner out of sight. Don’t waste time hating cancer because it is horrible. That is wasting precious time that could be spent sharing memories and dreams. Love each other because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Fill every moment with positivity and love. Every treatment means one less to face. Choose love and not anger. There will be time for that later. Live in the now. Embrace it and don’t waste one minute.
My brother's last words to me before he died of bladder cancer at 44 were, “Tam, don’t be mad. It’s no one’s fault. Don’t blame the doctors. They did everything they could. It’s no one’s fault. I should have done something sooner.”
Those words guided me on our journey.
I can never thank you enough for all you did for me. I will never be able to express my gratitude for all of it.
Twist Out Cancer has been an incredible experience. I have enjoyed talking with Jackie and doing the art sessions. Taking time to be quiet and thankful. To acknowledge there is something bigger than all of us out there. I am so excited to see what our journey is through her eyes with maybe a little help from above giving her some inspiration. Live each day to the fullest and be grateful. I am grateful and I am blessed. You don’t know how strong you are until strong is all you have. I am proof that there is hope!
Thank you! What an incredible experience.