Cancer. A fully loaded word. A word that fills our minds with images of pain, death, and hair loss. It fills us with fear, even if the word isn’t being given to us directly.
Five years ago I had a one year old little boy (and also three year old, five year old, and six year old little girls). We’d just returned home from Disney World, where our little boy took his first steps.
Awww! My heart melts when I see this picture!
We returned home and my oldest daughter and I were playing. She accidentally kicked me in the breast, and it HURT! Not a big deal. Except where she kicked me, I found a lump. At first I told myself it was just bruising. After all I was breastfeeding and had been kicked. A lump made sense. But the lump didn’t go away.
Five years ago I had a breast biopsy. Five years ago I had doctor after doctor tell me I had nothing to worry about. I was 34 years old and had collectively been breastfeeding for almost seven years. I had nothing to worry about. One health professional even told me I was wasting dollars by insisting on a biopsy. It was hard. I was…probably scared. I felt a lot of emotions. I suspect fear played into everything a lot. Ryan and I talked about what we’d do if it was cancer, or wasn’t cancer. We talked about a lot of things. I hoped it wasn’t cancer, but I knew it was.
My Doctor Called And Asked Me To Come To Her Office
Five years ago I was diagnosed with cancer.
I had chemo.
I had surgery to remove the parts of my body that were likely to kill me.
I just received the five year follow-up call. It’s been five years since diagnosis. Which means it’s almost five years cancer free. Five years is a milestone year. Five years cancer free decreases risk of recurrence by a significant amount. Five years is important.
Five years means something.
Though I’m not always sure what meaning it has or how I feel about it.
Cancer had an impact on my life and the lives of my family. But it wasn’t all bad. Cancer opened my eyes to my own power and to how I was letting life happen to me vs making life happen.
Cancer also opened my eyes to the way I allowed others to treat me because I desperately wanted friends. All friends, any friends. Even friends who weren’t really friends.
Cancer opened my eyes to how I wasn’t really a friend either.
Cancer sucks. Chemo sucks worse. Crying toxic tears, afraid to hold my baby was hard. But I don’t focus on those parts. They were hard. I experienced them and allowed myself to experience them. But I focused on being able to get out of bed, not on the fact that I needed to get out of bed because I peed it.
I got out of bed when it was the hardest thing I could imagine. I didn’t go upstairs, I didn’t do the dishes, or wash floors, or make dinner. I got out of bed. And it was hard.
Do you know what it’s like to lay in bed and wonder if you have the strength or energy to get up?
If you get up, what do you do and say to yourself? Do you admonish yourself for it being hard to get up, do you insult yourself for being lazy or useless? Or do you celebrate that you could’ve stayed in bed, but you chose to get up?
I think it comes down to how we perceive life and what we expect out of life – and also ourselves. Whether you’re faced with cancer, pain, depression, exhaustion, or anything else we all have expectations. Some people expect life to be hard, and it is. Some people expect life to be easy, and it is. But within those two mindsets there’s subtle nuance as well.
If you expect life to be hard, but prepare for it and acknowledge when you actively make choices that help make your own life more enjoyable, then you’re more likely to feel satisfied. If you expect life to be hard, and let life happen to you or don’t acknowledge when you actively direct your life, then life is more likely to feel overwhelming. It’s more likely to feel like the world is out to get you.
If you expect life to be easy, and you go with the flow as much as possible. Then life feels easy. But if you expect life to be easy, only o find yourself struggling against every situation you find yourself in, then you’ll feel cheated, like the world is out to get you.
Our expectations matter, but what matters most is how we act on those expectations.
When faced with cancer some people want to be fighters. They want to be strong. As strong as they used to be. When they find themselves too weak to walk up two flights of stairs, the words they use about themselves go something like this:
You’re not a fighter! Who’re you to say you’re strong? Seriously if anyone knew how weak you are they’d never think you were strong. You’re not a fighter.
For me it wasn’t about being as strong as I used to be. For me it was about still doing something. Anything.
Gah! It was so hard to get out of bed today. You just wanted to stay right there, but you got up to the bathroom and didn’t go back to bed! That’s awesome! This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be! Way to go! You’re so strong!
Notice the difference in self talk?
When your words are supportive, they lift you up and help you do better.
Five years ago I had cancer. <— That is a sentence. It’s not a life sentence and it’s not a death sentence. Five years ago I had cancer and that is the end of that sentence.
We all go through hard things. Some seem harder than others. My cancer wasn’t that bad. Your depression or loneliness could be worse, or better. It all depends on what all is going on in your life and how well you’re able to cope with it.
I’d love if you share stories of when something was hard, but you did it. I don’t care if it’s as simple as getting out of bed or if it’s something bigger like being faced with making a life or death decision. I’d love to hear about your stories. Feel free to leave a comment, or send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org subject STORIES of STRENGTH.