At 22 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Luckily it was caught early and I tried like heck to put it out of my mind and life and BE 22. Begrudgingly, after a biopsy and 2 surgeries I did the 3 month scans that turned into 6 month scans that turned into once a year. Life was pretty easy. My life was happy. There was always a solution to anything that may have come up.
When I was 29 my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Unlike my cancer type, there is no early detection for lung cancer and virtually no symptoms until the latest stages. There were no solutions to "fix" this. In 2002 there were few options for my dad and he fought for his life for 11 months and 21 days.
I was stress and anxiety and sadness and anger and helplessness rolled into a 5 ft 2 ball of a mess. It's hard to explain to someone on the outside what it feels like to be thrown into stage 4 cancer so suddenly, with no help, zero support and a death sentence for your loved one. I equate it to being kidnapped in the middle of the night out of the comfort of your safe warm bed and thrust into a stark and cold foreign land (medical system)...and sometimes I'd describe it feeling like drowning in a cloudy lake. The emotional weight of everything is SO heavy. It didn't feel like there was any light at the end of that tunnel.
I was daddy's girl and mom's best friend. I was lucky in that I had two parents who really loved me, and they loved each other. After my dad died, even though the sadness was intense, I spent my time taking care of my mom. I began helping others with lung cancer in my dad's honor and memory. I enlisted my mom, a limited English speaker, to join me and we made helping people with lung cancer our families mission, Then suddenly, she died.
I always tell people she died of a broken heart. Two weeks earlier she had gotten a physical which was perfectly normal. On a Sunday in January, a few hours after we went to see a movie, my mom had a massive stroke and subsequent mini strokes. She died 8 days later.
I was in such a state of shock and despair that I didn't get out of bed for 3 months. I had lost my birth family. The Dr prescribed Xanax and anti depressants and a handful of other pills that didn't do much except make me sleep more. For someone who had barely taken aspirin, taking pills wasn't something I wanted to do. But I wanted to try whatever I could to feel better- normal again. I had lost my dad, my biggest champion, and now I had lost my mom, my best friend.
I stopped taking the pills because I couldn't function and be medicated. I internalized my emotions. I was miserable. I threw myself into work and nothing made me happy. I supported and cared for people with cancer but I couldn't take care of myself. I never smiled.
I attribute the beginning of my "recovery" to a stage 4 lung cancer survivor named Connie. She was brash and loud and funny as hell and when my mom died she called me everyday. She forced me to get up, to think, to talk about what I was feeling and gossip and laugh about everything and nothing. And that worked. For 3 years she talked me off of emotional ledges, encouraged me and was my biggest cheerleader. And then Connie died.
The thing that saved me when Connie, who had become my closest friend, died was the development of coping skills. She had taught me to talk and engage with the world again. I had been going to a psychologist. I found my faith in God and became a part of a community so that I didn't feel so alone, orphaned.
In the past 5 years I've had some amazing successes. My kids are growing up and they are amazing. I'm still married, and that's amazing in and of itself- ha! But there have been some difficulties over the past year. I've been diagnosed with a genetic liver disease that resulted in lesions/tumors on my liver. The specialists have biopsied my liver and they are watching and waiting to see if those lesions grow. I also was diagnosed with diabetes, Hashimotos and Graves Disease- related and unrelated to the liver disease, and today I'm having a biopsy because there's "something" pretty large on my thyroid.
How do I deal with the stress and uncertainty and anxiety of all of this? Coping skills. Connie taught me to talk and laugh. I still obsess over work and helping people with cancer. But keeping very busy helps. I practice stress relieving techniques and 10 months ago my husband brought home Teddy.
Teddy is a 6 pound Maltese and he's amazing, He has an acute ability to sense sadness or distress. He wiggles in as close as he can when he senses I need comfort. He is a constant companion when I'm home and gives me and those who meet him, joy. Petting him takes my mind off of other things, and actually reduces my stress and anxiety and he is the perfect emotional support for me,
In fact, he's so good at what he does that I registered him as an emotional support dog. Any dog can be an emotional support dog, but not every dog is cut out to be one, We have 2 other dogs that are, well, dogs. They bark and chase each other and tear up things. They never sit still and only want you if you have food! My hope for Teddy is that he will one day be a travelling emotional support animal that visits with cancer patients. He needs training for that and we've starting his training by taking him into public places and introducing him to different people. He's shy, but he's starting to get the hang of it,
Teddy doesn't lead the blind or sense danger. He's not trained to alert if I have an emergency. He's an amazing emotional support to me and I hope that one day he will give support to others too
As I sit in this hospital room preparing for the biopsy I wish that Teddy were here. No I don't take him everywhere I go, he's a tool in my toolbox of coping skills that I'm lucky to have now and he would sure make this room a lot less lonely.
Another coping skill I have is writing, and judging by the length of this blog, my anxiety is pretty high this morning!
Let's see what the sonogram says....
UPDATE: The sonogram tech was so shocked she enlisted 6 other pairs of eyes and the surgeon to confirm that they could not find any discernible lesions to biopsy! YAY! There will be no biopsy today! While I may have to have my thyroid removed eventually- no lesions means, for now, no scare of cancer! I'm breathing a sigh of relief!