It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. As crazy as it may sound, battling cancer has been the greatest experience of my life. It’s like the first line in A Tale of Two Cities, only for me, it was backwards. Giggling quietly to myself as I sat across the desk from my oncologist, I thought Holy crow I’m actually going to have chemotherapy. Crazy! It was so weird, so surreal, but I thought, ok let’s get on with it so we can put this all to rest.
I was fortunate to have been given a positive prognosis from the beginning but for my husband, he wasn’t as convinced. When asked if there were any questions, I had none. I was going to be fine. I knew it. I felt it. I believed it. I was just going to have to go through some pretty sucky stuff to get to a healthier me. “She’ll see her kids walk down the isle”, was my doctor’s response to Steve’s, “Will she survive this?”
His question knocked me for a loop. Survive this? It was then that I knew I had to take care of Steve and convince him that all would be well. Not surviving never even occurred to me. It was not even a thought in my mind. Through all the phone calls, doctor visits, biopsies and waiting, never once did I question why or worry about my mortality. But poor Steve, I felt awful for him. This wasn’t his first experience with cancer, nor was it mine. Our family lost Steve’s older brother at the age of thirty to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We watched him suffer long and hard through radiation and chemotherapy, blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants and crazy, wacky diets.
Our moms also had their own battles to overcome throughout the years; mine with breast and Steve’s with kidney. Fortunately, they came through like champs but still, no one wants to see their loved ones suffer, even when the prognosis is optimistic.
I don’t believe I have suffered to the great extent that many others have had before me, but nonetheless, I had suffered. I cried never for myself, but for those who had fought a tougher battle. My battle was tough enough and when people wonder where you get the strength to keep going, the answer is you just do. Like anything else we do for our children, a friend or our family, you find the strength, you ask for the strength and you forge ahead.
For me, there is always a light at the end of my tunnel keeping me positive and upbeat. I was able to maintain composure sharing my news with family and friends, minimizing the reality of it all for them. I shared the news with my children and blew it off as if it were no big deal. I told them I had a mass that needed to be removed but before I can have surgery, I needed to go through some treatments to shrink everything to allow the surgery to go smoothly. I was very matter of fact, and very “no big deal”.
The outpouring of love from my family, friends and neighbors was mind-blowing. Cards arrived daily causing us to remove them each day from the window sill to make room for more. As new ones arrived, the ones from the previous day were added to a pile and tied neatly with a white satin ribbon that accompanied me each day to my radiation treatments. The cards were an incredible source of positive energy for me. Kelly and John, my radiation technicians, would take the beautifully tied bundle from my lap and place it on a chair in the room for me while I was treated.
My hospital room was covered with posters from school which had the doctors joke with me about my fan club whenever they did their rounds. While in the hospital, our children lived with family friends. Our friends took them to school, to practices, to games, fed them, and were their parents when we couldn’t be. When I was home from the hospital, each night a hot meal was delivered to our door by neighbors and friends. Never could I have imagined I would be lifted up and held in such love and grace. It was beautiful. It was the best of times during what some of our loved ones would have considered the worst of times.
I would not trade that year for anything. I often look back on it with fondness, reminiscing about all the love that flowed so freely. Love was in abundance wherever I looked: home, school, the neighborhood, the hospital, doctor’s offices. As the years go on, things go back to “normal”. This blog is about managing getting back to normal or what I call my new normal because nothing is the same. You don’t go through such a life altering experience and come out the same person; not physically, and certainly not mentally. Coming back to life is hard. Nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same. And while family and friends are happy I am well and healthy and recovered, there is a journey within that goes on and only those who have journeyed down the same path understand what that is.
I am thankfully seven years cancer free and excited to share my story with you. It serves as a means for me to share the many thoughts I’ve had over the years and wasn’t able to share until now. My hope is to help you work your way through your worst of times and hopefully transform them into your best of times.
There is always balance. Even in turmoil.-Angela Cays