Tuesday, March 20, 2012

cancer-an eye-opening experience

Cancer is an eye-opening experience.

A co-worker was undergoing cancer treatments at the same time I was. He had to go through chemotherapy- I did not. He missed work, suffered severe side effects from the radiation treatments he endured, lost a lot of weight and was very weak. But he won.

When it was discovered that I had cancer, I discovered how many of the people I worked with every day were survivors. Some came up to me sharing their stories, offering to be there for me as I began writing mine. I learned how much they went through, how difficult it was for them-- or how not easy but, not so difficult--how they felt when they lost their hair, when they examined their body and what was no longer there. How the medicines made them feel and how special it was to have friends that were there for them, not believing them (but not openly calling them on it unless it was needed) when their response to 'how are you' was "fine"..

I discovered how many were caregivers. How they cared for loved ones, friends, and people they didn't even know by joining things like Relay for Life. Offering to help out at cancer centers, offering rides, running errands, or simply sitting with the warrior quietly just to be there.

When I was diagnosed, I had no clue what I was about to go through. I was walking into it totally blind. Of course I had heard of cancer. Of course I knew people fighting, or that were survivors. But they were not me. I had not been there as they took each step...steps that I was about to take. I trusted my surgeon, but maybe I should have asked more questions than what I did. When she told me I simply told her to take care of it. I know she told me stuff about it, what kind it was, how big it was..for what ever reason I don't recall a bit of what she told me. I was still reeling inside from the word..cancer.

I didn't realize that there would be so many questions that would have to be answered. I didn't know I would have to have an MRI or x-rays and blood tests. I had never had any surgery other than a couple root canals so I had no idea what was going to happen there. Seeing it on television and being the one about to be cut on are two totally different things. That needle biopsy hurt..but the surgical biopsy hurt worse. When I went to remove the medical tape after the surgical biopsy I felt as if I were trying to remove several layers of skin, and the bruising made it look as if I actually did. The lumpectomy didn't hurt or bruise nearly as badly.

Radiation treatments were lessons in losing one's modesty. Arrive at Cancer Center, go into dressing room, strip from waist up, don hospital gown, go into waiting area and wait. Follow the person who calls your name, face the monster. Climb onto table, stretch out, bare the body part about to be zapped with radiation. Close your eyes and pretend to be somewhere, anywhere but where you were doing what you were doing. When session is complete do everything you just did in reverse. Repeat until they tell you that you've had enough. Go through each day, feeling just a little bit worse, a little bit more exhausted, a little bit less like yourself and a lot more like the living dead. Wonder just how in the world you are managing to put one foot in front of the other and do what you have to do to get through the day. Dream at night that this never happened.

Then- feel really badly about whining when you hear how much worse it is for others. Feel badly when you see friends without hair because of the chemo. Feel badly when you hear of someone about to lose everything they have because they don't have the money to pay the bills, because they can't work or don't have insurance or don't have something they need.

Then- feel bad because you're alive, you beat it, and someone that you know, or someone that is related to someone you know.....did not.

Then you get angry. Really, honest to goodness, down and dirty angry. When you see the children. When you see the neighbors or co-workers or relatives that are now battling cancer and you are so determined to do something you're not sure what, but you know that you will find a way to battle back. You beat it, you will celebrate more days, more birthdays, you will see your kids grow up, you will walk in the sunshine, play, laugh dance in the rain..and you want that for others. You want to help find a way to put an end to cancer. Some how, some way..

I joined Relay for Life right about the time I finished my radiation treatments. I was told that there would be no way that I could stay all night. I did. I was determined then, and I am determined now. I continue to fight, for those that can and especially for those that can't. Pride is pushed aside, I pester, I beg, I plead, I bribe seeking donations, seeking people to join us. I sell shirts, I sell BBQ tickets, I sell Luminaria..I share the information that I know, I share the ACS web site (www.cancer.org) and phone numbers (1.800.ACS.2345). I do what ever I can to help other members of Relay raise funds. And I Relay. I go help set up and I spend the night. I walk that survivor lap, I cry as I walk the Luminaria laps and I'm walking when the sun comes up. During the night we fight (and at times give in) to sleep. We play games, we eat foods that aren't good for you but are ohhhhhh so good...and we walk. We look at the stars, we fight the chill of the night, wait out storms that pass through and we continue to walk together, alone we walk. Cancer doesn't sleep and that night, neither do we- not really.

I went into cancer blind. I came out on the other side with eyes wide open..and I fight and I will continue to fight. I will fundraise and I will invite others to join us. Together, we can work to help others celebrate surviving, celebrate more birthdays, celebrate one more day.


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