In this New Year, I look forward to reviewing my goals from last year and reflecting on how the past year has played out. However, the goals I set now are not to lose 10 pounds or to take a vacation. My new goals involve living a healthy lifestyle and making it to my next 6-month checkup cancer free. It is funny because before I had my cancer, I thought I had a grasp on what people went through that had cancer. I would give them the stay positive speech, “You are going to make it through this,” and then when they did, you tell them, you knew they would. Life would then go back to normal. Boy was I wrong.
There are so many different phases of cancer that I did not know cancer patients went through until I went through it on my own. From the time you receive the news to the treatments (however long they may last), to the meds, or being done with treatment and having nothing left to do but just wait and see if the cancer stays away. The psychological effects of cancer are sometimes worse than the actual treatments themselves. Unfortunately, cancer treatment is only really thought of and talked about as the physical aspects of what it does to a person like losing hair, throwing up, etc. While all of this is a must, the real goal is to first get rid of the cancer and secondly, to keep it from returning. No one ever really speaks about the aftermath. Or as I like to say, the real cancer that eats away at your mind and makes it difficult for you to sometimes get out of bed in the morning. The mental effects are seldom considered or addressed. At first you are in total shock and fear of the unknown. As you get your game plan together, the shock goes away, but the fear sticks with you. As I finish my first year of remission I can honestly say that fear has not gone away. When I go to my breast cancer meetings and I listen to 5-, 10- and 20-year survivors, I see that their fear has not gone away either. Life as we knew it does not exist, and I was naïve to think that I could go back to what I had before cancer even after my doctor told me I would be ok.
My cancer was treated with lots of prayer, 20 rounds of chemo, surgery and 38 rounds of radiation. I used Eastern philosophies to help heal like yoga, meditation, sound baths and a strict nutritional plan. In the end this all has worked beautifully for me, but no one told me that psychologically this would be so tough. Looking at the scars that I have from the surgery only reminds me of the fear I felt that I may lose my life. It is a constant reminder that cancer is a beast and not everyone survives. It is also a reminder of all the bills I have yet to pay or the fight I have still with insurance companies to pay them. This is so overwhelming that I just want to ignore it in hopes that it will just go away. No matter how much time passes, cancer mentally affects me and many others for the rest of our lives.
For friends or loved ones who are living with a no treatment diagnosis, it is a daily fear that today may be their last. For cancer survivors like me our fear is that new ache or pain, whether the cancer will return, and whether they missed something. Fear is something we learn to live with and respond to.
My goal this year is to slay fear. With all that I have in me, I will live that healthy lifestyle, I will help others through their cancer journey, I will help raise money for our local cancer foundations. I will attend my breast cancer support groups and I will teach yoga for cancer patients because when I give to others that have this same fear, our fear is understood and becomes love, and “With his love, he will calm all your fears.” (Zephaniah 3:17).
In this New Year, cheers to loving one another and facing our fears as a community together!