Yup…exactly one year ago today I received the call I was expecting…with the results I wasn’t. The C word. Cancer. Game changer. Turn your world upside down. HOLY CRAP!!
Fortunately just days after being diagnosed my friend Terry text me that we had to meet for coffee. IMMEDIATELY! I knew that our mutual friend Mark must have shared my diagnosis with her so she was reaching out to me. And she was the perfect person to have reach out…..1) She is one of the most badass women I’ve had an opportunity to know….seriously – how many people do you ever get the chance to meet in your life who sat on a sub-committee investigating the assassination of JFK. Badass! 2) She was 5 years into a diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer where she had originally been told she had mere months to live and she was still alive. BADASS!
Over coffee, with me taking pages and pages of notes, she told me many things about what to expect, what to do, what not to bother with – things someone who has already traveled the path knows, that those of us that are newly diagnosed have no clue. She gave me answers when I didn’t even know the questions. She was the perfect cancer coach. PERFECT!
One thing she said that stuck with me like cheesecake on my hips was, “If we both survive to next year and are able to meet for coffee, I am certain you will tell me that cancer has changed you…and I suspect you will say it has changed you in a positive way.”
I’ve thought of that conversation many times over this past year and you know Terry – you were right…cancer did change me and I think it has been positive. Some may not think so, but I do.
Cancer has made me appreciate my family even more than I already did. I’m sure many wouldn’t classify him as a Saint, but my husband could certainly be nominated for the way he has taken care of me on this adventure. During chemo things can often taste terrible….I can’t tell you the number of trips he made to the store, McDonald’s, Paradise Juice, any place I asked, trying to find something that wouldn’t taste like I had been sucking on quarters all day, just so I could get something in my stomach. And if that one didn’t work, he would go back for something that might. If I asked him to go to an appointment he was always there. If I told him I had it handled, he let me go on my own. He knew when to hold me close and understood when I told him to leave me the fuck alone. Saint…I’m sure the Pope would say no, but I say yes.
I’m not sure this journey would have been as easy without my kids. I still laugh when I think about seeing my son walk in the house with a WiiU game console because he had read that game play helps the brain and I was struggling so much with “chemo brain” he thought it might help and I might enjoy it. He was right. Best son ever!! Not to mention every day that he stopped by the house to check on me. And Landry! She surprised me by not only coming home on my birthday – during the hardest year of school ever – but she also arranged the best surprise party for ME…..no people, but lots of love in the form of cards, letters and gifts from many of my friends. Best birthday ever with best daughter ever!
Best kids ever!!!!
Then there are “the relatives”. My mom checking on me every single damn day, even while dealing with her own health issues….my brother picking up and taking charge when I was in the hospital, checking on me at just the perfect time, while taking care of my fur babies. Food from my sister-in-law, enough lasagna to feed a small army from my niece, text messages and a visit from my nephew, and messages, emails and cards from the family on my husband’s side. Cancer has taught me that I have a pretty damn amazing family and I’m pretty fucking lucky!!!
Terry had coached me that I would be surprised by who would and even more surprised by who wouldn’t show up as I was going through this. Boy was she right! I had a survivor going with me to my first appointment, when I was outside of my body and was still waiting for them to tell me this was all really just a big mistake; rides to the oncologist when I’m puking up my kneecaps and staying with me there ALL DAMN DAY; multiple meals every time I had chemo – cards, letters, massages, texts (all my friends know not to call me!), offers of foot rubs, a Dammit Doll (which came in handy multiple times), visits when I was unexpectedly hospitalized, people asking how my kids and husband were holding up and really meaning it, visits out of the blue….the things that made me know that for this past year I wasn’t on my own. Cancer taught me who I would walk over hot coals for (and I love those peeps from the bottom of my heart!!!) and who I would walk away from.
Cancer has made me an advocate for my life. I have just enough medical background to be a pain in the ass to my medical team, but in the past ignored some of the signs my body would give me about my health, just because I didn’t want to seem like a complainer or a bother. I have learned to listen to my body and tell my team when something is not right. And I have been right 100% of the time. When your oncology nurse tells you that she wishes everyone would advocate for themselves the way I do (with the doctors and the insurance companies) you know you are doing the right thing. This is a new lesson provided by Cancer.
I eagerly accept invitations to things I want to do. In the past I might be too busy or some other lame excuse. Cancer taught me there are no guarantees of tomorrow – do the things you want to do with the people you love.
Cancer has taught me to be grateful…in such a big way over such small things. I’m just so thankful for things that I used to take for granted (like being able to mow my own lawn or to get in the car and go to the store). Every day something new shows up that reminds me just how lucky I am and just how grateful and thankful I feel.
Cancer has taught me that I “have” cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. No matter how many times I may have put my head down on the table and told my husband I wasn’t going to do it ANYMORE….I will fight whatever this throws my way with every bit of my badass being…as many times as I need to….for as long as I have to. Fuck You Cancer and if you do take me – it will be with me fighting like Ronda Rousey. I won’t go down without a fight.
Sadly, Terry and I did not get to have that coffee a year down the road. Unfortunately, Cancer claimed another amazing woman….one who I was soooo lucky to know. But she was right. Cancer changed me. For the better??? I’m pretty sure if we were sitting across from each other having coffee together today, she would indeed say it was for the better.