2017 is off to an atrocious start. For me, this has nothing to do with politics. I was diagnosed with cancer, again. An entirely separate kind of cancer unrelated to my original cancer.
For someone who does the things usually recommended for good health, two cancer diagnoses in less than four years, both before age 50, is indeed atrocious.
It wasn’t enough to have breast cancer. I now have cervical cancer as well.
Four years ago I received my first cancer diagnosis. It was a wake-up call for sure. I needed to get out of the work environment I was in, and having cancer finally made that happen.
A blessing in disguise.
I got the memo then.
I heard it loud and clear.
I understood what my body was telling me and I made the necessary changes.
I am happier, healthier and in a much better place four years later because of it.
And now I have to do it again.
But this time what do I have to learn? What can I change? Is my healthy lifestyle helping me prevent chronic disease? Apparently not it seems. Should I throw in the towel, give up, and start smoking?
I would have said I am in an excellent place now. I still think I am.
I will never know all of the factors that contributed to either of my cancer diagnoses. I also know it is not useful to dwell on how or why it happened. It just did. But, I believe it has similar roots as my breast cancer, which among other things is impaired immunity due to stress.
Making the changes my life needed was hard.
It is still a work in progress. There are and always will be things that I could do better.
What’s that saying? Better is the enemy of good.
My intention is to feel well and enjoy my life today and every day. That was the lesson I learned from breast cancer four years ago.
The way I do that is by eating healthy whole foods, exercising, sleeping at least 7 hours, spending quality time with friends and family, as well as minimizing stress.
Most of the time.
And it works.
I feel well; I appreciate what I have. I am happy and enjoy my life.
I am frequently asked about my health, which is always a tough question for a cancer survivor because you don’t know.
You never know as this situation illustrates perfectly.
You can be on top of the world, feeling terrific, and then all of a sudden not so much.
So, I as a said, what do I do now? How do I get my head around what has happened, and continue to feel good about what I am doing?
Or should I start smoking?
I know I should be positive; believe that I can overcome this. I have done it before. When you stay positive about your situation and expect to get better, you are more likely to do just that.
Last week I had a CT scan to evaluate for metastatic disease. It was normal. I found myself celebrating. These are strange times indeed when I am celebrating a diagnosis of invasive cancer; at least it’s not metastatic. I guess that’s a win.
I’m still working on thinking positively about my situation. With each passing day, I do feel more and more confident that I can do this. One thing that has helped is practicing gratitude. You have probably seen this advice. Or seen others stating what they are grateful for on social media.
So I’m doing it. I am consciously reminding myself of things that I am grateful for, and even taking the time to write them down. It helps.
While I got the message to change my lifestyle and reduce stress after the first cancer diagnosis, I think I had become complacent, looking for an effortless way forward. One that didn’t push or challenge me enough.
Instead of just reducing stress, I want to optimize it.
I want to live without regret. I need some stress to push me out of my comfort zone and into a place where I am challenged to do something great. That’s where I want to be, to live without regret.
Many people, including myself, have said that there is nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to put your priorities in order. I now can see that the changes I made four years ago to feel well and enjoy life were only part of the solution.
I also need challenge.
I need purpose.
I relish working hard to accomplish something meaningful.
I realize that I have been afraid of failure. I have not put myself out there enough because I was scared of being boring, of people not liking me, of looking stupid.
If this, or anything else, kills me in the next year, I will regret not trying harder.
So here’s to trying harder, putting yourself out there and even failing.
I rarely get things right the first time. But I can learn from my mistakes.
Ever see the movie Office Space? It’s about a guy who works in a miserable cubicle job and just wants to do nothing. It’s one of my favorites. So many quotable lines:
“I did nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”
“It’s not just about my dream of doing nothing.”
It resonated with me. I assumed I wanted to do nothing. I am excellent doing nothing. But it’s not that I just want to do nothing. I want to do something and then celebrate my accomplishment by doing nothing.
I’m going to hold off on taking up smoking.
Instead, I’m going to work on something I am proud of and, if possible, help others to the same.
Avoid the mistakes that I made in the past.
Feel well, enjoy life and live without regret.
Have you faced a life threatening illness? Do you know someone who has? What did it teach you about your life, values, or priorities? Let me know in the comments.
Do you have my daily wellness checklist? Click here to get a copy.
Lunch sometime soon??
Yes Margie! I am having surgery next week. I’m taking a little time off to recover. I’ll let you know how it’s going.
Hi Kate. I am sorry to hear of your latest predicament. Let me know if there is anything that I can do for you. Love, Mike Florance
DrKate, I wish you all the best. Be strong, there are a lot of people reading you and learning from you. Take time for yourself, enjoy life, do whatever you feel like doing that is good for you and positive.
You are the reason why I bought When Breath Becomes Air, one of my favourites book of 2016. I have no experience with life threatening illness, I have an autoinmmune disease but it is under control, but as all things “idiopathic” it feels strange because you dont know why/what/how have you done to have it. Anyway, just wanted to say Hi!! and wish you all the best, good luck, stay strong, take your time, love…
Thanks for reading and commenting Daniel. As you can probably tell, I loved that book too. Even though your disease is under control, it’s something you had to learn to live with. Come up with answers to those questions of why/how/what. It’s hard. Best to you.
Kate, my heart goes out to you as you face a second diagnosis of cancer.
Coincidentally, I had cervical cancer many years ago (treated by a hysterectomy) and then breast cancer (treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) about 8 years ago. You’re absolutely right that facing such a diagnosis helps a person put priorities in order. While lying on a mat in a pilates class sponsored by Mass General Hospital as my breast cancer treatments were winding down, I decided there was nothing more important than restoring my health and my energy. I began working out with a personal trainer — the cost is offset by reducing unnecessary expenditures — and I have become more fit and flexible than I ever was. Another benefit is that I feel at ease just being myself, rather than worrying about what might be expected of me.
I wish you well in finding the purpose and challenges you seek. Your life is already meaningful and inspiring.
Thank you, Cathryn. Not only do we share the same name (although spelled differently) we share a dual cancer diagnosis. Who woulda thought. It’s great to hear that you are thriving, many years after cervical cancer and several years after breast cancer. It can be done!
Thought #1. DON’T take up smoking!!! If anything, choose single malt Scotch.
Very good advice Lola. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Hi DrKateMD, I am a nurse and a 5 year breast cancer survivor. My dx was a wake up call and I did make a lot of lifestyle changes. The first one was trading off from the night shift to a day position. Currently I am in the process of making the biggest lifestyle change, by retiring, and doing what I really love doing best. No time clock. No weekends, holidays or nights. (Instant stress reducer !) My lump was missed multiple times; 2 mamos, 2 US, 1 biopsy, all in a two year time span. My lump hurt, especially when pushing stretchers down the long hallways, but I was always told, don’t worry, cancer doesn’t hurt. I was also told that older women have lumpy breasts,the lump turned out to be a 4.5 cm tumor. Divine Intervention is what got me to go somewhere else to get my dx and tx, and I am forever grateful for that. Additionally I was blessed with not having to go through chemo and radiation, so I grew my silver locks long, cut them and donated it. Sorry to hear that you have been challenged once again, but my intuition tells me that ‘you’ve got this !’ A positive attitude makes all the difference in the world, an you do emit the radiance of positivity. Take care and continue to Feel Well, Enjoy Life, and Live Without Regret.
Thank you, Jo. Thanks for sharing a bit of your breast cancer story. Good luck in the next chapter of your life. No time clock, no weekends, holidays or nights is a splendid thing. Enjoy.
Thought #2–Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Ideas to ponder, beautifully expressed, even if some a little dated. Short. Flowing.
Thanks, Lola. I’m looking for some things to read while I recover. I’ve read the Potatoe Peel one. I think I still have it. It’s probably time for a reread. The other two I’ll check out.
Hi Kate. Your very inspiring writing above describing your atrocious beginning for this year in itself relays the strength of the person that wrote it. I can’t imagine what it is like to walk in your shoes right now, however I do know the effects of stress. After being retired now for a year and a half I am still “healing” from the effects of many years of high stress. You and your family will be in our thoughts in the months to come.
Thanks, Kathy. Hope to see you soon.
Damn Cancer SUCKS big time my thoughts and prayers are with you <3 You are a fighter so kick that cancer ass again !!! <3
Thanks, Michelle. Trying to.
Oh geez Kate, sending love, gratitude for you and carrying you in my heart.
Happy to cook for you and /or lend a practical hand.