But, You Look So Healthy!

I needed to take a little time off from my blog to finish my book, Bittersweet, (coming soon)... and then before I knew it, it was the Holidays, and then I had another surgery, and then it was 2018!  Life happened and my Blog went on hiatus, but I am back to share my life after breast cancer!

Just yesterday, after a conversation with someone where I revealed that I was a breast cancer survivor, she looked at me perplexed and said "But, you look so healthy?!"  I get that a lot.  Maybe, because I am smiling, laughing and living or maybe it is because I get up, do my hair and makeup, put on something I feel good wearing and I keep going as if it never happened.  But it did.  

The funny thing is, a lot of us were really healthy when we were diagnosed with cancer.  I had lost 25 pounds in the year before I was diagnosed.  I was eating organic, doing yoga a couple times a week, swimming laps and really happy in my life.  I would have definitely considered myself healthy, but there was a tumor growing in my left breast threatening to take away my life and challenging the notion of healthiness.

I don't know why I got breast cancer.  It wasn't BRCA genes, it wasn't that I was overweight or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, which I have read, put you at higher risk.  I don't think I will ever know why...but, I do know that I survived and I am still here and I still consider myself healthy.  Sometimes, bad things happen and it isn't your fault.  When I get that comment about my health, I take it as a compliment, but it does imply that I must have done something wrong or why else would I have cancer?  I am here to tell you, you can be healthy and have cancer.  It sucks, but as my Dad used to say "Life isn't fair, get used to it." 

I am going to continue to be grateful for every additional moment I have in this life and I am going to continue to believe that I am healthy.  When I get that comment the next time, I am going to do what I always do, smile and say "Thank you, I am so glad to be here!"

Don't Overshare Your Cancer Journey

     When faced with cancer and all of the stress and tough decisions that come along with a diagnosis, you want to know what family and friends think, but too much input can be harmful and influence you against your own beliefs and in some situations shame you or make you feel unworthy of the decision making process.  Sharing all of the details in your medical life may feel empowering and a way of releasing stress and worry, but you might be oversharing. Sometimes it is hard to know if what you are sharing is enough or too much.         

     Take stock of the people in your life that you are the most open with about your cancer and your personal life.  Who are they?  Your siblings, parents, coworkers, friends?  When you talk to them about your choices and ask them about whether to do chemotherapy or radiation, to remove one or both breasts, to seek alternative medicines and treatments, are they really supporting you or do they have their own agenda?  If you have someone that is always argumentative, won't listen and gives you advice that doesn't align with your treatment or beliefs, you really don't have their support.  Support from your inner circle should include listening without judgement and respecting your decisions.

     As a person dealing with any stage of cancer, it is alright to choose a couple people in your life that you trust and that support you unconditionally.  Stop telling everyone your business, especially if it incites arguments or negativity.  If you constantly bump up against the same reaction from someone, you are oversharing and you need to take a different approach with them.  If someone that is not supporting you asks how you are doing, tell them you are trying to get some space from always talking about your cancer and change the subject.  You don't have to tell everyone your business.

     If you need someone outside your inner circle of friends and family to listen to your dilemmas with treatment, your fear of side effects or you just want to get it all out, find a cancer center in your area.  It is so freeing to voice your concerns with other people that know exactly what you are going through.  Sitting in a room with other people in varying stages of their cancer can be so enlightening and comforting. 

     When I was in the middle of breast cancer treatment, I realized that only a handful of people were there for me all the time and I could rely on them and share my journey without fear of criticism.  I bumped up against several other people that did not agree with my choice to do chemotherapy and actually told me that it would kill me.  They got dumped out of my inner circle and I remained polite with them, but no longer talked about my cancer in detail.  Do you have someone that is not supporting you, but you keep telling them everything?  You don't have to do that.  Stop oversharing with those that are not supportive. Choose to keep yourself in a place that is filled with positive people that reflect back love, kindness and understanding. You deserve that.  

Setting Boundaries

Learning how to set boundaries when you have cancer is so important. Cancer takes a toll not only on the body, but the mind. It sucks the energy out of you physically and mentally and unless you have been diagnosed with cancer or a serious, life threatening illness, it is very hard to understand what that person is really going through. If you have cancer, you must be realistic about what you can and cannot do. You have to protect yourself as your immune system can be compromised by treatment and you need to focus on healing which includes a lot of downtime.

If you have cancer, some boundaries that you might consider setting include:                            

  1. Saying NO to events where there will be large crowds of people.
  2. Saying NO to things that obligate you to a task, like carpooling kids to school everyday.
  3. Saying NO to lots of visitors at one time.
  4. Saying NO to hosting people at your house.  
  5. Saying NO to anything that involves travel while you are in treatment or recovering.

As a patient you will need to realistically weigh requests for your time and effort and say NO when anything feels like a burden. Be gentle with yourself and accept your limitations.   

If you know someone with cancer, you need to be very mindful of any requests that you are making on them. You need to realize that they may want to participate in an event or task, but they are not well enough to participate and don't know how to say NO. Some boundaries that you may want to consider with a friend or family member that has cancer include:                      

  1. Don't ask your friend or family member for any favors or to complete any tasks for you.
  2. Don't invite them to an event unless you are willing to accept that they may not attend.
  3. Don't guilt someone with cancer if they say NO, be understanding and compassionate.
  4. Don't invite yourself to visit a person with cancer for lengthy amounts of time.
  5. Don't give treatment advice that is contrary to what they have decided, even if you don't agree with their treatment. 

Setting boundaries in our lives is difficult even without a serious illness like cancer, but we all need to do it. Whether you are the patient or not, cancer will require you to slow down and really think about what you are asking or being asked to do.

Check out my next blog: Cancer and Loss 

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: Checking in...

Unfortunately, the cancer journey can be a very long one and can test even the most patient of people.  Some times there is lots to do and other times nothing at all.  One of the things that got me through this journey was the very small group of committed friends and family that constantly checked in with me.  I let everyone know that texting, email or messages through Facebook were the best mode of communication for me.  It was just too exhausting to constantly answer the phone and make pleasantries while I was feeling so badly.  If you know someone that has cancer, decide that you are going to check in on them on a regular basis.  A quick daily or weekly check in will let that person know that you are thinking about them and also gives them the opportunity to ask for help or just have someone that will listen to them.

If you decide that you are going to check in...here are a few Do's & Dont's to reaching out...

Do: Ask what the best mode of communication is for them. Text, email, phone, Facebook…what works best for them?

Don’t: Rely on them to check in with you.

 

Do: Consistently check in. You are not bothering us. We want to know that people care and are thinking about us.

Don’t: Go on and on about something unless you know they are interested. Especially on the phone. I stopped picking up the phone, because it would sometimes exhaust me.

 

Do: Simple one liners will do: “How are you doing today”, “Do you need anything?”  “How are you feeling?”  All easy ways to open the conversation & touch base.

Don’t: Send articles that contradict the treatment options they have chosen. That is just so rude and unhelpful.

 

Do: Send a supportive note. Include flowers if budget allows. I made sure I had at least one fresh bouquet of flowers every week. Some came from friends and most of the time my husband would grab me a bouquet at the grocery store.

Don’t: Drop by their house unannounced. Somedays you are so sick you cannot even get out of bed.

 

Do: Be careful to not send too much cancer cure info unless they have told you that they are open to it. If they are, then share it.

Don’t: Send awful stories about people that have died from cancer. Really?  We are trying to get better here and that is so wrong!

 

Do: Invite them to events, but be very understanding that they may not be able to attend. If they say they are coming, but cancel the day of the event. Be compassionate, they have cancer!

Don’t: Pressure them to attend events that you are having and DO NOT make them feel guilty if they say no.

 

Do: Offer to take over a duty at school or in a club that they volunteer with. When you have cancer, it is best to remove yourself from obligations & let friends and family pick up the slack.

Don’t: Ask them for any favors. That can be a burden for someone with cancer.

 

Do: Supportively accept any “No’s” that are given to you by someone with cancer. They would commit to it if they felt they could.

Don’t: Create tasks for someone with cancer. We have enough on our plate as it is.

 

Stay tuned for my next blog; Cancer caregivers need support too...

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: You’ve offered your help…

If you have offered to visit, bring meals or help in any other way, please be respectful of their time, their emotional state and their needs.  Having cancer is like being on a boat and having no navigation tools and no sense of where you will be minute to minute or day to day.  One minute I was laughing and teasing about my cancer, the next sobbing about the overwhelming idea that my mortality was in imminent danger.  This is totally normal.  Emotions, fears & your cancer reality will be ever changing.  I never knew what the next day would bring on my journey. 

On several occasions while I was going through chemo, I made plans with people to come visit me.  I always told them that we would check in the morning of the visit and if I wasn’t feeling well we would have to postpone.  I was a little over ambitious with my visitors one particular day, but I was feeling so good, I wanted to squeeze in as many supportive, loving friends as I could.  It actually was a disaster, as all three small groups of people showed up at the same time and I was overwhelmed trying to talk to 6 people at one time.  From that moment on, I decided that I was not going to try and make anyone else happy on this cancer journey at my own expense.  I was very specific in communicating my needs and If I needed a nap, I was going to take one and plans with friends or family would have to change to accommodate me.

Here are some practical Do’s & Dont’s when offering to help someone with cancer...

Do: If you have made an offer to help, follow up. Make definite plans with exact times.

Don’t: Rely on them to call you to make plans. They are overwhelmed and probably not sleeping, so take the initiative.
 

Do: If you said you would be there at noon, be there at noon. Do not show up late!

Don’t: Arrive 2 hours late with excuses. If you can’t do it, don’t plan it.
 

Do: Understand that some days it is difficult to get up, get dressed and wait for visitors.

Don’t: Make someone with cancer wait for you. There is so much waiting already!
 

Do: Be very flexible!  You might need to change the plan if they are not feeling well or up for visitors after all. 

Don’t: Ever show up sick or fighting off a cold or flu. If you have been around someone in the last 48 hours that has been sick, let them know and cancel your visit.
 

Do: When you have cancer, you have good and bad days and you need to honor that.

Don’t: Bring your little kids along unless you have already gotten approval that it is ok.
 

Do: Ask them if they have any issues with perfume or scented items.

Don’t: Show up covered in scented items.  Many cancer patients have heightened senses when going through cancer treatment. Scented items made me extremely nauseous.
 

Do: Ask if they have any diet restrictions or things they cannot eat.

Don’t: Assume they will be able to eat something without asking; taste buds can be off and somethings look and smell terrible that didn’t before.
 

Do: Offer to pick up, drop off & pay for take-out food of their choice.  It is such a treat to have a favorite meal delivered.

Don’t: If bringing a meal, limit your visit to let them enjoy the meal & visit another day.
 

Stay tuned for my next segment; Practical Do’s & Dont’s: Checking in with someone that has cancer...