The learning curve: two months ago I didn’t know I had cancer

I went looking for something today and came across this photo of myself. I took it driving back to work from lunch, relaxed on a Wednesday afternoon in October. I took it immediately before I went to my gastrointestinal doctor and learned that I had cancer.

Life changed rather swiftly that day. I was expecting the doctor to say, “Yep, it’s just a little growth, but it’s fine.” He didn’t, and I remember crying in the car outside of his office because I wasn’t sure what the word “cancer” meant. I went home and saw my husband’s face, and it was as if someone punched him.

In the weeks that followed, I explored my own personal reasons for living. I told the whole world frankly about my condition (because it helped me process the emotions), and began to think of myself as someone with cancer. That was a big step! It’s hard to get past the word, no matter what kind of cancer. I’ve since met people who say that they go through denial about their condition; I don’t think I ever did, but I went through other kinds of grief, and found strength through meditation and knowledge.

To find out more about what my own cancer meant, I went through four pretty invasive tests that told me a lot about my body, read up on my father’s in-depth research on Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and began to think about options for a cure. My veins began to look like pincushions!

Along the way I did as much as I could using alternative medicine to try to feel like I was actively working on the issue. This was extremely important to me — meditation, yoga, cutting meat out of my diet, nutrition, everything that I could possibly do to enhance the health of my body meant that I was “fighting” cancer.

Then came the day that I found out to my great relief that my cancer was small, found early, and localized… and we picked my poison, the chemotherapy that I’m going through now. I have one more week of it… And then the long wait (a month or two) before we glance down my throat and see how the Rituxan worked. I know I’ll go nuts in that month, my imagination is strong. But I’m hoping that the words spoken to my aunt by a Thai healer are true, that after this treatment, the cancer will go away.

If it didn’t work, there are other options, stronger chemotherapies. But for now I’ll consider each step a success, including the completion of this first treatment.

I know that I’m going to have to check myself out thoroughly once a year for the rest of my life. I know this means an endoscopy once a year. I know it means more CAT scans and PET scans and fasting… but it also means keeping my life as healthy as I can, and living FOR something. Could I get more cancer? Who knows, maybe. But the important part is crossing things off my bucket list, and being a good mom for as long as I get to be in this body on this earth.

You can probably sense my joy today because I’m almost done with the Rituxan treatment – one more to go! Even though I know my body’s going to feel like crap until three or four weeks from now, I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks about how to handle the discomfort (yoga and smoothies), and because of this, I feel a lot more in control of my condition.

I think it’s also helped me learn to reach out to people, especially family and my family of friends, and know I can always lean on someone when I need a good chat or a hug. It has taught me that humans are all intrinsically and deeply kind, and give much love to their fellow humans who suffer. This is the God in all of us!

Yeah, it was two months of intense learning that I didn’t see coming at all. But in general, I have to say I’m glad for the hard, solid truths it taught me. Life’s pretty awesome, and the best way to live it is with joy.

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  1. I’m glad to know you.

  2. Roxanne

     /  November 30, 2011

    Love you, T.

  3. You are an inspiration, thank you for being you.

  4. This may seem like a weird thing to say, but I only wish M’s family had had the courage and sense to deal with his brother’s cancer the way you have with yours. His was considerably worse, of course, but I think his overall suffering, not to mention that of the rest of the family, would have been lessened had they only understood their feelings about it and worked through them. There was just so much anger and guilt and drama around the whole thing, and though I know that didn’t contribute to his getting worse, it definitely made dealing with it all pretty awful. He should never, ever have been so emotionally miserable as he was through the end of it. Thinking of it in grief stages, it was like they got mired in anger, and never got to acceptance.

    I’ve had my own health issues to deal with over the years, and since my own family also did the major drama thing (yay dramatic Italians and hard-drinking Irish), I reacted that way too, early on. But eventually, I started realizing that freaking out made everything so very much worse. Some of that, of course, is cathartic and part of the process (and inevitable, when one is dealing with meds, hormones, etc., that increase agitation) but eventually it starts becoming self-perpetuating, and that can, in a manner of speaking, be an illness all its own. Once I saw what happened with M’s family, I decided there and then that no matter what tragedies came our way, I wasn’t going to make them worse by nursing drama as if that in itself could heal me. So by the time we had to face the grief of knowing I’d never get pregnant, we were able to take it in stride. There was, of course, anger and regret and all the rest of it, but I refused to hold on to those things after they had run their course.

    I still carry some tendency to be a drama queen, but these days, that gets spent in political-argument flamewars and a few bits of fandom drama, and not on things or people that really matter. And I truly believe I’m healthier for it. Maybe not physically, though perhaps–I actually do feel better now even with 1/3 more weight than I had in my 20s–but definitely mentally. Thing is, life is going to have tragedy. Shit happens, and it happens a lot, even if we’re prepared for it and expect it and do what we can to prevent it. Accepting those tragedies as part of the ebb and flow of existence helps make the also-inevitable joys that much sweeter. One can spend an entire life mired in the dread of bad things happening, and the grief after they’ve happened, and all too easily miss the good stuff in the process. And frankly, it’s too damned short to do that. Forgetting the joy in life is a greater tragedy than any other.

  5. Achariya

     /  November 30, 2011

    @aphroditemine, Roxanne, Jeff — thanks, you guys. I am overjoyed to know you all too 😀 What awesome people walking with me in this life.

    @shawna — yeah. very good reply. privacy and blame and bottling it up and not being honest about it just seem to stop the healing. and *hugs* about your body and children. I don’t think more are in my future either.

  6. Shawna’s reply is very Buddhist. I think that it’s only human to react to tragedy … but it’s better if we can ride the wave, knowing that the tide will change, even if the wave feels like a tsunami at the time. You’ve inspired me, the way you responded to this turn of events in your life … but then, you’ve always inspired me, since I’ve known you. 🙂

  7. Achariya

     /  December 1, 2011

    Aw Justine, you inspire me too, and always have.


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