Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Girlfriend, You're Going to Be Just Fine

Today marks one year since I had the mammogram that confirmed I had cancer.  As the anniversary approached, I've been working to prepare myself to avoid falling back into the rabbit hole of the raw, terrifying emotions of that day and the entire diagnostic process.  For weeks I was in an almost paralytic state of fear of my own death, grief at the idea that Charlie would grow up without me - and might never remember me - and anger at the possibility that Dave would lose his wife at such a young age.

Fortunately, things got much less scary once I had settled upon my treatment plan and we had moved forward to get on with the healing process.  And here's the thing: While I've definitely had - and still do have - times when I am scared of a recurrence, for the most part, this past year has been incredible.  There has been so much love, enlightenment and growth in my journey that the time I spent riding the Fear Spiral rollercoaster was actually just a small percentage of what my overall life this year has looked like.

During the early days, what I really wanted to hear were two things:  1) Stories of similar survivors who were doing great years later and 2) Reassurance that I would join their ranks.  The beautiful thing is that one year later, I feel like I can give myself that gift, this time wrapped up in one package because I am now a survivor who is - and will continue to be - great, thank you very much.  

We went out with the fam. tonight to celebrate.  Life is good.

I wish I could have benefited from this knowledge as I faced the scariest bits a year ago, so I'm writing a letter to myself to do just that.  Here we go.

Dear Kels,

Yes, today was a bad day.  You received news that rocked your world and has shaken you to your very core.  Over the next few weeks there will be fear and sheer terror and a whole realm of unknown scary stuff dropped on your doorstep and you're going to feel like you're drowning and in need of a miracle.

But here's the thing:  It's all going to be OK.  YOU are going to be OK.  Better, even.  I thought you should know that I (we?) stand here a year later the healthiest I have ever been, with a strong positive prognosis and a heart full to bursting with love and gratitude for everyone who has showered us with so many loving gifts.  I want you to know this as you spiral down even further into despair.  You won't be at the bottom for very long.  You WILL be lifted back up with hope and love, and it will take much less longer than you expect.

Over the course of the coming days and year, you will uncover the following beautiful things:

Girlfriend, you are going to be just fine.  You will come out the other end of this changed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  You'll have found an incredible team of doctors to treat your little cellular dysfunction in a way that leverages your body's incredible ability to heal itself.  You will become empowered to play a role in this process on several levels and it will make you even stronger.  And there are a number people who are a whole lot smarter than you who have given you their best opinion that you have a long and healthy life ahead.  So that's the big one.

You're going to get the miracle you prayed for.  Actually, more than once.  It's going to keep happening over and over again and you'll realize how truly blessed you are when you start to see the little - and big - ones everywhere.  You are positively surrounded by miracles.

You are so loved.  Honey, this one's for real.  You already consider yourself blessed to have incredible family and friends, but your socks are going to be positively knocked off at the outpouring of kindness, prayers, love and support that will flow over you like a soothing wave this year.  You will rekindle old friendships, make new ones and expand the ones you already value so very much.  You will be showered with beautiful words and gestures, and people you don't know (yet) will lift you up in their hearts and prayers.  You will feel this love as acutely as if they are all giving you a great big hug (you'll get lots of those too, lucky girl).  This love is the secret sauce and you are going to sop it up on a biscuit.

You will be lifted up.   Over the course of this year, there will be lows for sure.  You'll have days where the Fear Spiral takes hold and you'll find yourself on a journey into a terrifying series of "what if's" and worst case scenarios.  Unfortunately, your tendency to act like a hypochondriac and jump to conclusions at every bump and lump is only going to get worse (though we can argue it played a very positive role in early detection and saved your life, so let's just embrace it, shall we?).  You'll have days when you question the decision to forgo certain treatment options and times when your confidence is shaken a little.  But somehow, someway, God is going to help you right the ship.  He's been with you this entire year, walking beside you, carrying you when you need it, hovering over your heart at all times.  Sometimes you'll feel the ship righting itself from within as you move from a state of panic and worry to one of calm and confidence.  That's Him helping you.  Other times, He'll send you someone - a loved one or a relative stranger (who won't stay that way for long) to lift you up.  He always knows what you need and will send you exactly the right thing at the right time, often in the form of someone wonderful offering a form of love, treatment, therapy or support.

You will find comfort and gifts in sharing your story.  You've always been a pretty open person, so it won't surprise you that you're going to be comfortable talking about your journey to anyone who asks.  What may surprise you is how often the simple act of your opening up will result in a gift from the person with whom you connect.  There are so many people who have taken similar paths, or know someone who has, and many of these folks will be open with their stories as well.  You'll learn from them, befriend them and share this journey of growth right along with some of them.

This is your new friend Michelle. She's a brave, beautiful warrior princess and your heart will be so happy to share the journey with her.

Despite being pretty bossy your whole life, this is the year you finally take charge.  We both know you've always been a little bit of a control freak, and that's probably part of why this diagnosis is freaking you out so very much. It's hard to feel in control when it seems your body has gone off the rails and you have so much fear about what's ahead.  But the crazy thing is that one of the best lessons you'll learn this year is to take charge of your health.  You will finally put aside the last of your rule-follower vestiges and become empowered to make your own important health decisions.  You'll figure out that you don't have to follow the advice of any particular expert and instead will learn the following important lessons through the wisdom of a number of incredible mentors: 

1. You need to create your own medical team.  They work for you.  Staff your team with smart people who feel like they belong there and are on your side.  Discard those who make you feel bad or bully you.  And don't worry, you're going to find yourself some amazing healers - conventional and integrative - who will be happy to accept the terms of your employment agreement and come along for the ride.

2. You have a right to a copy of every test result and medical record.  Always request copies and keep them on file.  Share them with multiple experts on your team.  However, please resist the urge to try to interpret them on your own. It's a surefire way to freak yourself out.  Those reports are always scarier without an expert there to help make sense of it. 

3.  Take each day and each decision one at a time.  Do your research, ask your trusted advisors and then get quiet and listen to your gut. Reevaluate where necessary, but don't look back.  There is a difference. It's amazing how confident this will make you in your choices.

4.  Welcome all the love people have to offer but none of the doubt.  The thing about people is they're all individuals and not everyone will react the same way to hearing about the path you're taking.  While you will be overwhelmed by an outpouring of love and support, there will be people who aren't going to agree with your decision.  It might be a doctor, a loved one, acquaintance or a stranger, and their comments might sting, but you'll come to see that their fear or doubt is always coming from a place of love, and is based on their own past experiences.  Try to acknowledge their feelings with grace and move on.  The goal is to absorb all of the love and let all of the doubt pass right over you.

 You're going to partake of the best healing buffet everOne of the incredible gifts of this journey is that you're going to give yourself permission to treat wellness and healing like an endless smorgasbord.  Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and massage?  Bring 'em on!  Energy treatments?  Yes, please.  Medical and spiritual healers?  Sign me up.  Supplements, foods and activities that will fuel your body, mind and spirit?  You betcha.  The best part is you can't get full on this particular buffet, so just keep sampling the goods as they are presented.

You're going to leave one maraca in Mexico.  This sounds weirder than it is, so you'll have to trust me on this one.  You're going to be totally fine with it.

Even with only one boob, you've never been more beautiful.  As I write this, you have only one headlight.  It's been almost a year since the mastectomy, and while next Friday marks the surgery that begins the reconstruction process, you'd be surprised how comfortable you've gotten with being "uneven."  Yes, your love of fashion and MacGyver-like improvisation skills will equip you to come up with some solid life hacks to disguise your flat righty, but here's the thing:  Even without the camoflauge, you're still pretty freakin' amazing (also, you have an incredible husband who's going to tell you this every single morning when you wake up.  That man is straight up awesome).  

But regardless of what you hear or see in the mirror, you're going to cultivate a knowledge deep down that you are good and whole.  You've become more proactive about your health than ever and have made yourself accountable for what you're putting into your body and how you're treating it.  Because of all of this, you're starting to learn that it's not about how you look or what you weigh; it's how you feel.  And you feel great.  

So yes, we are totally going to rock our new set of maracas when this is all said and done, but just know that even in your lopsided state, you've got it going on, girl.  

In closing, please let me introduce you to yourself in a year:  

Love you,


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. Power and love in such a rare and beautiful combination. Tears of joy and admiration.

Marcy said...

Happy tears! This is goosebump material and I'm so glad you have the chance to write it. Thank you so much for keeping us posted along your journey. (I also have to add that I snort-laughed at your term "flat righty!")

Anonymous said...

A friend directed me to your blog, thinking there would be a connection for me because my husband also underwent dendritic and T-cell therapy. I fell compelled to tell you that though it isn't your intention, many of your assertions are offensive to people like myself (a recent cancer widow). You are very lucky to have had contained tumors that could be cleanly cut out. My husband, who also had an army of prayer warriors behind him, had Leukemia, and he was not so lucky. Congratulations on your current health status, but please be cautious in claiming to have found the answer.

Anonymous said... are amazing! Both as a unique human being and as a writer. Yes, you are one of a kind so continue to be & write as your positive self. You have inspired us to try for a healthier life. Love you, Aunt Debbie

Private101 said...

Kelly, WOW. This was beautiful. I love that your journey has made you a stronger more confidant and yes healthier person. The methods you have listed work for you and it's important to note that they are personal choices that you are comportable with. You have listed your experience and shared a very private part of your life with us and I am so happy that you have. Although I am taken the traditional road and currently undergoing chemo, I look forward to reading your inspirational posts. I check your blog daily because I want to see where your journey takes you. I also love seeing all your wonderful pictures!

Kels said...

Thank you all for your kind words and support. They truly mean so much. You all do my heart good.

Kels said...

Dear Anonymous, I am so very sorry for your loss and for any pain my words may have caused you. You’re absolutely right that I am not an expert, and by no means do I think my path is the right or only one. This blog started primarily as a journal for me to process my journey and a way to keep my family and friends updated on my progress, treatments and state of mind. That said, I try to be very cognizant of the many points of view and personal experiences of the people I love who may be reading this, many of whom have made different life choices. Please know that I completely respect and support the treatment decisions of others – conventional, alternative and in between. I hope and pray that every cancer patient receives their healing. I rejoice with those who are thriving and mourn with those who have experienced loss, which at times has been very personal for me as well.

I am immensely grateful every day for the healing I’ve received, but in no way do I think I am any more special, blessed or entitled to it than anyone else. I recognize that someday my time will come, but feel that all I can do in the meantime is make the best choices I can, throw myself into believing in them with every ounce of positive intention in my being and try to spread as much love as possible while I'm here. If someone else finds a speck of information or inspiration that might be useful in their own life in what I've shared, it's a beautiful bonus.

Thank you for sharing your truth with me. I hope you find nothing but love and support as you heal from your loss and I wish you all the best.

Widow said...

I found out about your blog when my husband and I were in Mexico last fall at the same clinic you went to. He had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, so I looked at your information as a sign of hope. We both had a very strong faith, and we thought God led us to Mexico. Now, I know that Angeles Hospital was a hoax just to get our money. My husband passed away just two months after we returned from Mexico, so we spent three weeks out of the last precious weeks of his life with the doctors in Mexico knowing that he would not make but happily taking our money and wasting some of our last days together. If anyone were to ask me about alternative treatments, I would tell them to run away from these snake oil salesmen. When doctors in the U.S.A. tell you there is no hope, don't waste time and money looking for a miracle. Look at your spouse or your loved one as miracle enough that he or she was ever born and enjoy every minute of every day. You haven't posted anything in a long time, so I sincerely pray that "no news is good news" because you seem like a very nice person. May God bless you and your precious family on your journey.

Widow said...

There has not been a post in a long time. could you let us know how you are doing? many are praying for you. I do hope you post some good news soon.

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