I have not written on this blog for almost four months because I was preparing for, underwent, and have been recovering from reconstructive surgery. I was waiting for a moment to be inspired to write again, but maybe inspiration is too strong of a word.
When you are working to fulfill your basic needs, engaging in an activity that you normally love is not always the best thing. Sometimes when you try to do something and encounter restrictions or discomfort, reconnecting with the activity becomes more work than leisure.
This summer, I had an appointment at my hospital. I had a negative interaction with a medical provider. It was not the worst in the world; it was not the best either. Initially, I decided not to share my feedback with the hospital, but I later opted to call and share my experience with its staff. My intention was to take a developmental approach to the situation. As the environment of this country has evolved in the past couple months, I felt responsible for doing what I can to make it better. The following is a statement I wrote as part of my application for the hospital’s advisory council for patients and families.
During my first few weeks of recovery from surgery, my family visited me. My sister flew in a couple days before my mastectomy and stayed for a week. She overlapped by a day with my parents, who stayed in a hotel near my home for almost a week and a half.
By the end of my parents’ last visit with me, my mom raised the topic of how people didn’t know how to talk to me. That is why some of them hadn’t said anything to me about my breast cancer diagnosis.
For context, this is an issue that came up quite a bit after I was initially diagnosed. My sister asked what she could share. A few cousins asked what they could share. Somehow other members of my extended family aren’t sure what they can or cannot say about my diagnosis to others.
Some relatives wanted to share my story with others, and other relatives were saying that they shouldn’t. I heard this from a few different sources in my family.
My mom said that some relatives told others to “just pray” for me—or at least that’s the story in this never-ending game of telephone.
More than a month and a half after I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I attended a support group for women who had all types of cancer. During the latter part of the session, a breast cancer survivor introduced herself and wanted to find out what brought me to the group. After learning that I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, she gave me her contact information and offered to talk to me further about resources.
Within a few days, I emailed her, and we were able to talk on the phone a day later. She shared her story with me, outlined the challenges she faced, and provided advice for my next steps.
“Get a Keurig, ” she told me. I almost told her that I was a tea drinker, but I was intrigued by her specific recommendation. I asked her why she suggested a Keurig. Then she explained that people could serve themselves when they visited me. I wouldn’t have to worry about serving them.
Something about her recommendation sat with me in a funny way. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it occurred to me how much she had thought about serving other people when she had been the one in dire need during her recovery.
If you’ve ever known someone with a serious health issue, chances are that person lied to you at some point. It might not have been a major lie, but they might have sugarcoated their feelings in one conversation or another.
Since I shared my diagnosis with in my social circles, people have connected me to their friend, family member, colleague, or other contact who has dealt with breast cancer. When I talk to the connectors, they emphasize how strong, resilient, and inspiring their contacts are.
A few months ago, if you had asked me to describe my life, I would’ve told you I was busy: busy transitioning to a new job, busy preparing a presentation for a conference, busy managing social media and moderating a panel for a board I am on, busy networking, busy hanging out with friends, busy dating (or deciding not to date), busy going to the gym (or deciding not to go to the gym), busy going to yoga, busy napping … busy … busy …. busy.
Now when I say I’m busy, I really mean it. Seriously, my life a few months ago felt like such luxury. I had many projects, tasks, and activities to manage, but I loved it all. I really LOVED my life. I really loved myself. When friends were asking me for life updates, I told them that I was the coolest person I knew. I meant that both seriously and not so seriously.
As I’ve opened myself up to sharing my experience, I’m learning a lot about myself and the world. I’m navigating medical appointments, healthcare bureaucracy, health insurance, financial implications, work life, home life, spiritual attitudes, body image, and self-worth in ways I haven’t before … That’s surprising to me because I already have had quite a colorful, adventurous, and unpredictable life. Just when I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore, the Universe decided it was time to let me know that I had cancer growing inside of me.