Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Open Letter to The Me of 4 Years Ago

When I started drafting this post, it was titled "An Open Letter to My Survivor Sisters".  As I wrote, however, I realized that in fact, I was writing a letter to the version of me four years ago, after completing treatment the first time.

To My Survivor Sisters,

Congratulations! You are a SURVIVOR.  Whether or not you like that term, you have survived.  You have gone through a very difficult ordeal, mentally and physically, and you made it through!  The pats on the backs, hugs of congratulations, and looks of admiration from others at what you have survived have helped to heal a part of you that felt tired and vulnerable.

Now that you are healing, I have some advice I'd like to share.  For I've been where you are.  And I'm now where you don't want to be, ever.

Four years ago, at 37 years old, I had completed chemo, surgery and radiation.  I had an entire bachelors-degree's worth of knowledge (it seemed) in Cancer 101.  I learned about the benefits of exercise in warding off recurrence.  I knew the effects of stress and sugar on the inflammation of these little rogue cancer cells.  I kept up on the debate about soy.  I shared my research with others in conversations about cancer, hoping others could benefit from my experience.  I continually was reading more to learn about my body and about how this disease operated inside it.

It wasn't enough.  Apparently, you also have to CHANGE in response to what you've learned.

Going through it all the first time is exhausting.  You just want some sense of normal again.  The last thing you want to do (or at least the last thing I wanted to do) was to figure out how to overhaul my lifestyle.  I was still working full-time, still raising a little girl, still trying to find time for a date night here and there with my wonderful hubby!  And even having gone through all that treatment, coming out on the other side can give you the feeling of being invincible.  It had to be a fluke, right?  There is comfort in thinking that this was the one time the odds were not on your side.

But that is NOT the truth.  Getting cancer was not the flip of a coin or the roll of the dice.  There is something in YOUR body that is built that way.  Something in YOUR body likes to make cancer cells.  It's in your physiology somehow. Science.  And if you don't make changes in your life, there is a good chance that your body will do it again.  Science is somewhat predictable like that.  You might still be taking medications to help prevent recurrence, but please don't rely on them.  They are not guaranteed.   Years ago when I was taking birth control pills, I remember thinking how odd it was that I was taking them to be sure I wasn't going to get pregnant, and yet I didn't even know for certain that I COULD get pregnant.  I'd never tried, of course.  Failing to prevent recurrence is the same thing, in my eyes.  By the time you find out that cancer was NOT a one-time thing for you, that the odds were against you, it's too late.  Once you have a recurrence, or like me, once your disease comes back and has found multiple other new places to create homes in your body (metastatic), the stakes are different.  Making changes at that point doesn't have the same effect.

If you receive a diagnosis of cancer, whether for the first time or not, mourn your mistakes or regrets only briefly.  Don't get weighed down by the "should haves" or "could haves", as they can be very heavy.  Guilt is natural, but unproductive.  It does not create the healthy energy you need right now, right down to your cells.  Find a way to focus on making changes in your lifestyle.  The doctors will help you deal with the critical needs, but your health and wellness are in YOUR hands.  Every day you feed your body with what you eat, how much oxygen you breathe, the positive energy you create and fill up your space and life with.  THAT is your job.  The hardest part, at least for me, is to FIND A WAY TO ACTUALLY DO IT.  Our lives are busy and we are tired (who isn't, right??), but this is THE most important thing to do every day.  More important than our schedule, piano practice, clean dishes, watching a TV show or returning something to a store.  And if you find those things happening every day, and things like juicing, exercising and meditating happening less frequently, make some changes.  WAY too much is at stake.  Get friends and family to help you stay motivated.  Find walking or yoga buddies.  Get up (and this one is VERY tough for me) just 15 minutes before your family to start the day with some stretching and quiet.  Whatever it takes to remember what your priority for the day is.  Every day.

The state of science right now says that I can't win this game.  But I can keep playing for a while.  And as many of you have heard me say, right now my job is to do anything I can to stay here and play this game because the state of science when it comes to metastatic breast cancer is changing every day.  There are young whipper-snappers out there discovering new things all the time, and I'm sticking around and hanging out with smart doctors who are keeping me engaged in this fight at cutting-edge levels.

To those of you who have fought this fight and won, I applaud you!  Like everyone else, I give you hugs and admiration and wish you continued health and happiness!  And with my arms around you in a big hug, I will then turn you around and give you a kick in the ass to get moving to continue to do everything you can to stay healthy.  Please return the favor.


Your Sister Jill

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, sweet girl! I'm listening. -Aimee