My own story with cancer is on the other end of the spectrum from those who sail through treatment and never see another tumor. My cancer story started years before the doctors found the tumors on my thyroid. Part of my work involved commuting to the state capital in Olympia once or twice a month. I’d been doing this for about fifteen years. At the time, I was on the Developmental Disabilities State Advisory Committee. After my January meeting, I came home and went to bed because I felt way too tired. I stayed there for three days assuming I must have a nasty case of the flu. I repeated this exercise after the February meeting and again in March. By April I’d come to accept that I was becoming unusually tired after doing my usual activities. In May I resigned from the committee.
I spent the next five years cutting back my activities and gaining copious poundage on a strict diet. My asthma and arthritis flared. Finally I had a stroke. During the CAT scan for the stroke the doctors found the tumors on my thyroid. My blood pressure continued to dip and soar as the thyroid continued to malfunction. I was deathly sick before going into cancer treatment. I assume that part of my challenges with cancer came from the fact that I had a type that effected every part of my body through the malfunction of the thyroid gland.
My story didn’t end with the thyroid cancer. Within six weeks after my radiation for the thyroid cancer. I got a melanoma on my lip. Months later I had a basal cell over my cheekbone. Something was seriously wrong with my body.
The first thing my doctors told me was to avoid stress. Avoiding stress doesn’t work for the person who holds the whole family together. My husband grew angry that I wasn’t following the path of getting treated and resuming my normal responsibilities. Both birth daughters had major meltdowns. My oldest foster daughter got mad at me and dropped out of sight. My youngest foster daughter got raped on her way home from church. Less than ninety days after my last radiation treatment, my mom became terminally ill and the family needed to make some decisions about her care and disposing of her house. Somewhere in this mess, my brother had a stroke and really couldn’t help with Mom. May God bless the hospice people! Oh! And my hubby started the process of selling his practice and attempting to retire. I confess I was so hurt over him checking-out on me when I needed help that having him home all the time still didn’t sound appealing.
So here I am four years after treatment for the thyroid cancer. I should be well. Most people would have gone on with their lives by this time. I’ve tried. Actually, on the good days I write novels and work in my gardens. But there are bad days or weeks.
In late January with the house shrouded in the fog, it is easy to have bad days. I know that it is normal and realistic to have down days. I’m not so sure everybody around me knows that it is normal and realistic for me to have down days or weeks.
So here is my plea, if you are a cancer survivor, don’t beat yourself up for the days you don’t have energy, or hope, or haven’t achieved some glorious state of knowing you are stronger for having been sick. It is okay if you haven’t grown closer to God though your illness. Sometimes life sucks. You don’t even have to say, “And this too shall pass,” because it will most likely come back and bite you again. The down days are days for the cancer survivor to take the little white pills the doctor prescribed, stay in your PJ’s and do whatever you want. Be gentle with yourself.
Folks, I’d ask those who don’t understand what I just said or those who disagree with me to be gentle with those who are on a different path than you are on. Don’t judge. For some of us, the cancer path can be way more challenging than you would ever imagine. Give us time and space to do the work of grieving the loss of our sense of wellbeing.