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July 8, 2012

July 7, 2012: One Year Anniversary


Yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of my Triple Negative Breast Cancer diagnosis. This past year has slipped by quickly, my life changed in unforeseen ways. July 2011: I was finishing my undergraduate schooling, caring for six teenagers- four of them foster youth, living in the Houston, Texas area, had been accepted to the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work, was working on a foster youth pilot program with an offer to take the helm as director… things were final coming together, or so I thought. 

One year ago, my life took an unexpected turn when I received the news that I had breast cancer; this was only the beginning of what was to come. Although devastate, I thought to myself, no problem … I have this cancer, it does not have me. A week later, I received the results of my biopsy and learned the true magnitude of my condition. Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). My first thought was, awesome … negative surely poses a positive meaning. Um, not so much. I immediately went into research mode; I wanted to learn all that I could about TNBC. Reality settled in; western medicine fails to successfully treat TNBC and to that end, most women lose their lives within 5-years of diagnosis. 

Much of this last year is a blur. I underwent surgery, two rounds of chemotherapy, and quickly called it quits. There was simply no way I was going to continue to poison my entire body when the outcome was less than favorable. I turned to alternative treatments, mainly Ayurveda. I have yet to reflect and reread my blog postings over this past year; following this post, I plan to have the entire blog printed into book form. My mind still does not work the way it used to and many memories seem to be a blur. It is strange actually, but in a good way. For example, I have reconnected with several childhood friends. Many of us have picked-up where we left off, or so it feels as such. Several other childhood acquaintances have reentered my life in pleasantly unexpected ways. It has been an amazing experience, on many differing levels. 

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of my diagnosis, I have felt a bit out of sorts. Today, I look healthy and I am working part-time. The people around me respond markedly different from a year ago or even five months ago. When I looked sick, society in general treated me with gentleness and kindness. I was the recipient of endless encouraging letters, voicemails, emails, texts, and postings. It felt so comforting to be surrounded by many as I felt the love of nearly all those around me, friends, and foes alike. Today, things are much different. The notes, emails, texts, voicemails, and postings trickle in. Society does not go out of their way to say hello, offer to assist, or open a door.  It is different. I miss being the recipient of unfettered kindness. I used to joke with my friends that it is difficult to be mean to a “cancer person”! 

I believe that we are exposed to situations while on this earth because there are lessons that we must learn. The lesson that presents first upon reflection is be careful what you wish for! Often I have remarked that I wish I had curly hair, it would be fantastic. Well, I am here to warn, be careful what you wish for. I do have curly hair now … after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy!  What a way for a wish to come true … ugh. Lessons to be learned, I have learned many lessons since my diagnosis and have grown, as a person far beyond what I thought was possible. Although I may still stumble a bit as I fail to live up to the person I want to be, I am aware of these missteps and am willing to make adjustments. 

Remaining my authentic self despite the environment that surrounds me, this is paramount for my self-development. I am keen on the truth, understanding that the truth of one may not necessarily be the truth for all. We each experience life through amazingly different filters; it therefor makes sense that ones’ sense of reality may differ greatly from one’s counterpart. I am reminded of this often, especially in the arena I work within. I recently shared my ideology with a concerned parent. It is imperative that we listen to the words being spoken by others. It is not necessarily a matter of what is true or not true, what is important is to understand how an individual sees and experiences the world around them, how a particular situation made them feel. It is wise to understand how others experience life. It is at this juncture that we may begin to offer empathy and get at the causation of the thought patterns of others. In other words, meet people where they are at and begin walking alongside them; this is where understanding and compassion begins. 

Truth has always been big on my list. I would rather hear the truth than for someone to tell me what he or she believes I want to hear. This notion took my physicians by surprise following my diagnosis. I really did want to hear the truth, as grim as it was it was important for me to know what I was working with. The same is true in my life. I do not much fancy dishonesty but do understand differing perspectives and filters. I choose to surround myself with people that are honest and trustworthy. At times, truth may be challenging to reveal, nonetheless, it usually will reveal itself whether you want it to come out or not.  Truth; the truth about my diagnosis is that most women die within five years of diagnosis whether they undergo western medical interventions or do nothing. Well, this is not good news at all. I had the opportunity to meet a courageous young woman, Carrie D., who was diagnosed with TNBC one week after I was. Carrie D. followed the treatment recommendations of her physicians and after nine months of battling TNBC, she lost her life. This was a tragic loss. Truth, her death unsettled me as it was another woman who will be added to the statistic of lives lost within five years of diagnosis. I do not want to be a part of this statistic; it is hard to fathom not being here on earth in the next four years. Very humbling for sure. 

Reflections: My memories are not in tact; for example, I do not clearly remember driving from Texas to Oregon in October and I was driving! I sometimes do not remember when I last talked with my friends. When I do have a memory, it seems to be a random one that catches me off guard. I do a great deal of living in the moment, for sometimes that is all I have. I live authentically which allows me to connect with those around me and offer guidance when asked or required. I become frustrated at times, because I do not remember … this is my dirty little secret that now everyone will know. I love when I hear or read about the fond memories people have of me, especially childhood memories. I am often brought to joyful tears. Although I may not recall the particulars, I can say … Yep, that sounds like something I would have done or said. 

Life today is much different and chronically unknown from a year ago.  A year ago, I felt as though I was on the cusp of great things and there has been a loss for sure. What I have today is an even grander understanding of myself, which is allowing me to be a better servant to those around me. I have walked and am walking an unknown journey; I believe I am doing this with authenticity. My accumulative life experiences are allowing me to make a difference in the lives of the populations I serve and those around me. This comes full-circle and reflects back onto me, this is where I feel love and support. Do I fear the future, sometimes. However, more often, I look forward to the beauty that surrounds me; I have more work to do.

My mind is strong.
My mind is telling my body to heal itself.
My body is healing itself.
My mind is strong.
My body is healthy.
My soul is at peace.

Today I am hopeful~