When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years back, I reacted like anyone who just received such a diagnosis. The first thing came to mind was that I had just received a ‘death sentence’.
However, I found out later that it was rather ‘an awakening’ for me – and this was even after being diagnosed with colon cancer a few years later. I had questions: why me? But instead of bemoaning my fate, I decided to be positive about it and accept that there has to be a reason.
Hearing and knowing you have cancer is frightening, just the sound of the word itself. And no matter what you’ve heard in the media, through others dealing with cancer, all you know is that cancer kills. Once that journey begins, all you want to do is fight, know all there is to know to help get rid of it. I knew I had an uphill battle, but I also had hope, because my doctor stated that I was in the early stage, where I wouldn’t eve need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. However, I would have to have the entire breast and all its parts removed. Still, even with this, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if the MD could be wrong; that some of the cancer could have spread.
Once I began my journey, I remember a couple of people saying I was in denial about my condition because I wasn’t going around looking or acting like I had cancer. I went on about my business. Why do I have to go around looking or acting a certain way because I have cancer? No, I definitely wasn’t in denial; I just understood that there wasn’t much I could personally do about it myself. It’s not like I can reach in and take it out. I had to allow the doctors and the medications to do what they were designed to do. All I could do was pray and go about my business.
I’m not saying, I didn’t have my moments of crying – there were many of them. When I left the doctor’s office after receiving the diagnosis, I drove around for hours with no idea where I was going. I just knew that I couldn’t go home yet. I didn’t want to face my daughter looking so upset. So I waited until I calmed down and got all my tears out. That way, I could explain it better without all the crying, at least for that moment. I didn’t want to frighten her; I wanted her to know that everything was going to be okay, even if I wasn’t so sure that it would be.
The tears came for many more days but I was able to hold it in when I was around others. I didn’t want anyone to see me sweat it. Most people were already looking at me like I was already in a coffin. I wanted everyone to see that I wasn’t worried, even though I wasn’t so confident that and knew nothing for sure about the outcome. I held on to my faith. There was always something in the back of my mind, telling me I was going to be OK, and I went about each day, each treatment, surgery with that mindset. I had to have multiple surgeries because I began to have issues with extreme pain when neither all the medications nor the surgeries were working.
Doubts of my survival began running around my head. I was in so much pain in and around the surgical area. One of the doctors even presented me with an order to go through some massage therapy for the pain, because I had developed Lymphedema as well due to the many lymph nodes that had been removed. However, the massages were so painful that I had to cancel and the doctor concluded I had “Neuropathic/Severe nerve damage, including Post Mastectomy Pain syndrome”. I had to learn to live with it; the pan is with me all the time.
Years have gone by, and I’m grateful to still be alive. I was so happy to have gotten through it all only to be hit with another diagnosis for colon cancer.
I was angry, who wouldn’t be? I’ve done this, been there, so why me again? How much more can one person take? At the same time, I said to myself, “why not me again”? I needed to tell myself, “If I’m going to fight and get through this as I did the first one, these negative thoughts have to leave my mind.” You can’t win with negativity. Cancer is truly like a boxing match, one of us got to win, we can’t both lose. My colon cancer was diagnosed as stage three – very frightening, because I was right next to the worst stage (four). What were my chances?
I had to have a colon resection, where it came along with wearing an ileostomy bag. It only took me a couple of seconds to take it in, that I’ll be wearing a bag for a while or for life but I didn’t care, I’m alive. With my colon cancer, I had to go through extensive chemo and radiation treatments, which wasn’t great at all, but I did okay. Yes, I was left with complications from both cancer diagnoses, but I’m not sure if there’s anyone who has gone through cancer once or twice and without lingering side effects. It’s like your body was run over and over, so you’re going to be left with dents, but you can and will survive it.
Through it all, I realized that I was about to face a new beginning of things, new hope, to do and see more with a whole new prospective on life. When I think of the gift of life that was given to me, going through it all, I know I became stronger. I wasn’t happy with the way I looked after my surgeries or the pain I had to endure each day but I decided to snap out of it. I thought about the individuals that are no longer among us due to cancer, and there will always be someone worse off than I am, so why complain?
There was a time during one of my surgeries, I experienced something of a miracle and felt the compulsion to write it down. I composed a poem about that experience and titled it ‘Peace’, because I felt as if I had gone to the other side. Writing has become therapy for me. I took that poem along with many others I had written during my struggles and had a book published, along with another inspirational children’s book. Currently, I’m working on my third publication.
I never set out to become a writer, I just became one. A lot of times you go through journeys in life and by sharing my experiences, I hope to make a positive impact on someone who’s ill or otherwise so they can develop the strength to embrace life in a new way. I truly believe when you survive a horrific tragedy or disease as cancer, it’s for a reason. You have some purpose. I’m a true example that you can survive cancer not once, but twice, providing you notice it on time, have faith and allow that faith to direct your path. I’m not saying it will be easy, I won’t say everyone will survive it, but as you travel through such a journey, fight with all you might and believe, that no matter what, God’s with you every step of the way!
Karen is an African-American mother living in the United States.