Cancer – “the big C.” Everyone dreads getting this disease, and all of us have lost loved ones from it. We know, instinctively, that if we are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed, life will never be the same. What I was unprepared for was how much cancer changed my life.
I was diagnosed six years ago and feel like I fell down a rabbit hole. I am still circling around and around trying to climb back up. I always thought cancer was treated by radiation, surgery or chemo. I have myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer of the bone marrow. The only way to treat blood cancers of this type is with chemo, and the only way to know if it is working is with bone marrow biopsies. No one can ever be prepared for the shock waves when the doctor tells you it is cancer, and gives you a finite amount of time to live.
I found a wonderful and compassionate doctor, and would not get through it without her. I believed many myths about treatments. For six years, I was on an oral chemo that doctors called a “miracle drug.” I naively believed that an oral chemo wouldn’t have the nasty side effects that other types of chemo would. That was until I discovered this chemo was ototoxic, meaning it caused permanent damage to my hearing. It was a thalidomide drug and caused my severe hearing loss to become profound. I suffered from uncontrollable diarrhea and a fatigue that only someone with a chronic illness could understand. This is a malaise, where I would feel fine and then suddenly need to go home and collapse.
Meanwhile, the medical bills devastated my savings. I was forced to quit two jobs I loved, and with each bone marrow biopsy, I had fear of the results. My health worsened and I needed a more invasive chemo with 10 shots for five days every month, six in the stomach and four in the arms. I’f lay in my bed with ice packs on my tummy praying to feel better.
But there were other things no one ever told me about cancer – wonderful things. I immediately found out how much my family and friends do care. They have flocked to help me with doctor appointments, bring food, walk my dog and just be there. I found there is no shame in asking for help. I am extremely independent, and this has been a hard lesson for a person who has lived alone for over 40 years. People want to help me, and know I would do the same for them. I thank God every day for the fantastic doctors, nurses and support staff who help me through my emotional ups and downs. They are there when the physical pain is almost too much to bear. I call them my “angels without wings.” I have a hearing ear dog by my side who teaches me life lessons everyday, and I am writing a book about her! She seizes each day as an adventure, forgets the past bad times and doesn’t worry about the future! I have joined a warm and caring church congregation of people who circle me with love, prayers, cards and best wishes every day. I have begun to go to nutrition classes, continued my exercise classes and learned to take better care of myself, since this is the only body I have. I have to parcel my energy now. I no longer waste time on people and tasks that I do not like, because life is too short. I am doing the things I can and am enjoying every minute. Being unprepared has helped me be prepared.