This year has been a bit of a psychological struggle for me and perhaps that is what prompted me to finally write this blog that I have been thinking about for four years. As I’ve mentioned, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 58 years old. What I didn’t mention was that my mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 58. That was in 1976 and treatments for breast cancer was in its “infancy.” Lumpectomy was a fairly “new” option and was the course of treatment that my mother chose over a mastectomy. Of course, as far as I know, there was no type of sentinel node biopsy and no individualized treatment for a particular type of breast cancer. My mother had a lumpectomy and radiation that burned the skin of her breast and arm into brown parchment. She died in 1984, eight years after her initial diagnosis. Intellectually, I know that my surgery and treatment were totally different from my mother’s surgery and treatment, but the eight year mark is both a comfort and a trigger for difficult memories. I’ve found that hypervigilince has returned and I’ve had to remind myself why I am experiencing some trauma symptoms that had abated. Recognizing the trigger and the resultant psychological discomfort has helped me to reduce its impact.
The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to remain vigilant (not hypervigilant) with following up with our oncologists, mammograms, and self breast exams. We need to be thankful for every day and enjoy to the fullest whatever we feel most passionate about in our lives. We need to live in the moment and enjoy. Since my diagnosis I have been blessed with three more beautiful grandchildren. I decided I needed to prioritize my life to have more time to spend with my family. I have retired and moved to the country. I continue to do visualizations, gentle yoga, exercise, and schedule full body massages once a month. I read for pleasure and for knowledge (I’m currently reading Still Here by Ram Dass).
I remember talking to one of the nurses who is a survivor and a co-worker in the hospital where I worked. I was just finishing up with all my treatments and I asked her if she was diligent about what she eats, drinks, exercise, etc. and she just smiled and said “Karen, just do whatever makes you happy in this life.” I thought that was good advice and, for the most part, I try to do just that.
Learning to know ourselves by recognizing normal symptoms and stages of trauma and grief, learning to reach out for a sense of community and strength, taking care of our minds to help heal our bodies by accepting holistic methods of treatments in conjunction with Western medicine. These are all ways to become empowered during diagnosis, treatment, and while continuing on our paths. None of us know what the next minute, day, or year will bring. We all need to live our lives with mindfulness: living and enjoying the moment while remaining vigilant regarding our care for the future.
I hope that you’ll share with me and others what your journey has been like and what you’ve found helpful in “making your way through.” If you are a medical or mental health professional, please feel free to share what you have found helpful in working with your patients/clients. If you are a family member, please share what has been helpful for you and/or in what ways you have helped your loved one cope with this disease.
I’m also sure that reoccurrence intensifies the trauma responses, completely changing the adjustment process. I can only imagine that it takes tremendous strength and coping skills to deal with on-going treatment and all the accompanying fears.