BY LIZZY SMITH
Who can ever forget their path to cancer diagnosis? No one. It is a life changing event of epic proportions. Some of us had health problems for a long time that were left too long either ignored or undiagnosed. Others, like me, felt just fine until hearing “you have multiple myeloma” unexpectedly. Either way, life changes forever in that one instant.
Such is the case of my friend “Zoe.” Just two months ago, she went to work, came home, fed the kids, cleaned the house a bit, got in an argument with her hubby and went to bed. The next day, her stomach was hurting something awful. She went to the ER and was admitted. She had a huge mass on her ovary, was running a fever, and her blood work came back positive for the gene that expresses with ovarian cancer. She got her official diagnosis that very night. Next up were more tests the next day to find out the type, staging, and best course of treatment.
This was all quite a shock. She really had no symptoms prior. Or did she? Looking back, she had lost quite a bit of weight, but she was trying to eat healthy. She was a little tired, but she worked crazy hours as a nurse in a hospital and had children. Nothing else seemed amiss.
Just the next day, Zoe was transferred to a cancer hospital via ambulance. A biopsy ensued, which came back inconclusive. A reason to celebrate? Not so fast… Chemo was starting up quickly, she needed treatment immediately.
About a week later, I got a text from our mutual friend. Zoe was not doing well and was heading into emergency surgery. The cancer had eaten away a huge part of her bowels and there was an enormous mass. They brought her to full consciousness just long enough to ask her if she was a “Do Not Resuscitate” and, if she was, she needed to sign papers. She declined– save me, no matter what, she said. Her odds of making it through the procedure were about 50-50. How can this be possible? Just days before, she was a normal person with a normal life– cancer and big changes not even on the horizon! But it was true, all too horribly, awfully true.
My friend and I cried. She was at the hospital; I was too far away to be there. At 2:15 AM I got a text. Zoe was still in surgery but the doctor had come out to talk to the family. Zoe was doing really well. They took out a huge part of her bowel and she was getting a full colostomy. They had also removed her cancerous tumor. She would have two bags for the rest of her life due to the colostomy but by the end of surgery, she would be alive. Alive! After recovery, she would need to start chemo for her primary ovarian cancer. Not an easy road but fighting (and winning) was now possible. After reading the text and a quick phone call, I cried. A mixture of hatred towards cancer, and thanking God for letting Zoe live so she could fight like hell, get well, and get back to the business of life.
Today, Zoe is still not doing well. There are complications, newly discovered masses, breaks in chemo because she’s too sick, and endless hospital visits. I have to believe she will beat this. I’ve met countless people in my work in the cancer community who have been on the brink of death, have been told to get their affairs in order, and have turned it around, beaten the cancer and healed. She must be one of them. I asked our mutual friend to give her some advice from another fellow warrior who has been there. This advice is true for everyone in any tough situation:
- Her odds of getting better increase exponentially by taking care of her physical body. To the best of her ability, she must eat power foods and eliminate anything processed. Her body needs help. Load up on organic produce, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Even ill and in a highly precarious state, get up and move as much as possible. I met a woman going through a transplant who managed to do modified yoga from her hospital room. I met another guy who walked the halls nearly every day throughout his transplant for over a month. By the time he was done, he had walked the equivalent of a marathon. Not everyone can do this, but push it as much as possible.
- Stay emotionally healthy. Even in a hospital join a support group either in person or online. Read self help books. Meditate. Pray. Laugh with friends even if it’s really hard. Ask for visitors if that’s allowed. Be surrounded by only great people who are there to support you.
- If possible, get acupuncture, massage and try hypnotism. It emotionally calming and healing.
- Take daily showers and feel clean. If possible, get dressed so when you look in the mirror, you can look strong and resilient even if you’re not feeling it (yet, anyway).
- Watch fun movies and read uplifting books. This is a time for comedies, not tragedies.
- Continue reading those magazine and books, and watching TV shows that depict a normal life. It can be inspiring to an extent.
And the overall theme of this experience (and article)? Life is normal. Until it’s not. And when that moment comes is anyone’s guess. The banality of bad news. Life changing events rarely come with warnings. We are doing life’s ordinary stuff when everything changes in one instant. You know, we’re walking the dog, putting dishes away, going through emails at work, sleeping… And life as we know it ends. Just like that. No fanfare. And how do we cope? Who knows.
And that’s why I’ve learned to live. Live BIG and GRAND as often as I can. As often as my health and treatments allow, and responsibilities to children, self, family and loved ones. I travel like crazy and have discovered locales that bring me great joy. I go hang gliding. I ski. I do things that are outside of my comfort zone. When I feel angry, sad and depressed, I hit up the salon, go for a walk, or play with my friend Katherine’s dog. Anything to get out of that zone and into a different one. I plan to go skydiving soon. Wear your favorite shoes, use your pricey perfume and favorite dishes daily, and break out the handbag you paid way too much for and have been hesitant to use in case you ruin it. Who cares? It’s doing no good in the closet. Go hang out with your friends and laugh. Pity parties are allowed, but letting them go for too long accomplishes absolutely nothing and can be extremely dangerous to our fight to get well, recover, and gain our emotional, spiritual and physical health back.
I pray and hope for Zoe. One more warrior to cheer on. Please, God, let her be ok.