Sitting in a local cafe on a beautiful Monday afternoon. A moment to myself, a time where I can just reflect on everything that's happened within the last month and a half. It's taken me a couple days to collect my thoughts together and really think, so this post spans a couple days. Careful kids, this ones a doozy!
It’s a beautiful morning today. The skies are blue, the air is crisp, and the sun is shining. I’m sitting in a coffee shop and find myself finally having a moment to reflect on everything that’s happened in the past month and some. Mom and Dad are probably sleeping away back home, resting and recharging their bodies for a new day. The last couple of days have been a little rough, to say the least. Since our last treatment on Friday, mom has been in quite a lot of pain. I’m not sure if it’s a sign that the chemo is working, or if it’s something else… but calling it fatigue would be putting it mildly as she needed assistance getting out of bed, walking, and getting out of her seat. She is such a strong woman, and it breaks my heart to see someone I love so much in so much pain. If there is a hell, then it is not one of flames and darkness. Hell is seeing someone you love in pain, seeing them suffer and not being able to do anything about it. That,my friends, is hell. It’s crazy how much of a rollercoaster cancer can be. I have never known anything so… terrifying, yet eye-opening, in my entire life. Everyday, I hurt. Some days are easier than others, but the fear and the pain are always there, like a snake that loosens and tightens its cold, suffocating grip around your heart. But at the same time, I feel a new sense of clarity and strength that I did not have before. It’s like I’ve been awakened by something powerful, profound, and meaningful. Almost like coming out of a fog with a newfound sense of purpose and direction. The highs are great and full of a weightlessness that makes you feel as if you’re normal again. With everything that has happened, you are able to truly appreciate and cherish moments like these because you know that a moment without pain and suffering is a moment to be thankful for. But the lows, they are equally as powerful, if not more. They are terrifying, devastating, and heartbreaking all in one. Since we first found out, I’ve discovered so much about my family and myself. I’ve discovered the power of optimism and hope. I’ve discovered how much it takes to draw strength from the deepest depths from within. I’ve discovered how powerful and important love and family are. When one first connects the word “cancer” to oneself, whether it be directly or indirectly through someone you love, your world falls apart. The ground beneath gives away, the sky comes crashing down, and you fall to your knees in such despair that you don’t know what to do, where to go, or even remember something as simple as how to breathe. Breathing is something that is regulated unconsciously and consciously through our body, something that is hardwired into ourselves to ensure survival. The impact of cancer was so devastating that, for about two weeks, I became a temporary asthmatic. I literally could not remember how to breathe properly. Constantly, I would find myself having to take deep breaths, not being able to draw enough oxygen into my system. Every time I drew a deep breath, I would get a feeling where my lungs would not be able to fill up completely. As if they were only able to draw in 80% of what they needed. I truly believed that I had developed a condition, but it was all in my head. The news had been so traumatic that I had become incapable of performing a task so simple and basic as breathing, to the point where I felt I had bruised my lungs from drawing so many consecutive deep breaths. Cancer was suffocating me. Breathing, something we do to draw energy from the world and live our lives, was being affected psychologically by my own body. And I wasn’t even the one with cancer! That is how much of an impact the news had on me. It temporarily persuaded my own body to betray itself, like cancer. When you first hear that cancer has chosen you or your loved ones, life is put into perspective. It forces you to take a big step back and seriously re-assess everything that you thought was important to you in your life. The effect of putting one’s life on a timeline that doesn’t all of the sudden extend into infinity is quite the experience. When we are healthy, we believe that we’re going to live forever, like immortals walking in the land of the dying and the diseased, completely unaffected. Cancer and other life-threatening conditions are myths and fables relegated to another universe. A universe eons away from the one you call home. It shouldn’t take something like cancer for us to wake up and realize how beautiful life is, to cherish each and every moment, to love, to smile, to just breathe. Because the truth is, we all have expiration dates, regardless of whatever foolish conditions you think may make you exempt from this universal fact of life. Life wasn’t created to be stretched over a period of time where we would forget what it meant. It was created so we could pass on our lessons and love, and more importantly, to truly live. When we are forced to realize this, it really is something else. What’s important to remember when you are diagnosed is that cancer is NOT a death sentence. Often times, the situation you find yourself in is what you make of it. It will be a death sentence if you let it become one. Never give up fighting and always look for newfound sources of motivation and inspiration. Today, research, medicine, and treatments are moving at such a rapid pace that a prognosis carries a diminishing level of importance (in my opinion). A doctor gives you a 5-year prognosis and you make it 6 years. So he gives you another 5-year prognosis, and so on, so forth until you’ve made it 15 years past your original prognosis. Whether you have cancer or not, you can't give up. Giving up is not an option. There will always be hope, even in the darkest of times. Hold on to it, believe in it, and use it to drag you out of the fire. This experience has changed me more in one month than any other experience ever has in my entire life. I won’t lie, there are times where a wandering thought will make its way into my head of what life would be like without my mother. My mom. My momma bear. And each and every time, my eyes begin to water and my heart begins to break. When you are suddenly forced to face your mortality face-to-face, it’s a scary thing and life seems so much more unstable and fragile. But you have to learn to wave those things away and stay on a path that will encourage you and support you. There are still moments where I will pause in sheer disbelief that this has become our new reality. I am still somewhat in denial, and I probably will be for quite some time. It's hard a thing to accept, even more so when it is forced on you like it has been on us and every other person affected by cancer. Everything moves so fast and quickly that you have little time to absorb. You're pushed and pulled in so many directions you literally feel like a dog chasing its own tail. Confused and getting nowhere. The world of cancer is vast and full of many unknowns. Time is of the essence. But not so much that you can't afford to pause and collect yourself, because you do have time for that. And it makes a world of a difference. Today (Friday), I met many lovely myeloma “warriors” at a support meeting (the first my family and I have ever been to). I’ve come to realize that there truly are angels on this earth, and some of them come in the form of nurses, doctors, support group members, and many others. These people are true godsends. Their hearts are filled with so much good. It’s amazing and leaves me overwhelmed and speechless. For those finding themselves newly diagnosed, I am truly sorry. This is not something that I would wish even on my worst of enemies. But if there is anything that I can tell you from my own experiences, just remember to breathe. Learn from my mistakes and our victories. I have felt what you feel, and let me tell you, the first 4-6 weeks are undoubtedly the hardest. The waiting. The pacing. The worrying. The news is devastating and traumatic, I know. At the time, we felt the most tremendous feeling of helplessness one could ever imagine. And trust me, trying to get a diagnosis during the holidays ain’t no walk in the park. EVERYTHING IS CLOSED! But know that you can gain control over your situation. Research, research, research and immerse yourself with as much information as you possibly can. And don't let anything discourage you! Information about the drugs you’ve been prescribed (side-effects, warnings, etc.), information about your condition (symptoms, care, etc.), information about nutrition (what to eat and what not to eat), information about precautionary measures (I decided to educate myself on CPR just in case I might need it some day (hopefully not)), and so on. There’s no such thing as being too well-prepared. The very basics for myeloma, that have been working for us, have been LOTS of water (at least 3L/day to help out your kidneys), plenty of fresh (if possible, organic) vegetables and fruits (for fiber and nutrients), daily exercise (to get oxygen into your system), cutting out refined sugars and processed foods (cancer FEEDS on sugar), and plenty of laughs (to keep your spirits up! Which is half the battle). For patients, like my mom, never stop fighting. Find a reason to fight! For your kids, to live a dream, to just LIVE. You will get broken and bruised along the way, but know that there will always be someone to lean on. Surround yourself with other patients, with family members, with friends. Surround yourself with goodness. And if you still find yourself alone or unable to reach out, know that you will always have me. Although I am still very new at this, an open ear needs no experience and you can talk to me about anything. Or, you can do what I did, and make a blog of your own and talk with the universe. Cast out your negative energy into space and share your goodness with others. For those of you who are caregivers, like myself, there will be times where you will feel helpless and other times where you feel like ripping your hair out! It’s ok to feel that way. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to take a breather for yourself. Take a break and spend a day to concentrate on yourself. You cannot help those you love unless you, yourself, are at your best. And for everyone, always remember to just breathe and believe. As I have mentioned, I am still very new at this. My advice may warrant a question or two from some of you, but what I lack in experience, I make up for in my sincerity and drive to overcome this beast with my family and all those fighting the good fight. I will share with you everything that I know so that we can all work together in finding the cure. If we work as a collective nation, we can and we will beat this thing once and for all.