Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: crisis (page 2 of 3)

Port Flush Triggered Unexpected Emotions

This week, a port flush triggered unexpected emotions. Until about three months ago, putting on Emla (lidocaine and prilocaine) cream over my mediport and then covering it with Glad Press’n Seal Wrap was standard routine for chemotherapy day. Every other Tuesday morning, I prepped my chest an hour before my chemo appointment. One day, I forgot. But, it taught me to never again forget. The Emla cream numbs the tissue over the mediport site, making it less uncomfortable for the patient when the nurse accesses  the port (inserts the needle connected to tubing into the port.) A syringe or longer length of tubing can then be attached to flush the port, draw blood, or administer IV medications, such as chemotherapy.

Although I no longer receive chemotherapy, my port remains with me until after I have my first clear CT scan. Currently, my CT scan is scheduled for mid-November, six months after being released back to everyday activity, so the port cannot be removed until some later date. While the port remains in place, it must periodically be flushed with Heparin to make sure that it is functioning properly.

So, on Monday, I had my first post chemo mediport flush. As I began going through the familiar motions of applying the Emla cream and Glad Press’n Seal Wrap, emotions began to wash over me and I felt unaccountably maudlin. Just the physical memory of that process invoked feelings I experienced during chemotherapy. In fact, it felt almost like I was going to chemo; the sense of dread and uncertainly all flooded back. Although those feelings lessened as time passed, the sadness remained for several days and fatigue along with it.

Having the port flush the same week I was preparing my comments for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Saratoga Luminaria Ceremony probably exacerbated my level of emotion. Combined with the sentiment of the port flush, the season of anniversaries, and reliving my cancer detour, I was feeling a little less sunny than usual for a couple of days. Thankfully, feelings are not reality and soon the truth of me being happy, healthy, active, and optimistic rebounded and life turned right side up again.

As I thought through my story and what I could share that would encourage others who have been touched by cancer, I realized once again that it is my faith in God, and the people I care about and who care about me that enable me to move past cancer with anticipation and excitement about the future.

Thank you for being among those who have encouraged and helped me to move forward expecting good things ahead!

Paying Off Medical Bills

Out of Network Medical Expenses

Paying off medical bills was practically the last thing on my mind when I was hospitalized prior to my cancer diagnosis last summer. I did what I could to make sure the hospital was getting pre-authorization from the insurance. However, the reality is that I was too sick and weak to really think about much more than the blood transfusions and diagnostic testing I desperately needed. The doctor who arranged the hospital admission assured me that no insurance company would deny the medical necessity of my hospitalization, but he didn’t warn me attending physicians and other medical providers were essentially independent contractors, rather than hospital employees, who may or may not be part of my Preferred Provider Network.

Appeals and Discounts

I learned the hard way about this reality. Unbeknownst to me, the group of doctors who served as attending physicians in the hospital were not part of my PPO, which meant that not only was the bill paid at only 60% by the insurance, but there was an additional $250 out of network deductible. These surprising charges forced me into another unknown realm: appeals to the  insurance company and requests for discounts directly from out-of-network medical providers. Although the insurance company rejected my appeal for in-network level coverage, my requests directly to the out of network medical providers proved much more successful. Both of the providers I contacted wrote off part of the total and the billing department for the attending physicians also offered to put me on a monthly payment plan because of the size of the bill. I am pleased to say, I finally paid off that balance last month!

Paying Off Medical Bills: Miraculous Provision

While I was on medical leave for chemotherapy, the San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA) granted me sick leave through their Catastrophic Leave Bank. Essentially, sick leave donated by members of SJTA carried me through all but eight days of my medical leave. Because teachers in California do not pay Social Security Disability benefit Insurance, we cannot receive those benefits. Consequently, the provision of these days from the Catastrophic Leave Bank averted what otherwise could have quickly become financial catastrophe.

Unexpected generosity also came from long-time family friends, who with their personal insight into the overwhelming challenge of paying off medical bills, chose to help me pay off those bills. Their benevolence came just as I was facing the month with those eight days of unpaid leave, which was literally just in the nick of time.  I was completely overwhelmed to be the recipient of their philanthropy.

Thankfully, I can see the end of my medical bills within the next couple of months. I am grateful for those who have helped me financially,  for the medical insurance that covers the majority of my costs, for the job that enables me to continue meeting my financial commitments, and for a summer school teaching job helping me recover financially from the burden of months of medical bills.

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Lingering Effects of Chemo

The lingering effects of Chemo, such as chemo induced peripheral neuropathy and fatigue, continue to play a part in everyday life. Experts tell me both can take up to a year to resolve, and in the case of fatigue, sometimes even longer. However, life goes on and I am finding ways to cope, although not without being sometimes caught off guard.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Neuropathy

Lately, I have noticed the neuropathy I experienced in my fingers and feet has been less and less noticeable. At first, it seemed as though it would improve for a few days and then would seem as uncomfortable as ever. However, most recently I have been feeling it just slightly in my hands, although more pronouncedly in my feet. I am relieved and happy this sensation seems to be dissipating and hope soon it will be completely gone!

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Fatigue

Life is busy. There are many things to do to keep house and work. My list of things to do seems endless. I try to do things in chunks and to make the most of the energy I have, but I still sometimes find myself surprised when I come home from a grocery shopping outing and feel the need for a nap. Fatigue makes  keeping up on household chores a challenge, so I have adjusted my expectation for what I can get done and have tried to organize things so that I have clean clothes for work and food to throw together for meals. But, beyond that, I simply have had to relax and let my best be okay for now. This is not forever, so I trust that before long, it won’t be such a chore to keep up on chores and the upkeep of housework will feel a little less overwhelming.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Stunted Hair Growth

Happily, I have short hair sticking up on the top of my head where some new growth has begun to crop up. Although I have begun to see some hair growth in places, there are other places that remain oddly hairless. I do not know if I can expect this to continue long-term or if it just needs some more time to begin to show up.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Sunburn

Earlier this week, I had the pure joy of taking a nap near the Pacific Ocean. A lovely pair of palm trees provided shade for my afternoon slumber, but since the breeze was somewhat cool, most of my body, including my arms and face, were fully covered, except for my legs and ankles below the capris I was wearing. Time stands still for no one, so upon waking, I found I was in full sun.

Since the breeze was refreshing I did not notice the heat and thought nothing more of it until later that evening when my ankle began to itch. Only then did I realize the bright redness on both of my legs where they had been carelessly exposed to the afternoon sun. My oncologist insisted I take care to avoid the sun while I was on chemotherapy, but after I finished chemo, I began to spend more time out of doors at various times of the day. Although I had only been exposed to the sun for about 20 minutes that afternoon, I suffered for days from the pain of this sunburn.

Hopefully, the chemo effect will soon be completely out of my system, but until then, there will be no more carefree siestas in the afternoon sun without being fully covered to protect myself from the sun.

Lingering Effects of Chemo: Relay for Life

When I was finishing up chemo, I decided I wanted to do positive things to establish a healthy lifestyle as a person who had moved past cancer treatment. All through chemo I worked to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise routine. After treatment, I wanted to keep up these positive changLingering Effects of Chemoes, but I also wanted to do something to mark the transition from being a patient to thriving in post treatment life.

One of the ways I found to do this was by signing up for a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser. So, I signed up as a team captain and began recruiting people to be on my team. With just two weeks until Relay for Life of Saratoga, my team remains small. But, I am happy for those who have chosen to join me and to mark my transition back to life as I once knew it. I am grateful for their support and look forward to a fun-filled time.

Just today, I became a Hero of Hope speaker and will share at the Luminaria Ceremony during the Relay event. If you find yourself in the San Jose area and have time to come by St. Andrews Field at 13601 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga, CA on July 23, 2016 between about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., I will be sharing some thoughts on life from a cancer survivor’s perspective.

Other Lingering Effects of Chemo

There are other effects of chemo that remain with me. In addition to peculiar physical side effects, I have a new perspective and a more grateful attitude. While I find myself frustrated that I have not been able to keep up contact with friends as I did while on chemo, I still find myself thinking about them and am grateful for their ongoing support and presence in my life. I feel amazingly blessed to have so many people in my life who care about me and are willing to walk along what has been a difficult path this past year. Although I do not know what the future holds, I am expecting wonderful things because I know I will continue to be surrounded by the best group of people who will accompany me no matter what comes my way!

Thanks for being one of those wonderful people!

 

First Anniversaries of the Cancer Detour and Thankful to Be Healthy

Anniversaries

As we head into July, I am mindful of the first anniversaries of the cancer detour and thankful to be healthy. In fact on July 5 last year, I first began to have notable symptoms of the undetected illness within. Although I had slept through the summer into July, it had not occurred to me that I might be ill. But when July dawned, it became more difficult to dismiss the symptoms I was experiencing. However, for about a month I had no suspicion of anything worse than the stress of traveling. Thankfully, a knowledgeable doctor connected the scattershot of dots I described and ordered the right blood work to begin the diagnostic process that revealed the tumor growing within. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thankful

In fact, I am thankful for so many things. Every day as I maneuver my way through commute to traffic on the drive to summer school, I thank God for this job. Although I have to get up before 5:30 on these summer mornings, I am grateful to be working for such a great district and to be meeting different teachers, with varied experience and background, from whom I can learn. I am thankful for the students in my class who are eager to learn and easy to teach. During these few weeks, I am implementing teaching strategies I was trained in two years ago, but haven’t had the need to try out yet. Realizing that I can use these techniques successfully to impact student learning gives me another reason to be grateful.

Along with teaching summer school, I am thankful for the Living Strong, Living Well program. Up until now, I have not loved going to the gym. I always felt out of place because I didn’t know what to do and have a terrible time trying to follow the complicated choreography of some exercise classes. Although I may enjoy that kind of exercise, I often find myself zigging when the rest of the class is zagging. It makes for a highly stressful experience that counteracts the positive feelings generated by the endorphins released through the exercise. So, I am thankful for Ron and Trish, the YMCA trainers, who partner with Stanford to offer Living Strong, Living Well that are teaching me to use machines for cardio exercise and also for weightlifting. Their kindness and patience encourage me to do my best and to use the machines correctly, while not overdoing the weight. These trainers and the other participants in the program give me yet another reason to be thankful.

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two months post chemo and still surprised by fatigue and things that trigger emotions.  Even though I have resumed normal activities and am going about life as usual. I have been keeping a pretty steady pace and for the most part have been fine. After going back to work, I had some challenges readjusting to being back in a world that looked the same, but had changed. But, I made it and was glad I had gone back for the end of the year.

Now with school out, I have been filling my days with travel, packing up my classroom to move schools, transporting things to the new school site or to be stored, reconnecting with friends, and exercise. I have been feeling good and enjoying this new phase of life. However, I quickly forget that just over two months ago, I was a chemo patient.

My fatigue doesn’t seem to grip me constantly, so I can keep a pretty full schedule for awhile. Then suddenly, I find myself unable to deal with the emotions that accompany the normal stresses in life and realize I am tired and in need of a nap or a long night of sleep. The good news is that it is exactly that simple, so why can’t I remember this simple fact?

Triggers

A cancer diagnosis comes with an element of fear that takes time to overcome. Occasionally, that fear pops up out of the blue, but more often I find that it is triggered by treatment related issues or circumstances. For example, this week I had to schedule follow up testing for the end of the year. Both of the procedures I had to put on the calendar were tests I had in the hospital when the cancer was diagnosed. Naturally, scheduling those tests triggered feelings similar to those I felt the first time I had them since they caused me to remember and relive, at least on some level, the emotions around my diagnosis. However,  if I had been more rested, I think I would have faced them more quickly and put them to rest without having to weather such a tempest in a teapot.

Anniversaries

And, the anniversaries are looming larger on my calendar. The anniversary of feeling sick, learning I was ill (on my birthday, no less!) yet not knowing the cause, then being told I had cancer one day and having surgery to remove the tumor the next. I anticipate a certain amount of emotion as these dates approach, but I know that they will pass and I will be fine. They are just dates.

Recurrence

Recently I had the chance to share with someone who asked me if I feared a recurrence that I do not expect the cancer to return. I am striving to live my life to the fullest, while doing everything I can to live a healthy, anti-cancer life. But, it could still come back. I couldn’t prevent cancer the first time, so I know I can’t prevent it from coming back, either. What I can do is make the most of my life. Do what is important and let go of the small, insignificant things that pop up that really do not matter, but can quickly steal my joy, time, and attention, if I let them. I am doing my best to not let them! It is easier said than done, but I am finding the effort worthwhile.

Why Am I Surprised?

While I do not know the answer to why I am surprised by fatigue and the impact fatigue has on my emotions, I do know I am planning to make rest a priority and to find ways to remind myself that it will take time, more than I realize, to regain my stamina for the everyday pace of life. Taking a nap or sleeping an unusual number of hours some nights is exactly what I need in order to keep up with my day in and out activities. Hopefully, this will begin to come naturally and I will not reach the point that I am stressed and emotional over insignificant things.

Any suggestions for other ways I can be mindful of pacing myself and getting enough rest?

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a Balanced Life After Chemo

Finding a balanced life after chemo has been a challenge since going back to work. While I was on medical leave from work during chemotherapy, I had ample time for exercise and cooking healthy meals when I was well enough.

Cooking

I enjoyed trying new, healthy recipes in the kitchen and had a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I was doing something positive to regain and maintain my health. Even still, I enjoy cooking at home and generally choose to come home and eat, rather than eat out where I do not know what the ingredients are in the dishes. However, now that I am back to work, I find that I have much less time to spend in the kitchen to try out these new dishes. Instead, I opt for simpler fare that I can warm up or cook in a few minutes after coming home from a tiring day in first grade. In fact, I think it was scrambled eggs for dinner twice this week!

As time goes on, I hope to find a better balance of life and work, but since I returned to work for the last two weeks of school the flurry of activity consumed most of my time and energy. Hopefully as I continue to recover more of my strength and stamina over the summer, I will find it easier to return to a more balanced life that includes a little more time in the kitchen when school resumes in August.

Exercise

As often as I could during chemo, I would walk. I tried for at least a half an hour a day, but on some days I simply couldn’t get outside for it. However, as time went on, I found that I really enjoyed the natural mood elevation I got from taking a walk. And, friends would sometimes walk with me, making the outing doubly enjoyable. But now that I have begun the Living Strong, Living Well program and have gone back to work, I no longer have the time and energy for these daily outings. Teaching keeps me on my feet most of the day and the Living Strong, Living Well exercise program provides a different kind of exercise that I quite enjoy. Nevertheless, I find I miss my long walks around the neighborhoods near my house. I miss looking at nature and meeting new people along my customary route. I do not know quite how to find balance in this area, but hope that over time I will adjust to the new forms of exercise and not miss my walks quite so much.

Without a doubt, finding a balanced life after chemo will be a process, but I am anxious to maintain my healthy patterns that have helped me to feel so robust and positive about the future. If you have any suggestions for how I might achieve this, I certainly hope you will share your words of wisdom. Or, if you face a similar struggle, I hope you will share that as well.

As always, thanks for continuing with me on the journey of life!

 

 

Back to Work After Chemo

Back to Work After Chemo

Going back to work after chemo has turned out to be challenging in ways that I had not anticipated. Consequently, this week’s post will be comparatively short.

School

Returning to work was going to be hard physically, I thought. This first week back, I had a commitment every evening after work, so I anticipated being fatigued. Little did I know I was wholly unprepared to deal with the dissonance of reintegrating into teaching at my school, an entity I thought I knew intimately, but which has continued to develop and evolve while I was cocooned for chemo. While I was on leave from work, I thought about how the people at work were not part of the cancer detour, but I failed to realize that I wasn’t part of those months in their lives or the school community, either. I am back seeing familiar things and faces, but I expected everything to be the same and for me to fit right back in. However, since I didn’t live through events with the rest of the staff or experience the ongoing metamorphosis of the school, I have realized that I am out of sync.  Once familiar things have changed and catch me off guard. And, sometimes, my absence has been forgotten about by others and I find I don’t know what is going on for lack of information. For me, this has resulted in an emotional first few days back at work.

Although dealing with the machinery of the school has been a challenge, being back with my students for the last part of the year has been pure joy. The students have adjusted nicely to having me back and are happily requesting to sing songs throughout the day and play games during physical education that I taught them in the few short weeks I worked early in the school year. In spite of my absence, they have had a good year. For this, I am thankful. And, the opportunity to have closure with them is a blessing. In fact, next year I will be assigned to a different school in the same school district, so I am taking advantage of these last few days of school to say goodbye to staff and students alike. I have loved reconnecting with former students and been glad for the chance to tell them goodbye.

Living Strong, Living Well

Twice a week the Living Strong, Living Well program has given me an way to decompress and de-stress after work through physical exercise. And, while I notice my emotions lifting after exercising at the YMCA, I also know that aerobic exercise and strength training  correlate with a lower recurrence of cancer. So, I am pleased to have a dual benefit from my workouts and hope to be able to continue once the program ends.

Furthermore, I have found comfort in working with this group of survivors as we commiserate or laugh about side effects, while focusing on becoming stronger and healthier. Following orientation day, all participants seemed to be looking forward and no longer defined by the disease that gripped us. A sense of anticipation of better things ahead and an easy camaraderie has developed, both of which inspire me to do my best and be a cheerleader for other participants.

Life is Good

Although I have faced unexpected challenges going back to work after chemo, I am happy and grateful for the people, resources, and opportunities that continue to support me in my journey of life as a cancer survivor.  Life is good. Truly, it is good to be alive!

 

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor¹

On Tuesday, life took a major shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor when the oncologist cleared me back to regular, everyday life. With the exception of taking care to not put too much pressure on the mediport site, I can do just about anything I used to do. And, Monday, it is back to work. So, little by little, I am venturing out into the world and resuming some of those normal activities that were restricted until this week.

Grocery Shopping

Naturally, on the way home from the oncologist’s office, I stopped by the supermarket to pick up some fresh fruit that I could enjoy without have to peel to eat. Unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables were restricted from my diet until given the green light after chemo, so I was anxious to get some of my seasonal favorites. Surprisingly, instead of finding going into the grocery store exciting and freeing, I found it a little overwhelming because of the number of people in the store. I bought minimal fixings for salad and quickly exited the store. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed eating lettuce, raw carrots and unpeeled tomato.

However, the following day, I set out at a different time, in a less crowded location, and found delight in selecting berries, grapes, apricots and nectarines–none of which are going to be peeled. Meals have been fruit heavy since then, to the delight of my taste buds! Although I may continue to seek off times to shop, as much as possible, until I overcome my discomfort with the crowds, I am enjoying picking out fresh fruits and vegetables to reincorporate into my diet.

Living Strong, Living Well

This past Monday, I began the Living Strong, Living Well program at a nearby YMCA. The professor from Stanford University who facilitated the orientation session emphasized that the program’s focus was wellness, so we were not obligated to state what kind of cancer we had had or anything to do with our treatment or the disease. Instead, she asked us to share what we hoped to get out of the program and something we valued.

These instructions fit in perfectly with my goal in joining the program, which was to transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor, and to no longer be defined by the disease that gripped me, but by who I am as a person. It was incredibly freeing to introduce myself and to say what I wanted to gain through the program and what I valued. Not to have to tag on anything about the diagnosis, the emotional roller coaster that started after receiving a cancer diagnosis, or the agonizing months of treatment was a redefining moment and one more step in seeing myself as a someone who is healthy and thriving.

Back to School

In preparation for my return to school for the last eight days of instruction before summer break, I needed to touch base with the long-term substitute teacher who has been in charge of my class and my first grade teaching partner before Monday. It was bittersweet heading back to school yesterday to meet up with them, but the anxiety I felt before arriving, and the immediate coughing fit that overcame me upon my arrival, quickly disappeared as I was warmly greeted by colleagues and students.

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

Maybe someday my hair will grow long and thick like it was in 2009

I must confess I still find it difficult not to protest when people comment that I look good and that all the rest I had must be the reason. Because my work colleagues have not accompanied me on the cancer detour, and in fact have not even been told by me what illness I had, they do not know what caused my weight loss, that the reason my hair looks almost exactly the same as before is because what didn’t fall out quit growing, or that the months of chemotherapy could hardly be described as restful. While the inward battle of emotions rages, I try to maintain a benign countenance and politely respond to their well-intentioned comments. Admittedly, I am extremely over-sensitive, but, as with all other things, I hope this too will pass. And one day my hair might grow back long and thick!

As students rushed up to greet me with hugs, I fought the urge to pull back for fear of contracting some illness. For months I have dutifully avoided human contact to prevent infection, so I am still adjusting to the fact that my immune system can now battle disease and I no longer need to take such rigid precautions. I may have to continue to remind myself of this fact over the next few weeks, until it becomes an automatic reaction to enjoy the embrace of others without trying to pull back.

Meeting Up with Friends

While on chemo, I rarely went out for meals because of the risk of infection. If I ventured out, it would normally be to sparsely occupied places where I could maintain a safe space from other diners. Now that I am transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor, I can meet up with friends in public without having to estimate if I am far enough away from any diner who might be coughing or sneezing. While I do not find coughing or sneezing pleasant to be around, I am happy that I am able to meet up with friends over a meal  to reconnect after these months of virtual isolation during chemo.

Although meeting up with friends is a welcome change, my long-term dietary changes remain in place. So, I remain ever mindful of my menu selections in order to promote continued health. I am not finding the dietary shifts difficult or limiting, but instead find something of a rewarding challenge in selecting something appetizing that is also healthful.

More of Daily Life

As time goes on, driving longer distances, sitting on a crowded beach, and other normal activities will also mark the shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor. But for now I am satisfied to gradually resume quotidian normalcy.

Which of these daily activities do you think you would most enjoy resuming?

1 Hewitt M., et al., eds. From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition (National Academies Press, 2006).

Finding the New Normal After Chemotherapy

Finding the New Normal After Chemotherapy

During the past few weeks, I have been trying to find the new normal after chemotherapy. Although I am thrilled to be finished with ongoing treatments, I am not yet back to normal activities. With enthusiasm, I have increased and broadened my activities, while still maintaining precautions against exposure to illness or overtaxing myself.

Fatigue and Lagging Stamina

However, I have found my stamina has eroded over the past few months and if I become too ambitious, I need a couple of hours of sleep in the afternoon. It has been surprising how fatigue creeps into my daily schedule. Other cancer survivors have told me that I might need naps for a long time, but I have high hopes for a speedy recovery. Nevertheless, as I face the reality of going back to work and getting on with life, I wonder what unexpected physical limitations might crop up.

In Limbo

These few weeks between the end of treatment and being released to return to work and daily normal activities have become rather like living in limbo. My chemo treatment schedule no longer rules my calendar, giving me much more freedom to fill my days with other things. However, since I have not yet been released back to my regular activities, it has become a balancing act to try to find productive activities that allow me to regain a sense of normalcy in life while still protecting me from infection and fatigue.

Catching up on regular medical exams and dental care has filled some of the time, but I find cabin fever to be increasing as time marches on. Still, the dilemma of what I can do depends largely upon my energy level and whether or not an activity will expose me unduly to possible illness. For example, I used to drive myself to visit family or on road trips without a second thought. Now because fatigue sets in, I do not venture very far when driving myself, but instead depend upon the kindness of others to transport me here and there. It has been a limiting lifestyle adjustment that I hope will be short-lived as my energy level and stamina improve.

Lingering Side Effects

Finding the New Normal After Chemotherapy

May 2016

Many of the side effects from chemotherapy have abated over time. Happily, my hair has begun to grow back again, filling in the balding spots I worked to cover during chemo.  Still, a couple other side effects are lingering longer than I would like. While I still hope that they will go away eventually, and I realize it is early days yet, only time will tell if they remain or not. Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) is one side effect that continues to plague me. At times it seems less bothersome than others, but often in the evening, it seems to intensify and feels as unpleasant as ever. In my next appointment with the oncologist, I will ask him about trying some of the remedies others have suggested, in addition to the vitamins recommended. So, I am waiting to see what the new normal for these side effects will be.

Living Strong, Living Well

To help regain strength and stamina, I have registered for Living Strong, Living Well, a twelve week program sponsored by Stanford University that is designed specifically to help recovering cancer patients once they have finished treatment. Although I have rarely been a regular at the gym, I look forward to starting this program  in a couple of weeks at a nearby YMCA and hope to see noticeable improvement quickly. I want the new normal to feature a strong me.

Relationships

Finding the new normal after chemotherapy in relationships is an ongoing process. Many have walked through this detour with me, enabling a new normal to develop in the process. We have already identified and adjusted to subtle and not so subtle changes that emerged during my cancer detour.

However, for those at work or others who were otherwise distanced, I will have to find ways to reconnect with them and to move forward without having to relive and recount every detail of the detour. Establishing boundaries will help me to resume normally activities and pick up relationships that have been on pause, while maintaining balance and perspective, as well as keeping me from constantly reliving the ups and downs of chemotherapy.

How to form new relationships authentically as a cancer survivor will also be part of finding the new normal. The cancer detour is part of my story and has shaped who I have become. How my experience impacts the development of new relationships will be part of finding the new normal after chemotherapy. I look forward to the adventure!

Resources

Thankfully, in addition to family and friends who have supported me throughout the cancer detour, there are many resources available to help in finding the new normal after chemotherapy. Both the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute offer online resources to support patients making the transition from active treatment to normal life.  And, the Silicon Valley is replete with resources, such as the Living Strong, Living Well program and plentiful Survivor Support Groups available through different agencies and non-profits, like Cancer CAREpoint.

Undoubtedly, there will be unexpected challenges as I am finding the new normal after chemotherapy, but I look forward to facing each challenge with faith and hope.

Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support as I wrap up this cancer detour!

Writing on the Heart

Writing on the Heart

During the past few months, I have written about the many ways my family and friends have shown their love and care for me, which I have come to think of as writing on the heart. By how we respond to others, we leave little notes written on their heart. These etchings can be bitter or sweet memories. It all depends upon us and how we make them feel. In recent findings by psychologists John and Julie Gottman, relationships that succeed over time have two things in common: kindness and generosity. The partners in these relationships respond positively to bids, or requests, to pay attention to things they are interested in and that is like writing on the heart with positive words of affirmation and love.

Recently, I was in a situation and I needed to reach out for help. Although I used to think of myself as quite the independent person and tried to do things on my own, I have found that I need people a lot more than I thought. In this situation, my help came from a source I hadn’t thought to reach out to at first. I hated to impose, but I really needed someone’s help. It was a relief when the person said sure and stayed with me until the problem was resolved. It was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone and that someone with more knowledge about something was there to advise and support in that moment of need. That person was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend.

Last year I faced another situation I could not resolve on my own. One of the hazards of teaching primary grades is that sometimes they pass on runny noses, upset stomachs, or little critters from their head to yours. In all my years of teaching, I had never had the latter happen until last year. As I sat on the couch one evening as it neared bedtime, I felt the eerie sensation of something crawling on my head. I reached up and pulled a live louse out of my hair. Since I live alone, there is no way I could have given myself lice, but I also knew there was no way I could rid myself of them. So, just when I should have been settling down to sleep, I was calling Julie, a teacher friend of mine, and asking if she would help me. Without hesitation, Julie went to the all night pharmacy, got the necessary shampoo and comb, and came over to remove the remaining lice and nits out of my hair until about 1 o’clock in the morning. It was gruesome and wholly unpleasant, but Julie did it because she is my friend. She was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend.

This week, I lost a fellow on the cancer journey: Geraldine Sims. Although she was fighting an arduous battle herself, she took time to reach out to me with encouragement and kindness. She prayed for my recovery, even when faced with the reality of her own failing health. She challenged me to have greater faith, even when things looked bleak, and to love and encourage others in spite of my own suffering. Her example of loving support was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend and sister in Christ.

I could tell you story after story about how people over the past few months have been writing on my heart with words of encouragement or acts of kindness. How I wish I could share about each person who sent a card or package that arrived at just the exact moment to encourage me when it was most needed. Or, the hug coming just at a moment I felt weak and hopeless, and the warmth of love stuck me back together and renewed my strength to go on. Each person was writing on my heart, making it stronger, making it more loving, making me a little different person through their love and affirmation.

So, I have been thinking about myself and what I might be writing on the heart of each friend or family member. I want to be purposeful and not reactive. I want each message to be positive, not negative. I don’t want to write I am too busy. I don’t have time. You are unimportant. Something or someone else is more compelling than you right now.

Instead, I want to be writing something positive like the friends I mentioned here: You matter. I care. I am your friend and I am here for you–anytime, always, no matter what.

How about you? Has someone been writing words of love and affirmation on your heart lately? I hope so!

Please know you matter. I care. I am your friend.

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