March 29, 2010
Cancer Confirmation Day -- Call Me Happy!
If you ask 10 people to define happiness, you probably won't get a dictionary definition. Instead, you'll get candid responses drawn from personal desires, with some shared common wishes for love, abundance, and long life. When I checked my dictionary, I found the word happiness (derived from the word happy, wedged between happenstance and happy-go-lucky) defined as: enjoying contentment and well-being; glad, joyous, satisfied or pleased. If I were asked to define happiness, I'd say -- being a lung cancer survivor.
I realize I'm not the first person to survive this horrid affliction, nor will I be the last. Survival rate for lung cancer patients has improved since I was diagnosed a few years ago. Now there is an array of treatments available, from clinical trials, to alternative treatments, to programs specific to a patient's needs. I had no warning signs of cancer prior to diagnosis unless you consider the nasty winter cold I suffered with for over 2 weeks. I tried OTC medications, but the congestion would not locomote. Finally, when a prescribed antibiotic didn't help, my primary care physician ordered a battery of diagnostic tests and, well, the rest is history as they say.
Upon hearing those awful words lung cancer everything else the doctor said to me that confirmation day became a blur. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. How could this be? My mind continued to race, searching for answers. In those moments the doctor's voice became blah, blah, blah as he showed me the x-ray of my left lung. My active mind reviewed my lifelong behaviors. I initially thought maybe I was being punished by God for some indiscretions in my life...but what? I wasn't perfect, but what could I have done so badly to be punished in this way? Was it the cigarettes jeopardizing my well-being? Did it even matter that I quit smoking over 3 years prior to this diagnosis? This scenerio was beyond surreal.
Other than (what I thought was) the winter cold I was suffering with, I thought I was in good health. I kept up with my well-woman exams, I did moderate exercise, ate right, lived a peaceful, happy life. I had the misconception that only heavy smokers got lung cancer. I never got a definitive answer as to what triggered the cancer cell. I was told that the obvious reasons were because I once smoked and also had a family history of cancer. I remember my mother being very scared when my uncle died young. She was just a couple years older than he was. During her grief, mom mentioned that due to her family's medical history, she thought her fate was sealed. Her oldest sister, father, mother and now her brother all died from some form of cancer. In the next 2 years my mother would succomb to lung cancer. On that cancer confirmation day, I surmised that having this disease probably marked the beginning of the end of my life. I wondered how much life I had left.
So much to ponder. I wasn't ready for such a dire report. Suddenly it felt like time had stopped. It felt like I was enthralled in a nightmare -- you know -- the one where you are falling from a cliff -- desperately trying to wake up -- somehow navigating toward a safety net just before hitting the ground! I shook myself back to the current. My friend tried to console me as I began sobbing. Then, I felt God's presence, and I knew that loving support from friends and family would get me through this. I have always been greatful for the love and support my professional family as well as my blood family provided then. I dreaded the prospect of breaking the confirmed diagnosis to my family. My doctor had assembled a team and discussed treatment which would start imediately as I was told that I had a most aggresive type of lung cancer with a 50/50 chance for survival. After speaking to my family later that awful day I asked them to leave me alone for awhile, which they reluctantly complied. They respected my need to sort things out.
I had a solo pity party with the usual pity party accoutrements, like wine, beer, Jack Daniels, Kleenex, photo albums and sad songs. The party was held in a nice dark room. So, I pitied myself for a couple hours, then decided to invite God to this party. I had my personal conversation with him, asking him to spare my life. I definately wanted God to be involved in my treatment program which would include some peace and hope. I chose to enjoy my life even as challenging as it would become. While wishing and hoping for a cure I became pro-active in my healing with prayer, exercise, meditation, diet, and laughter.
I endured daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy. I lost weight. I lost hair. I watched the Golden Girls and Oprah on tv everyday. I quit watching horror movies and listening to sad songs. I traversed thru that monstrous ordeal for weeks, ultimately losing a left lung, but gaining a reservoir of self knowledge, strength and courage I didn't previously know I had. I would continue to gather strength and regain my self-worth as I rejoined the work force and gradually participated in moderate activities.
My life has changed in many ways. I didn't realize until a few years ago that I am a better person because of the cancer. I see many things differently now. I enjoy every moment with my family and friends. I'm glad to see flowers and sunset. I like horror movies and love stories. I'm content to hear children laugh and very satisfied with my husband's barbecue. I am pleased that I have lived to help raise our daughter to be a lovely young woman who is now a registered nurse. I continue to experience some residuals of the lung cancer, including a throat disorder called disphonia. I struggle with the loss of my vocal abilities, but my voice is audible. Despite all odds, I am pretty healthy. Today I enjoy contentment and well-being. I am glad, joyful, satisfied and pleased. Today I can define my happiness as all of those things. I can't shout from the roof tops, but I'll be happy to make a loud whisper that happiness is also Being A Lung Cancer Survivor!