About My Cancer Journey
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1999. Before then, I had always been healthy and active, so the diagnosis was shocking to me, especially since I was 31 years old at the time. I underwent surgery and a bone marrow biopsy for diagnosis, and then chemotherapy for 7 months for treatment. I say that I had a “full” cancer experience because I experienced many of the physical and emotional side effects that can accompany cancer treatment. I dealt with hair loss, pain, nausea, and mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion. I coped with the fears of those around me that I would die, as well as my own fears of death and suffering. It was a traumatic time in my life, but I think I had an easier time than I might have otherwise because of my own counselor. She helped me to learn that I could not control cancer, but I could respond. We worked together to find ways to help me to manage and cope with the experience, both during treatment and afterward.
I had to find my own way of coping with the cancer experience. Sometimes this meant that I had to filter out some of the advice and information that well-meaning people were giving me. The most helpful words my counselor said to me were, “There is no right or wrong way to do cancer.” I had been trying to cope everyone else’s way, and when I figured out what I needed to do to get through the experience and gave myself permission to do it my way, things were much less of a struggle. Now I am passionate about helping people find their own way of coping, and making this difficult experience easier. My counselor’s words (I can’t take credit for them!) have become part of my guiding beliefs in my own work with others.
I also found ways to continue doing the things that I loved and that gave my life meaning. For example, I had been singing in a band and although I had lost my hair, I continued to perform publicly. I would put on my wig, and although I felt a little self-conscious, I got on stage and sang. I focused on the singing, the music, and the band instead of how I looked. When I was doing something I loved, I was able to stay present and really be in the moment…I could forget that I was sick. Throughout that time in my life, I found it difficult at times to not be thinking of cancer constantly, but when I was doing things that were fun or meaningful for me, I wasn’t thinking about cancer. So I did the things I loved so that I wouldn’t forget that cancer did not define me…I wasn’t a “cancer patient” but a person living with cancer, who still had a life.
Humor and laughter were always part of the process. Sometimes other people wouldn’t get the joke, but it didn’t matter. Cancer isn’t funny, but some of the things that happen when you’re going through it…well, you kind of have to laugh at them.
Also, I talked. I talked a lot. I talked at support groups, with my counselor, to my friends, to my family, and sometimes to people I hardly knew, if they would listen. Somehow saying the things out loud that were going on in my head was the most helpful thing for me. I found people who could listen to my deepest fears and my saddest feelings. Somehow, even through my darkest moments I would come around to being able to put one foot in front of the other and face the next day. Being able to talk things through made cancer less painful for me. I realize that not everyone needs to talk as much as I did, but I have learned that many people with cancer do. That’s why I’m such a big believer in counseling…for everyone, not just those affected by cancer. I am a living example that counseling works, as I utilized my own counselor to the fullest during my cancer journey and grew personally from our work.
My Post-Cancer Journey
Following cancer treatment, I made big changes in my life. I knew I needed to make them and I knew people in my life wouldn’t like them very much. I forged ahead. I made mistakes. I used skills I learned in counseling and from mentors. I faced my mistakes and faced my feelings. I grew, learned, healed, and did the work. I went back to school to become a counselor…something I always wanted to do. I created this practice to help others who are going through what I went through.
I created a life that I love and I can help you do the same.
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