Welcome to my new blog, All About Thriving.
Please check out the pages I’ve posted on this site under the headings “About Me” and “About This Blog” for background on the origins of this new project.
Among the many subjects I want to address on this blog, one will be my own experience with cancer. I begin this blog with Part 1 of my story.
Stories are the essence of how humans share information and create empathy. And yet stories are not linear, they may be more symbolic than literal (think of the great religious texts) and they’re subject to change and reinterpretation over time. They say that journalism is the first rough draft of history. I tell this story now several years after having been diagnosed with cancer, from one perspective, and I’m sure the story will evolve and change as time goes by.
I was living an uneventful life at middle age, with a law business, a home, some hobbies and an easy social life. In early 2011, I started having a foreboding sense that something terrible was about to happen, and I didn’t know what. It was like a dark cloud hanging over me. I didn’t feel well physically. I was not sleeping well, I had nightly hot flashes, all typical of one’s menopausal years.
Then it happened. In October 2011, after a routine mammogram, I received a letter saying they needed me to come back because the test showed something new. I knew on an intuitive level that this was why I’d had a foreboding feeling for months. A second mammogram revealed a “mass.” Within a week, I had a biopsy, and within a few days of that, I received the terrible call from my primary physician, telling me, “Sara, it’s cancer.” I was then thrust into one of the worst crises and nightmares of my life.
I went through the conventional treatments for breast cancer. I had an excellent team of doctors. The initial biopsy showed that the tumor was invasive but not terribly aggressive. Again, intuition told me, within a few days of lumpectomy surgery, that another shoe was going to drop, and it did. The pathology report showed that the surgeon had not gotten wide enough margins around the tumor and a second surgery would be necessary. That was bad enough. Worse: there was a second tumor disguised within or next to the first one, and the second tumor was aggressive. My case was discussed at the weekly “tumor board” meeting of the Alta Bates cancer doctors. My cancer was not caused by genetics or not having eaten enough broccoli. It was caused by environmental pollution. Chemotherapy was recommended.
I never had a doubt that I would do everything the doctors recommended. I was terrified beyond imagination. And at the same time — as I’ll write about another time — I had also received spiritual assurance that all would be fine, and that no matter what happened, I was not alone.
I went through about four months of chemotherapy, followed by about six weeks of thirty daily radiation treatments. With the exception of taking four days off for each of six chemo treatments, I worked full time, supported myself financially with no help from anyone. I saved my law business from going under. I was tired the whole time and often did not feel well, and yet I also felt my inherent strength and courage rise to what was needed.
In other posts for this blog, I’ll write in-depth about what a toll this took, and how outrageous and hideous is the treatment for cancer, as well as the things I found helpful and useful through the process.
Cancer is not like any other ailment or life event. It’s not like “being sick” for a time while everything else remains the same. Cancer is like the dropping of a nuclear weapon on just about every aspect of one’s life and on one’s sense of self. It rips everything wide open, leaving one to have to pick up the pieces, maybe shell shocked, maybe still brave, but still having to reinvent one’s life when it’s “over,” though it’s never really over.
Even while I went through treatment, I cultivated my backyard vegetable garden. I ate from that garden, feeding myself a nutritious combo of chard/kale/spinach every day. The doctors warned me not to eat raw vegetables because of the risk of germs from anything store bought or in a restaurant. I ate lettuce from my own garden with no problem as it was pure, homegrown food, and there’s nothing better.
I also walked 30 minutes almost every day in the hills of my neighborhood, no matter how bad I felt, taking deep purifying breaths and sometimes singing prayers while I walked. There were a few chemo days when I was able to walk for only ten minutes. I never allowed myself to stay indoors all day or to miss walking.
I also began studying nutrition – one of my lifelong interests – in a new way, knowing that while I was eating like a ravenous hog while on the steroids and other drugs, that I would change all that after treatment.
What kept me going, in part, was my strong will and resourceful thinking about what I would do post-treatment.
I’ll write more about this in another post but what got me through was faith in God, in myself and in the future.
As I recovered from treatment, I became focused on questions of “what next?” I was given the phrase “What is living well now?” as a koan or phrase to contemplate. Out of that contemplation has come the desire to share my experience and what I have learned and am continuing to learn about health, wellness and the sociology and politics of cancer. Why? It’s healing for me to be a writer again and to share information for the benefit of others.