Wait. Hang on. Before you leave, just hear me out.
Cancer is never a good thing. Especially when someone presents you with a piece of paper with your name on it and the word, “cancer”, is right next to it. But cancer, in my case, probably saved my life. You see, cancer came at a time when I thought I needed rest. A break. A respite from the insanely intense pace of life. I was a mom, a wife, an employee, a coach, and not pausing much to think of what I needed for myself. Meaning, me. Melissa. Cancer taught me the difference between being selfish and self-preservation. Since when did moms deserve to FEEL selfish for taking care of themselves? Cancer taught me:
• Prioritization not only of tasks but of whom should be in my brigade
• Reassurance to trust my intuition
• True power over my body
• Mindfulness – living in the here and now, not tomorrow, not even the next 5 minutes. NOW!
My battle still marches on but in the meantime, when someone asks me, “How are you feeling?”, I am more apt to say, I am taking care of myself the best I can. So, regardless your current struggles, go get yourself a canning jar and self-preserve!
(Originally posted to Suburban Misfit Moms
What do you do when your head is spinning, thinking about your world being turned upside down? The plans you made, suddenly were upturned. Ever just look up at the clear blue sky and think, will things ever be the same? I did, in the Summer of 2015 when I was diagnosed with cancer and an autoimmune disease that had wrecked my body.
Choosing to leave my hectic, corporate job in March 2015, just weeks before I was delivered the news, I did it because my own health was on the back burner. I felt tired but didn’t know I was sick. Just two years prior I had started my own side business with the doctors that created Proactiv and much like anything in life, I had no idea that would be my saving grace. What would carry me through my diagnosis and treatment and allow me the time to heal without my family having to make significant financial sacrifices. My intent was to put more time into my family and try and find a pace that wasn’t equivalent to a speeding train with no destination. Even in making that decision, I hadn’t put myself first. This is defined as being a mom. Even when we know something is wrong, we still walk around blindly taking care of that next errand, the next conference call, the next little one that needs to be cared for. Little did I know….
No matter what the scale was saying or what new information tests revealed, or what body part ached, I could always care for my skin and put my best ‘face’ forward. My body became something that was beyond my control – it was angry and in turn, was failing me. The trips to the gym that were merely a mental game to get me out the door now became a challenge to even get out of bed but yet my face still showed up, everywhere.
My lesson in all of this is, as someone who would rather sit on a bed of needles than asking for help, who was forced to hand over control of her home, errands, driving, being ‘queen’ of running her household, and the rock everyone leaned on did I realize I did have control over something. I had my backup plan in place long before I found out I needed it. We have more control than we think. I chose to rise and shine to face the world, regardless of my struggles and I decided to do that brilliantly.
Skincare by Melissa, Life by Design
(photo credit: Susan Carson with permission)
Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? Whom was helping you? Exactly where you were?
Chances are, if you recall these details and reflect back on them, it will tell you a bit about how you handle challenges in your life. I recall that day, for myself. My Dad and I were in the driveway and back in the 80’s, you didn’t have a helmet or all that fancy protective gear (in pink, blue or green whatever your favorite color was at the time, arriving 24 hours after purchase via Amazon.com). And while training wheels did exist – I am not that old my friends! – your parents more apt to take them off and just let you fly. Or fall. On pavement nonetheless.
So fell I did. I fell, I scraped up my knees in that driveway. There was blood. I am sure there were tears. But I knew my Dad was waiting right back downstairs after the wounds were cleaned (thanks Mom) and few band aids slapped on, to help me ride again. My parents didn’t push us, they could see when we needed a break but there was this definite sense of getting back up and facing your mountains. To try and start back up that proverbial hill until you were successful in getting back over to the other side.
Today marks my first return to the cancer hospital since treatment 6 months ago. “They” say there was a 20% chance it worked. I say differently. Nonetheless, I’ve spent the last week breathing thru the nerves, celebrating my son’s lucky #7 birthday, friends patting me on the back and making sure I laugh, my husband knowing just when to rest his hand on mine with no words needed, and wondering today, will I get a clear scan.
Not even sure what color my bike was or if I was the first owner, it didn’t matter. Sometimes the bike itself just needs to work. It need not be fancy nor the newest one on the block with bells and whistles. It needed two wheels, pedals and handlebars. So, point being, I don’t recall the bike, just the experience and getting back up on that bike again, wounds and all.
$130,249.83. This is the exact amount my cancer has cost since being diagnosed in June 2015. Not complaining, as I am lucky enough to have insurance but when I sat down recently to look at the bills, I had an a-ha moment of sorts. Not like a ‘wow’ as we know any major illness is expensive but rather realizing that what has helped to truly begin to heal me, is not accepted by most insurance.
123 doctors’ visits including endocrinologists, oncologists, pathologists, 1 otolaryngologist, 3 nuclear med docs (some of the funniest doctors I have ever met, as a collective, to date), internal medical doctors, naturopaths, phlebotomists – you name it. Yes, all these services have been necessary to diagnose and to treat my disease. But the visits that are not documented through insurance are the ones that stand out. You see, losing your thyroid is not just popping a pill, People (side note, NEVER say that to anyone) especially when cancer and an autoimmune disease are involved.
So circling back to the naturopath, it is the first time someone sat down, took my entire history starting with birth (anything happen out of the ordinary she asked, during your birth – I mean other than the fact that my Dad may or may not have been allowed in the room ’cause it was 1976?), spent 90 minutes+ going over all the ways in which the disease, the cancer, and lack of a thyroid going forward will impact my life and has and what ‘we’ were going to do about it. Yep WE.
Next came the acupuncturist. She makes me feel like I am floating on a cloud of fluffy, white marshmallows, my head, legs and arms all softly resting instead of pulling down the weight of my body. I even realized how negatively I viewed the space in which I lived. When I saw my kitchen, I was reminded of the past two years in which I lost my love of cooking for my family and how many others came in and out of my kitchen to help us with meals.
I never talked about it. I faked it because it took long to tell people why I was so tired and I didn’t want the pity. When I saw my couch, I saw the place where I would crawl up into a ball, hoping that maybe just 20 minutes of rest would lift the veil of exhaustion. Truthfully, just moments before I’d be contemplating pushing myself to complete some items on my long list of mommy to do’s. The couch always and, should always, win. Yep, even had a Feng Shui expert come in and help me love my house again instead of seeing it as somewhere I crawl into and hide.
Pain and grief through a disease takes many forms. For me, it hid. I had no time for it. I wasn’t brought up to lay down and wallow. The same tears that would fall when I realized it wasn’t just a bad dream and that this was MY life, MY story, are the ones that made me sit up and stubbornly say, DAMN IT, cancer won’t own me, not now, not ever. I thought of cancer as this skinny stick figure drawing but for some reason in the shape of a pickle but with hands and legs. It’s nosy. It weaves into your thoughts and your dreams. It comes at you at 5am in the morning when you cannot sleep. It unearths you from a sense of calm and peace when you learn that the same week you were told you had a “mostly” clear scan, someone you know and have come to highly respect did not have the same fate.
Cancer hurts, it bites. It divides families and friends into different categories but links them all by the one same underlying belief that it could be worse but it could be better. Some advice. If you don’t know what to say, I get it. No one does. Just tell me it sucks. Tell me you are on this rollercoaster ride WITH me. Tell your friend or loved one whom is sick that WE are in it together.
I guess I also just wanted to take this time to thank the 123 times my care team held my hand, gave me kind words when the day just got to be too much, and for Joan, my Feng Shui chick, who just knew I could love my house again. ( This article is dedicated to a friend and neighbor who lost his fight too soon. #livelifelovepizza )
The first time I realized I wanted to write was during a contest hosted by a local organization. The subject was “What do you wish for, during this Holiday season?” I was in 8th grade and my response flowed out of me like water out of a fountain. Easy.
I had just spent time at a local Christmas tree lighting and while I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, there were 5 of us after all, I always had what I needed and then some. But what I saw that night and, recall clearly, the sting of the cold air on my nose as it was one of those early December days that was unusually, but yet seasonally cold, was that there was a difference amongst us. Not everyone I realized, in that crowd, was going to have a merry Christmas. Christmas, in the Christian sense, yes, but not in the Santa Claus sense.
I decided to write about how I wanted more for the unfortunate and though simple and without a solution, that is the gist of what I wrote. When I asked my uncle, with whom I shared my love of writing, his thoughts, his response was, make it authentic, not what they want to hear. I guess that marked a moment in which I knew I was different. That WAS what I meant. It WAS from the heart. Why was that wrong?
Tonight I went to a friends restaurant, met a few friends for dinner and ran into the most unusual smattering of people from various points in my life. Someone I looked up to in my first days at a consulting firm, whom to me, had a brilliant mind and who gave me a first compliment in my 20s that powered my confidence to survive the at times barbaric environment of corporate life, far beyond his intent.
I also saw my massage therapist, who was the first person I called after leaving the hospital after my 2nd child was born- get me that healing touch I said. No silly light pressure massage – the REAL deal! He was with his wife, they live out of town and they were out celebrating their first post-baby dinner. It was so amazing to see them as I knew them before they even were married.
No one reading this could fully understand the context of why tonight made me feel complete. Was it the fact I have a house all to myself tonight while my kids enjoy a baseball game with their dad, a few states away? Was it dining with a friend who represents periods of my life high school thru leaving a job where we met, and one of my biggest cheerleaders urging me on to find the life I loved to lead, only to be then diagnosed with cancer? Was it seeing my friend find peace in creating food for her guests and caring in a way that could only mean that part of her husband was living on, in her, thru the food and her love of what he had created?
I don’t know. And, maybe it is too deep for some of you reading it but this is what goes thru my mind, makes me cry, makes me laugh and most of all makes me happy. I’ve always chosen to run against the wind I guess.
PS- for those of you wondering, I didn’t rewrite my essay. I had written in pen with no extra copy of the entry. And, I won. BAM!