What They Don’t Tell You

I’ve been reading a book about a woman who overcame breast cancer and her friend who did not. It got me thinking that just as there are five stages of grief, there are also emotional stages of a cancer diagnosis that are very similar.

The five stages of grief are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The emotional stages of cancer that I experienced were:

  • Shock/Disbelief
  • Denial
  • Pain (physical & emotional)
  • Bargaining
  • Mourning
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Like most people, I was in complete shock and disbelief when I learned about my diagnosis; a softball size tumor….that’s impossible!….followed by how could this be happening to me? After the shock and disbelief, I was in denial about the seriousness of my diagnosis and that I would not be able to run again.

The emotional pain set in after the shock and denial and was followed by the physical pain of surgery. I also tried bargaining with God which seemed futile but I would still plead my case just to be on the safe side.

After going through surgery and radiation, I found myself mourning my old self and my old life. I felt like I lost my identity; the energetic Cally who felt like she could do anything was gone. It was as if the old Cally was replaced by an old woman who wasn’t active, used a cane and wanted to sleep all the time. All of this caused me to go into a depression; no one can prepare you for this. After all of these experiences and emotions, there was finally, acceptance. For the longest time I refused to accept what was happening to me. In my mind acceptance was the same as giving in but I know now that it’s really not.

There is plenty of information that can be given to you about your diagnosis to prepare you, but there’s also so much that is left out. For example, I had no idea that there was such a thing as cancer related fatigue. I just thought the fatigue was a side effect from radiation but for some people, the fatigue can continue for months and sometimes years after treatment. My fatigue really hung in there and took a while to dissipate.

Lymphedema was a condition that I was not aware of prior to getting radiation nor did I initially know what to do about it. It is swelling in the arms or legs that occurs when there is removal or damage to lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment. I learned that lymphatic massage can help alleviate it along with compression garments and light exercise.

Although my diet was relatively healthy, I didn’t know enough about which foods and supplements to avoid or embrace before, during and after treatment. I learned that anti oxidant vitamin supplements like vitamin C, E or beta carotene should not be taken while getting treatment because the supplements are not only protecting the good cells, but they are protecting the bad ones as well.

After I had my back surgery in April, my doctor suggested prescribing a bone stimulator to help the discs fuse. I did my own research on it and when I spoke with the sales rep for the bone stimulator company, I asked her if it utilized electromagnetic fields. Her response was that it did but I didn’t have anything to worry about. I knew from my research on mobile devices, that I did not want to wear anything that emits electromagnetic fields. The sales rep then went on to say that the stimulator should not be used by anyone who has active cancer cells! I told her about my health situation and that perhaps she should start asking people if they may have active cancer cells. The rep was apologetic and told me ” I could get fired for saying this, but do not use the bone stimulator!”

You most definitely have to ask lots of questions and be your own advocate.

I often say that cancer can be a curse and a blessing. There are things in life that you take for granted, but really matter so much. Like the sights and the sounds of nature, the smile on a baby’s face, hugging your family. When you are dealt with a cancer diagnosis, everything is so much more precious and it makes you a lot more grateful for even the simplest of things.

In spite of everything, I’m the most content right now than I’ve been in a very, very long time.

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