Recently I survived another health scare. When I say another this is actually the third health scare experience I have had.
Once for five years I was told by doctors I had the “flu again!!!” as a male doctor wrote on the chart in front of me. Finally a work mate suggested I sit my butt in the doctors office and demand tests, telling him I would not leave without them. I did what she suggested. The next day I was having the ordered tests and the day after that I was called back into the doctors office for the results. A chronic condition of diverticulitis was the diagnosis as the male doctor said, “worse than an 85 year old man.” I was 30. But it took five years to get to a diagnosis of a condition that is not so hard to manage as long as you learn what to do for it which I did and still do.
Fast forward to 2007 which was the fifth year of doctor visits for the same condition of abdominal pain/discomfort which all male doctors told me was a “groin pull.” The advice was always to stop exercising for a while and it would go away. I did and it didn’t. I couldn’t even do stairs properly, was doing them one at a time like a little child. I couldn’t walk far. I couldn’t sit comfortably, was always twisted to the side. Finally a female doctor palpated me and her face changed so much I knew something was up. To hospital next day for tests she ordered.
A day later in my then male doctor’s office for the results, I read the results and passed the paper back to him. Did you see what it says, he asked, stabbing the word “cancer” with his pen as he held the paper out to me. Yes, I said, I read it, now what do we do about it? Next day in surgeons office for planned removal of a pineapple size growth they thought cancer. In the midst of this, two teen-aged nieces I had never met phoned and told me they had tickets to fly out and spend three weeks with me so I cancelled the surgery. If it was cancer, this might be the only time I could ever have with them. Surgery was moved to the day before Christmas eve, the first date available after the teen-aged twin’s flight home.
As it happened the growth was not cancerous. My second lucky miss if you ask me. It was a gnarly surgery that went longer than planned because of everything the growth had attached itself to. But I survived and am grateful it was not the “C” word that so cruelly robbed me of both of my parents, one barely over 40 at the time of death. I was in recovery over a year and still had spotting five months later. The surgeon said the only way they could find out why I was still bleeding was to open me up again and they didn’t want to do that. So they didn’t and eventually the bleeding subsided. This was my second lucky miss.
Fast forward to 2017 when I discovered an ugly lump on one of my breasts. Of course every picture on the internet matched the appearance of this lump. I shouldn’t have looked on the internet. If it happens to you, don’t do that. It doesn’t help at all. It didn’t help at all that my male doctor of many years also wanted me to just “wait and see if it would go away.” Can’t you stick a needle in it and get the cells analyzed? I asked. No, he said, let’s just give it a couple of weeks. So I did. No change.
Luckily the next visit to my doctor he was off for surgery himself and a female doctor who was seeing his patients took one look at my lump, asked me how long it was there and ordered two tests for me. I asked her if she could just stick a needle in it and extract some cells for the lab, too, but she wouldn’t. At least she ordered the other tests for me. Still it was a few weeks of waiting before I could get in for the tests the female doctor had put a rush on. My third lucky miss happened when, finally in June 2017, I was given the all clear. “There is absolutely no malignancy in either breast” were the exact words from the doctor’s office.
What I really want to talk about, perhaps more than my three “lucky misses,” is how it felt to be going through these emotional times prior to finding out I was, indeed, a very lucky “Miss.” There is no way to describe exactly the terror that gnaws you awake at night or causes you to burst into tears over the simplest of things. It is just something that happens to you as you try not to think the worst and continue to live your life in a meaningful way when you fear nothing will ever have any real meaning again.
My mind ran to all things conclusive from having to dispose of my entire household to being sick for months as my parents were and how awful it was to watch them being ill and how awful they must have felt in their lucid moments when they didn’t have the strength left to even return a hug. I suppose at that stage you don’t really realize what you look like or what you can’t do, you are just doing what you can. My thoughts ran to suicide because that would mean nobody would be stuck looking after me or seeing me when I could no longer even remember who I was myself.
A survivor of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from a physical assault in 2012, I found myself triggered into deep depressions and this was exacerbated by moments of sheer panic that the news or results might be the worst. My sleep was so interrupted I was a hair away from crying at all times. Even though I had recently started eating better and lost 15 pounds, I just didn’t give a damn what I ate or drank or if I ate or drank. Washing my hair just seemed like all too much and if I was dying, what would any of it matter anyway?
Most of all, I felt alone. I know I have a ton of wonderful people in my life who love me but I still felt so alone, there is almost no way I can describe it. People would be talking about everyday issues or arguing the daylights out of some topic on Facebook and I fairly wanted to scream, “Are you all frigging crazy? Don’t you realize none of this crap even matters in the grand scheme of things? How foolhardy can you be with your very own precious life moments you are squandering?”
I had no patience for anything either. Even washing dishes was so irritating I just felt like smashing them all to bits. Nature held the only nurturing I felt at all. Only nature could soothe me with the birdsong and breezes rustling the trees or watching the sunset with a renewed appreciation, even just watching tree bows moving was hypnotic for me. Everything else was so hollow. It was as if I were facing the worst fire of my life yet again with no support because, honestly, how supportive can people be unless they have walked this road of unknown. You look normal. You sound normal. So on they go with daily routines and modes of interaction that really mean nothing to you because you don’t even know if you will be here for your own daily life much longer.
You can’t really talk much about how it feels either because it brings people down. So you clam up and become more silent than ever. Well, that’s what I did. I barely wrote because all I wanted to write was so dark and I knew so many don’t appreciate that, most want sunshiny flowery happy reads and I am not good at the fluffy stuff in life even without going through another cancer scare.
From my own experience as a support worker for victims of violence and as a lay counselor at the rape and trauma center, I recognized the stages of my emotions. From anger to depression to acceptance, I was working my way through the unknowns, the grief you feel at possibly having your life shortened by a disease nobody ever wants to get. I tried to tell myself it was just normal to have all of these emotions and unfamiliar feelings. But it felt anything but normal. With nobody safe to talk about my feelings lest I burden them with things they did not want to hear anyway, I just felt alienated and isolated even though I would see loved ones daily or go about my daily chores, errands and routines. Every stress felt like too much, even small stresses from having to do laundry to a misunderstanding with the landlord or having to be somewhere at a certain time. I felt like it wasn’t really my own life anymore, as though something had sucked all the goodness out of it and no matter what I did, this feeling did not fully subside until the day the doctor’s office gave me the good news.
You would think the good news would put me right back on track in my life but it had the opposite effect. For a few days I continued to process all of these unforeseen emotions around not having to pack up and donate all my earthly belongings, around not having to suicide out to spare others and at not having the dreaded “C” word after all. It was as if the news did not fully settle into my psyche for three days afterward. Everything still had a surreal tinge to it and I couldn’t quite get my feet on the ground about being so lucky. Again.
I thought of a coworker of my ex’s who, young with little kids of his own, was told his breathing problem was the air conditioning in his truck. A month later he went back to the doctor who still did not send him for any tests. On his third visit a month after that, he was finally sent for tests. The test results were as bad as it gets. He had stage four lung cancer. It was inoperable and one month after that he was dead. I thought of this fine young man and the raw deal he got. It made me so grateful for the female doctor who put a rush on my tests. In my region it can take months or even up to a year to see a specialist. Some family doctors are even booking appointments three and four months ahead as we grope our way through the ongoing shortage of doctors and health care workers. This all left me feeling so grateful for the female doctor who didn’t waste a second.
As the days passed and I managed to get a good night’s sleep, 11 hours straight finally put me on the right track, I realized I had dodged another bullet and was free, free, free as a bird to fly and dip and soar once again. This set me thinking about all the people who sent me healing wishes or prayers and how grateful I was for all of those folks, too.
Years ago when my then mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer my ex (her son) and I set out on a mission to help her heal. My ex and I had read many books on healing and the power of prayer including works by Larry Dossey and Evelyn Monahan as well as many, many others. Having some First Nations family roots also grounded me in the powers of healing. Miracles I witnessed in my own life told me we have angels, guardians and there is always a reason to pray no matter how dire circumstances may seem. Once when a friend phoned for prayers for a ten year old girl the doctors said had no chance, she would not survive another 24 hours, we started a prayer network and phoned everyone we knew who would join in. There were no cell phones, bulk texting or internet back then or we might have reached further. Still, what we did proved plenty good enough because the girl, to the doctor’s amazement, not only turned totally around in less then 24 hours but is still doing well to this day.
This is just one of many real life healing stories I have witnessed in my life. My mother-in-law believed, too, and I think that was part of why our healing prayers and meditations for her were so successful. Within three weeks of the three of us doing these healing meditations/prayers every single night, my mum-in-law’s sister phoned to say the doctors said the “cancer was gone!” Our joy was short lived, however. Our healing focus had been on the cancer in her head which was now totally gone but we forgot to send healing prayers to her entire body. The cancer reappeared in her lower body and was pronounced inoperable. We three were devastated as you might imagine. Still, I hold onto the successful healing stories because miracles do happen.
I believe I was recently the recipient of such a miracle when I asked everyone I knew for healing prayers or positive vibes, whatever is their “way.” Maya Angelou, bless her heavenly heart, said it best: “Thoughts are things and words have wings.”
Yes, they certainly are and yes, they certainly do.
And I am one very Lucky “Miss.”
Thank you to all who lifted me through this latest health scare. You know who you are, you know what you did and I am eternally grateful for all your healing wishes. Always here for you in any way I can be.
(c) Janni Styles
Things I learned that may help you or someone you know:
- Do not look on the internet for images of cancer if you suspect you may have it. It really does not help and in my case it only heightened the anxiety/emotions around it all for no reason at all because, at the end of the day, I did not even have it.
- Try to find a supportive, soft place to land/talk or whatever you need to do. I didn’t but now wish I had as it would have been so much easier on me to have that safe go to place. Your doctor, a counselor, even a pastor or church mate might help you work through your own emotions and fears.
- If a doctor tells you one thing and you suspect another, get a second or even a third opinion. Time is of the essence and any time we waste could alter the outcome of our situation. Also if they want you to “wait and see if it will go away” and you don’t want to wait, that is okay. Ask the doctor to send you for some tests or see another doctor who will.
- Don’t give up. This means keep praying, meditating or whatever is your way for a positive outcome. You may think it doesn’t help but it helped me feel better even though I was still frightened of the possible outcome. Ask everyone you know to pray for you. I swear I could feel the “love” of prayer power through this latest challenge I faced. Praying/meditating myself made me feel better even though I was still in quite a lot of fear.
- If you think there is another test they can do for you, ask for it. Doctors are usually good at what they do but some can inadvertently overlook things just as we humans often do. It doesn’t hurt to ask for what we need or to ask for a second opinion.
- Cry if you must, just let it fly out of you. I kept holding back and holding back when I really needed a good cry. Finally a TV movie (Steel Magnolias which I have seen a thousand times, ok, maybe not a thousand but you know what I mean) set me crying almost the whole two hours. I felt a lot better afterward and knew then just how much emotional angst I had been packing around for weeks.
- Try to go easy on those around you. They really cannot understand what you are feeling unless they go through it themselves. So you may find their issues trivial and probably they are compared to your very real and frightening situation but it won’t help you to feel angry at them for it.
- Nurture yourself. Whatever this means for you, just take good loving care of you. Listen to the birdsong, visit the shore, turn your phone off, don’t answer your door, avoid negativity of any sort whenever possible and this includes (yes I know I am on it right now 😉 ) the internet, take long leisurely tub soaks or walks amid sunrise/sunset, whatever appeals to you and lifts you out of yourself if only for a few moments.